Happy Birthday, George Foreman - "Big" George 60 Today!

george foreman10.01.09 - by James Slater - The "miracle man" of boxing himself, George Foreman, turns the milestone age of 60 today - as incredible as that may be to believe. One of the most popular fighters in modern day boxing history, Texan Foreman originally made a name for himself as a brutish terror of a devastating heavyweight, then, in his improbable second boxing career, he made a name for himself as a man capable of doing the impossible.

Much has been written about George's incredible life already, but for the purposes of this birthday tribute article, this writer does his best to recap the most important moments from this amazing boxer's public life.

Born on January 10th, 1949, in Marshal, Texas, Foreman grew up in a place referred to as Houston's "bloody fifth," a neighbourhood known for its violence and social problems. Despite this poor start in life, George was to make something of himself. And how!

Discovered in 1967 by boxing trainer "Doc" Broadus while being a member of The Job Corps program set up by president Lyndon Johnson, the young Foreman caught Doc's eye - so much of a natural did he look as a fighter. The two began a relationship that saw Foreman learn his way around the ring. After two setbacks to amateur rival Clay Hodges, Foreman, who had won two Golden Gloves titles, qualified to go to the Mexico City 1968 Olympics. Battering Russia's Ionas Chepulis in the final, George captured a gold medal. Foreman then made himself a media darling and a hero to millions by waving a tiny American flag he'd had inside his robe.

Now famous, George turned pro. Winning his debut in June of 1969, with a 3rd round TKO over Don Waldheim, the freakishly strong 20-year-old set about climbing the world rankings.

In 1970 Foreman picked up a win over big name George Chuvalo, stopping the teak-tough Canadian in just 3 rounds for his first meaningful victory. Now world ranked, George kept a close eye on heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Getting his shot in January of 1973, underdog George shocked the world for the first of many times by destroying the unbeaten "Smokin'" Joe - sending him down six times inside 2 rounds. Now heavyweight champion of the world, the former street thug had it all.

Two quick defences followed, against Joe Roman and Ken Norton. Both fights ended inside 2 rounds. Then offered the unprecedented sum of $5 million to defend in Zaire, Africa against former king Muhammad Ali, Foreman's world fell apart as he was sensationally stopped in the 8th round by "The Greatest." Devastated, Foreman did not fight another "real" fight for well over a year. After partaking in a boxing exhibition that saw him take on five men in one afternoon, Foreman made his real comeback- against Ron Lyle. Fight fans know all about this war of a fight, in which the two bangers shared four knockdowns inside 5 rounds of stunning action. A victorious Foreman felt a sense of redemption after proving to himself he could come through a tough fight and give his all to win.

A couple more comeback wins followed, including another win over Frazier, before Foreman was upset by the crafty Jimmy Young in steamy Puerto Rico. What followed the fight was even more shocking. Claiming to have had a religious experience during which he saw God and was reborn, Foreman, at the age of just 28, announced he was to give up boxing and become a preacher. He meant it.

Ten long years passed during which George thought nothing about boxing. Firmly a man of God, preacher George was content spreading his message to people all over America. A few years into his retirement, George opened up The George Foreman Youth and Community centre in Houston - a place where kids could hang out. Things went fine until the ex-champ's money ran out. Knowing how he could make money, George shocked the world yet again - this time by announcing how he would be making a ring return, in 1987, at the age of 38. The critics had a field day.

But Foreman kept busy, boxing journey men and tomato cans in tank towns, slowly but surely getting the public's interest and support. Eventually becoming a cult favourite, Foreman stepped up the competition in 1990 with a fight against the lethal-hitting Gerry Cooney. A million dollars richer, Foreman sent "Gentleman" Gerry back into retirement.

Chasing a title fight with Mike Tyson, the 41-year-old Foreman was instead given a chance at Mike's successor, Evander Holyfield. Silencing the critics who said he was nothing but a money-chasing fraud, George took Holyfield the full 12 rounds. "You have seen a total eclipse," George said in a post-fight interview. "Hip, hip, hooray!"
Now loved and an absolute hero, Foreman decided to carry on in his unlikely quest to rule the division again. After a bloody points win over fringe contender Alex Stewart, Foreman met slugger Tommy Morrison in a fight for the WBO version of the crown. A dull points loss later, it was assumed by most that the 44-year-old's amazing career was over. But George still had a miracle up his sleeve!

Coming back to face the dangerous southpaw that was Michael Moorer, the man who had taken "The Real Deal's" title, George shocked the world more than he ever had before. Taking a beating for 9-and-a-half rounds, the soon-to-be 46-year-old connected with a right hand bomb in the 10th round and sent the 26-year-old lefty down and out. Kneeling in his corner, a thankful Foreman said a few words to his saviour.

He had done it! Over twenty years after losing his championship to Ali, Foreman was again the heavyweight ruler. This moment, which capped off a most remarkable comeback, was soon hailed as the finest ever in the sport of boxing. A few more fights followed - none of which matched up to the glorious night of November 5th, 1994 - and after a robbery of a loss to the much younger Shannon Briggs in late 1997, the George Foreman boxing story finally came to an end.

Now, today, here we are at the point of Foreman's 60th birthday. After boxing George reinvented himself once again, this time as a hugely successful business man; selling millions of dollars worth of his famous grilling machine. Foreman also found the time to make a short-lived sitcom entitled "George," as well as write an autobiography entitled "By George."

Loving life today as much as ever, the living legend is in full possession of his faculties, is known and respected - even loved - the world over, and is as happy and content as can be. None of this seemed possible back when the teenage Foreman was growing up, however, and George is testament to the fact that dreams can come true - no matter how farfetched they may seem to others.

As George says at the end of his book, "God, this is some kind of life you've given me."

Today this life reaches its 60th year. Happy birthday, George!

Article posted on 11.01.2009

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