George Foreman faced many obstacles and some tough years growing up in Houston but is thankful for how wonderful his life has become. He can look back and identify many principles that have helped him along the way. He knows people can pull themselves out of any tough situation.
“I say this as someone who read his first whole book at the age of sixteen; who has married and divorced four times and found the fifth time to be the charm; who’s the oldest person ever to hold the heavyweight boxing title,” he says. “I know from experience that you should never give up on yourself or others, no matter what.”
George says he’s often wondered what would have happened if he would have won his fights against Ali and Young.
“I could hear myself boasting,” he says. “And then I would have continued traveling down the road to destruction.”
George says that what looked like the worst thing that could have happened, turned out to be the best thing.
“I needed to suffer those defeats so I could hit bottom and look up,” says George.
George reminds us to look for God’s purpose in our circumstances.
“Just take one step at a time, trusting that God still has a plan for you, and He will make the best out of your situation,” he says.
People often ask George why he named all of his sons George. Some think he must have a huge ego. But after George lost the heavyweight title to Ali in Africa in 1974, he was shocked to learn that his biological father was not J.D. Foreman, the man who raised him.
This second punch hit him much harder. He met his natural father a few times but never really got to know him. From this experience, George determined that he would plant some roots for his children that they could never lose.
“I wanted my kids to have a foundation that nobody could ever take away from them,” he says.
To that end each son has his individual personality and goes by his own nickname. The oldest is “Little George,” born while George was in Africa; the second is “Monk” – short for monkey which used to be George’s childhood nickname. The third son is “Big Wheel,” George’s granddad’s nickname; his fourth son seemed courageous, like David who the Bible describes as “ruddy,” so George called him “Red.” His youngest son is called “Joe,” after his wife’s dad who died when she was a teenager. Part of being a good parent is to recognize who your kids actually are, not what you want them to be.
The Early Years
The fifth of seven children, George grew up in poverty in Houston’s very tough Fifth Ward. He remembers always being hungry. He was so big that it was hard for his hardworking mom to have food enough to fill him up. As a kid George was one mean dude.
“From the time I was six, possibly even before, I wanted to fight,” he says, “Anyone.”
By junior high the violence and rage had become second nature, and his tough guy reputation was one he cultivated. George never clicked with his teachers and dropped out of high school. His spiral into oblivion was halted when he grabbed an opportunity to join the Job Corps and was sent to California.
George was the most difficult of many troubled kids at the center but believes God providentially allowed him to stay. He became an excellent student. On a dare he tried boxing when someone challenged him to put his money where his mouth was and found his footing after a hesitant beginning. He won the Gold Medal in Mexico City, causing controversy when he displayed an American flag in the ring during the time of political unrest at home.
Behind the Title
Turning pro in 1969, George battled the sports’ biggest stars on his way to becoming heavyweight champion – Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Muhammed Ali. After Mexico City he began as Sonny Liston’s sparring partner, the surly ex-champ who lost his title to Cassius Clay in 1964.
George knocked down Smokin’ Joe Frazier five times to claim the heavyweight title in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973.
One of his biggest disappointments in life came in Zaire, Africa, October 30, 1974 when George lost to Ali. Feeling unlike himself that night (he felt drugged), that loss tormented George. Though accorded the fame and trapping due his title, he was not a happy man. He felt empty.
His personal life was a train wreck, with many women and many beloved children by them. George was not a popular fighter; boxing fans actually booed him when he came into the ring. That hurt. Feeling unappreciated made him meaner.
George had always been very close and caring for his family, and when he learned his nephew George was hospitalized in a coma, he bargained with God to take his life instead of his 5-year-old nephew’s.
Previously George had given little thought to God being real. In March 1977, after George fought Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico and lost, he underwent the fight of his life.
Back in the dressing room he sensed he was dying and heard a voice say, I don’t want your money. I want you!
George’s intense spiritual struggle caused raised eyebrows in the dressing room because he started acting out according to the voice he heard.
He finally yelled, “Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!”
He told everyone he loved them and kissed them. They thought he was losing his mind, but when the episode was over George knew he would never be the same again. After that encounter George spouted love instead of hate and pursued God instead of a boxing career. He left boxing in 1977 never expecting to return, becoming a preacher and developing a ministry to troubled young men.
Though he eschewed public attention, George’s work with youth attracted lots of it. Eventually it was his love for these young people that led him back into the boxing ring. the George Foreman Youth and Community Center (GFYCC) needed money to continue to operate.
He decided to become Heavyweight champion of the world – 10 years after leaving the ring. At age 37 sportswriters and others ridiculed him for attempting such a foolish quest, but George and his wife Joan sensed God was making it possible for them.
George worked harder than ever in his life to get back into shape, going from 315 down to 250 lbs. Being his own manager, he planned his own unconventional road to the top. This time he enjoyed it more. He didn’t hate anymore and could enjoy the trip. It made him a different kind of boxer – relearning techniques to inflict pain and not punishment.
Many fighters mistakenly thought he was washed up, too old, rather than skilled. He discovered, too, that this time around he was a popular figure. It felt great to be appreciated. He stunned the boxing world on November 5, 1994 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round to gain the heavyweight title of the world – again.
Though he has many good memories from his past, George says yesterday doesn’t exist except in his memory.
“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past,” he says. “It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.”
George marvels at God’s goodness in his life. He is happily married to Joan and has a family he adores. Plus he gets to significantly impact the lives of many young people for the Lord, saying that, “I see a lot of tough guys come into the GFYCC in Houston who remind me of myself when I was a teenager.” “God,” he says, “This is some kind of life You’ve given me.”
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