George Foreman Biography

PHOTO: George Foreman

George Edward Foreman was born in 1949 in Texas. Although his real father was Leroy Moorehead, he was raised by J.B. Foreman who was in fact his stepfather.

Foreman was the fifth of seven children and grew up in a very poor household thanks to his stepfather’s tendency to drink away his railroad worker salary and the family having to depend on his mother’s small wage.

During his youth, he often crossed paths with the wrong side of the law and subsequently harboured a great deal of anger which soon became evident from his street brawling and gang fights.

Foreman fast became known for his size and his aggression was well-known on the streets of Houston, earning him the respect of several local gangs. After dropping out of high school, he spotted an advertisement for the Job Corps on television and decided to join.

He was sent to Oregon first and brought with him that infamous ability to pick fights, this time with his fellow trainees. One day whilst he was in the midst of one of his brawls, a supervisor stepped in to end the fight. The supervisor, Doc Broadus, was a keen boxing enthusiast and, spotting Foreman’s obvious potential, he realised that Foreman could channel his penchant for fighting into a better outlet - boxing. With help from Broadus, Foreman began to develop his technique and within two years he had qualified for the Olympic boxing team.

In 1968, aged 19, Foreman headed to Mexico City for the Olympics. At that time in the US, there had been rioting in the streets of many cities over the debate of civil rights and Vietnam. Subsequently, there were divisions within the African-American community as to whether they should support the US policy. Foreman was tempted to join their protest as two other African-American track athletes had been ejected on the award podium for raising their fists to the US National Anthem, but he didn’t and went on to win a gold medal in heavyweight boxing.

After his gold medal success, Foreman undertook a serious training regime and turned professional in 1969. He went up against Don Walheim in New York in his first pro boxing match and won in a three-round knockout. By the end of the year, he had notched up a total of 13 fights and had won them all. The following year, he continued his victory streak by knocking out 11 men, while his career rose rapidly amongst his other better known counterparts.

Despite his succession of wins over the next couple of years, some people grumbled silently that Foreman was only winning because he was fighting has-beens so these critics sat up and took notice when he was faced with the much-feared Joe Frazier in 1973. Frazier was sent to the mat twice in the first round by Foreman - even lifting him off his feet with a couple of his punches and by the second round, Frazier was beaten. The world had a new heavyweight champion.

Foreman went on to successfully defend his title twice and made the headlines in 1974 for beating notorious heavyweight Ken Norton - who was known for not only breaking Muhammad Ali’s jaw a year earlier but also for his awkward boxing technique. Foreman displayed a ferocious round of aggression and would later write in his autobiography that he was attempting to kill Norton during the fight. At this point it seemed Foreman could do no wrong, his success in the ring seemed unending.

The summer of 1974 became a pivotal moment in Foreman’s career. He travelled to Congo to fight against Muhammad Ali. During the match, the two battled hard and by the eighth round it seemed that Ali’s infamous fighting style had begun to tire Foreman, resulting in Ali delivering a final series of blow’s to Foreman’s head and jaw that brought him down and caused the referee to stop the match. It was Foreman’s first defeat.

The loss was a severe dent to Foreman’s pride and his devastation led him to slowly spiral into a pattern of destruction where he carelessly wasted his money on spending sprees and would sleep with a different woman every night.

After losing his title, Foreman remained inactive for the following year but made his comeback in Las Vegas in 1976 against Ron Lyle. After five rounds of heaving pounding from both boxers, Lyle finally succumbed and Foreman’s last delivery of blows sent him to the ground with Foreman’s win declared. By the end of the year, Foreman was back to his previous form and had emerged victorious from all of his fights.

1977 was not to be as triumphant for Foreman. After winning a fight in four rounds against Pedro Agosto in Florida, it was the match against boxer Jimmy Young that was to be life-changing. Like his fight with Ali, Foreman became tired in the later rounds of the fight and was beaten. In his dressing room after the match, Foreman became ill and was suffering from exhaustion and heatstroke. Believing he had gone through a near-death experience, Foreman declared himself a born-again Christian and from this point onwards decided to dedicate his life to Christianity.

Despite not officially retiring, Foreman stopped fighting after the Young match and became an ordained church minister back in his hometown of Houston where he devoted his time to his family and parishioners.

Between 1981 and 1983, Foreman was married and divorced three times. One wife fled to Barbados with their children and Foreman flew straight there to steal them back. But by 1986, he had managed to find inner solitude once again by building a small gym next to his church to give local children an alternative to hanging around on the streets - an option he wished he’d had during his own childhood.

In 1987, Foreman surprised the sporting world by announcing his comeback at the age of 40. The money from his boxing days had begun to run out and by this time he had eight children to support. Foreman beat Steve Zouski in four rounds in his first comeback bout, despite looking badly out of shape. Four more wins that year and a gradual return to his former slimmer self put his fitness levels back on track.

By the next year, Foreman had won nine more matches and it appeared that he was once again king of the boxing ring. At the same time, Foreman started to forge a successful venture as a businessman, selling everything from grills to mufflers on television.

Back in the boxing ring, he continued his comeback hiatus over the next couple of years with an increasing list of wins. But in 1991, Foreman faced the undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Foreman was 42 by this time and many didn’t rate his odds against Holyfield’s skills. Their doubts were confirmed when Foreman was defeated, despite the fact that he surprised many by lasting the full 12 rounds and lost on points.

A year later and it seemed Foreman’s comeback high had well and truly peaked. A fight against Alex Stewart led to Foreman’s worst ever defeat when Stewart administered a series of forceful blows which left Foreman’s face bloodied and swollen.

In 1993, Foreman was shown up in the ring once again when he lost a match against Tommy Morrison who was much younger and agile than him. Although it seemed unlikely, Foreman once again had the chance to fight for the world championship in 1994. Despite initially being refused a shot after his loss to Morrison, he took the case to court pleading age discrimination and won.

The fight took place in Las Vegas with Foreman wearing the same red shorts he’d worn in his title loss to Ali some 20 years earlier. This time round though the match was of a different calibre entirely thanks to the fact that he was fighting Michael Moorer, a boxer twenty years his junior.

For nine rounds Moorer easily outboxed Foreman, but two minutes into the tenth round he delivered a sudden short right hand punch to Moorer’s chin which sent him straight to the floor. As Moorer lay flat on his back with the referee counting him out, Foreman regained the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles at the age 45. It was an astounding achievement and he broke two records in becoming the oldest fighter with a world heavyweight crown and secondly for elapsing the longest interval between one championship and the next.

Commentators also noted the change in Foreman himself. Gone was the inner menace and snarling, and instead stood a cheerful, amiable boxer carrying the world championship title. Sadly, his world title crown didn’t last when he was stripped of the honour in 1995 after choosing to fight Alex Schultz instead of number one ranker Tony Tucker. Despite losing his title, he was rewarded with a new-found popularity and respect from fans and critics alike.

It was the fight against Shannon Briggs in 1998 for the right to face WBC champion Lennox Lewis that was to be Foreman’s final match. After 12 rounds, Briggs took the victory and Foreman bowed out graciously aged 48.

Despite various misleading mumbles of yet another ‘comeback’ turn, no further fights materialised and instead Foreman lent his knowledge to HBO as a boxing analyst for a short while. His separate business ventures had continued to grow and he finally parted ways from boxing when he severed his relationship with the TV channel to concentrate on other pursuits.

Nowadays, Foreman is best known for his famous ‘Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine’, which he tours the world to promote. Created in 1995, there have been more than 100 million grills sold worldwide. Having created the grill himself, he is said to have made more money from the product than his entire boxing career (said to be around $240 million), proof that there was a career for him beyond his fighting talents.

Foreman now lives with his fifth wife Mary Joan and has nine children. He’s known to a whole new generation of fans as the face of a fat-reducing grill, yet his true fans will never forget his record victories and unique place in history in the boxing world.

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