George Foreman: “Pacquiao doesn’t need Mayweather in his life”
by Geoffrey Ciani - This week’s 86th edition of On the Ropes Boxing Radio featured an exclusive interview with former two time heavyweight champion of the world ‘Big’ George Foreman who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion in history when he defeated Michael Moorer by knockout at the age of 45 in November 1994, a full twenty years after he had last held the title. Foreman currently acts in the capacity of manager and trainer for his son, George Foreman III (9-0, 8 KOs) who is better known as ‘Monk’. Here is a complete transcript of that interview.
JENNA J: Alright guys, it’s time for our second guest of this week’s show. He is a former two time heavyweight champion and is also a member of The Boxing Hall of Fame. We Have ‘Big’ George Foreman on with us now. How you doing today, George?
GEORGE FOREMAN: I’m living the good life in Houston. It’s pretty hot. How is everything?
JENNA: Everything is great, George. We are happy to be talking to a legend of the sport like yourself, but before we discuss your career in the ring, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing now and that’s being the trainer and manager of your son, George Foreman III. How did you feel about your son wanting to get into the sport of boxing?
FOREMAN: It’s quite interesting because I have five sons and the most docile of them all is George Foreman III. We call him the ‘Monk’. Monk’s not been much of an athlete nor did he have any aggressive side, so when he decided to go into boxing it shocked all of us. My wife only agreed that he could if I made certain that I kept him protected by being his trainer and manager.
JENNA: I’ve heard some rumors that when he first started out, he was training himself basically for the first year with tips from you and then one day you decided to get in the ring with him, and spar, and see what he was made of. Is that true?
FOREMAN: Yeah, I found out of course when he was attending college in California. Periodically he stopped by the gyms and tried boxing out on his own and here in Houston, of course, I thought he was concentrating thoroughly on his college because he got a college education at Rice University. I come to find out he’s sneaking in to the gym and trying all the time. But he hadn’t had a boxing match before I started trying to help him, he had only sparred.
JENNA: How do you feel when you watch your son getting into the ring for a fight?
FOREMAN: It’s not an easy thing because at first, even me, I didn’t even like to come out. I’d prepare him for the boxing match, get him in good shape, and I hired two other guys to work in the corner. I wouldn’t even come out until the fight was over. That’s how it bugged me, but now I’m getting braver to the point where at least I can come out and watch.
JENNA: Now your son’s doing this with no amateur experience. You had a short amateur career yourself, but a successful one. How important do you think amateur experiences are for a fighter just to make that transition to the professionals?
FOREMAN: I think if it’s available it would be a great thing, but if it’s not, you just really can’t look back. Probably one of the greatest boxers of all time never had one amateur fight, like Jack Dempsey. And I myself only had twenty-five, and of those twenty-five, strangely enough most of those were the year of the Olympics—qualifying through the Golden Gloves, the Nationals, the AAU, the Olympic Trials, and the Olympics. So amateur experience is a wonderful thing but if you don’t, you just can’t even look back because professional boxing is altogether different, anyway.
JENNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your career. How was it that you got into the sport of boxing?
FOREMAN: I just went down to the gym to lose some weight, actually. Then I got into a lot of trouble in the Job Corps Center and they seemed to think that if I was interested they would allow me to stay in the Job Corps Center. It would get me out of trouble. I figured I was going to be a good street fighter after a year of my amateur boxing, going back to Houston, Texas and beat everybody up. Little did I know it would lead me into Gold Medal matches and I would pick up skills on the left jab, the right hand, and all those things where I even lost my desire to even be a street fighter.
JENNA: Now winning the Gold and becoming the best American upcoming heavyweight, what was that feeling like when you won the Gold?
FOREMAN: Oh winning that Gold Medal, I tell you, just to be on the Olympic Team was really wonderful to me. I had a lot of friends who had served in the Armed Forces. They’d come home with their uniforms and they were so proud, and everybody was proud of them. I didn’t get a chance to serve. By 19 years old, I was on the Olympic Team and I had those colors, the tracksuits, the dress-up suits, everything. I told my mom how proud I was to have some uniforms, even if I didn’t win a boxing match. So to win one match after another and then be in a position to win a Gold Medal—wow! That blew me away. Winning that Gold Medal at the end, I wanted the whole world to know where I was from, so I picked up a small American flag and paraded around the ring to make sure they knew. This was my chance to represent my country. That was greater to me then even winning the boxing matches.
JENNA: Now after that you decided to turn professional. What was it like and what were your expectations when you decided to become a professional boxer?
FOREMAN: Expectations. I wanted to go on and work for the Job Corps Center and finish my college education and all of that, but everyone said I can make a lot of money and become champion and finally someone confessed that I could make a million. Ha! So I expected going into boxing that I would make these hundred thousand dollars and eventually make a million. That was my expectation, but I found out along the way that I could punch, really punch. One knockout after another and before long, surprisingly, in three and a half years I was the number one contender in the world. It surprised me.
JENNA: Well George, we’re also joined by my co-host Geoff Ciani. Geoff.
GEOFFREY CIANI: Hi George, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
FOREMAN: Thank you, Geoff.
CIANI: George, when you did fight for the heavyweight championship against Joe Frazier, you went into that fight as a three-to-one underdog. Did the perception that Joe was going to beat you, did that give you any extra motivation going into that fight?
FOREMAN: Just getting in the ring with Joe Frazier was extra motivation because I had seen Joe Frazier. I had been matched thirty-seven times previously, and my manager would always tell me the other guy had a weak jaw, he didn’t have this, and we’d concentrate. But fighting Joe Frazier was the first time in the dressing room that he didn’t even tell me anything because we both knew not to go there. This guy had no holes in his armor. This was a great fighter. It was the first time I had gotten into the ring where I was really afraid. I was afraid. I’ll tell you, you corner a cat and that’s when you can get hurt, and I was the cat that night.
CIANI: What was going through your mind when it was over after two rounds and you won the heavyweight title?
FOREMAN: After you win the title, the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘unbelievable’. Then your name, just like a cash register, starts going—Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman. Your name fits right in there and you can feel it. In a split second, the heavyweight champion of the world, it was the most dynamite season for a long time. Plus, I was going to get that million dollars.
CIANI: Now after that, one of the title defenses you had was against Norton and you stopped him in two rounds as well. Did you think, going into that one that it was going to be a tougher fight?
FOREMAN: I expected the Norton fight to probably be the toughest fight I had ever had in my career because he was a big man just like me. He was all really loaded with muscles. He had a record filled with lots of knockouts. As a matter of fact, he had gone two fights with Muhammad Ali and they both looked like he won to me, although he won the first one and lost the other by decision. I really thought this was going to be it for me. I trained harder for the Norton fight than I had ever trained in my life.
CIANI: Now speaking of Ali, George, when we had Angelo Dundee on our show he was talking about your fight with Ali and Angelo said, ‘People try to say that I designed the rope-a-dope, but I thought Muhammad was a dope to be on the ropes’, and I’m wondering, looking back on that fight and the story surrounding the ropes in that fight, what are your thoughts on that whole thing looking back on it now?
FOREMAN: Looking back on it, I had this real thing about cutting the ring off. You get into the ring with me and you try to move, you’re always going to find yourself in the corner. After a couple of rounds with Muhammad Ali, he would hit and then there was nowhere to run. I’d corner him and then just start throwing lots of punches. So the rope-a-dope really was not a design. It was just something he had to do, and because he had this tremendous experience. I remember, it must have been the third round, I put everything I had on him and he knew he was supposed to have been gone. When the bell rang, he looked up at me as if to say, ‘I made it!’ and I looked at him equally and said, ‘How did he make it?’ From that point on, the fight started to turn. He realized that he could survive my heavy punches. There were hard shots to come after that, but he had this funny confidence that he could make it, but that strategy was not a design. It just evolved.
CIANI: Now was there anything about Muhammad Ali that surprised you, that you weren’t expecting going into the fight, that he brought to the table when you were in the ring with him?
FOREMAN: Brave! I’ve never gone in the ring with anyone that courageous. I hit him one time in the side and it hurt so bad, he looked at me as if to say, ‘I’m not going to take that off of you’. He started to charge and then he said, ‘No, I can’t fight with this guy’ and he backed up into the ropes. Most guys, afterwards, I would hit them and they’d say to themselves, ‘I’m knocked out!’ I hit him, he didn’t say it. He didn’t say anything. He just said, ‘Look, I’m going to get beat up’. I have never seen a human being that brave, never before nor after.
CIANI: Were you at all disappointed that you never wound up getting a rematch with Ali, and if you did get to go back in the ring with him in the years following your fight with him, do you think you could have reversed the outcome of your first fight?
FOREMAN: I tried desperately to get that boxing match, and for good reasons, he wouldn’t allow me to have it. You’ve heard the expression, ‘One’s scared and the other’s glad of it’. I mean, I beat this guy up until about the sixth or seventh round, and I hit him with a good shot and he whispered into my ear, ‘Is that all you got George?’ I knew the punch hurt him, but the point of it is who wanted to get in the ring with someone like that again. Not me, and he got hit so hard he didn’t want it either. It wasn’t like I was praying, please let me have him again. If I had fought him again with the same type of vengeance I had to get even, the results would have pretty much been the same. He had my number, that’s all there is to it.
JENNA: Now George, after the Ali fight you took some time off and when you returned you took on Ron Lyle in a fight that wound up being the 1976 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. Looking back at it, how tough of a fight was that for you?
FOREMAN: Now Ron Lyle no doubt was the toughest fight I had in my life. He wasn’t the toughest man, but for the first time I was beaten up and I just decided, look I’m just going to have to die in this ring. I’m just not going to quit. I’m going to keep getting up and with Ron Lyle, he beat me up so bad that I think eventually he fainted and I won the boxing match.
JENNA: Was that the most you were ever hurt in your career?
FOREMAN: Yeah, I wasn’t hurt in the Muhammad Ali fight. They counted me out because I jumped up at the eight-count, and they counted ten. So I wasn’t hurt in that fight. I was actually honestly knocked down, but the Ron Lyle fight, I was hurt. I was hit so hard, you didn’t feel anything. You just find yourself on the canvas and this was the test of my life because I couldn’t come back with any excuses like with the Muhammad Ali fight. I had excuses, you know. But this time the whole world saw. No excuse, George. I had to keep getting up. That was as close to what I found endurance, stamina, all of it bottled up. I had it that night. Without it, I wouldn’t have even walked out of that ring alive with Ron Lyle.
JENNA: Now after that fight you won five straight and then you fought Jimmy Young, and most people concede that if you had beat Jimmy young you would have gotten your shot at Ali. Can you tell us what it was like going into that fight in Puerto Rico?
FOREMAN: Well the Jimmy Young fight was going to be a twelve round fight. I was going to make certain, first of all, that I had gone twelve rounds and that I was going to get a decision and show the world that I had the stamina. They said that I couldn’t go seven rounds. I was going to show that, beat Jimmy Young, and then demand a fight with Muhammad Ali because he had previously had a match with Ali and it was a controversial decision where a lot of people thought Young had won that fight. One of the organizations said if after this fight, Muhammad would not make the match, they would strip him and give it to the winner of the Young fight. So this was going to be a prize that night. I went into that fight basically expecting to get an easy win. Little did I know that that would be the fight that would lead to my ten year absence from boxing.
JENNA: Now can you tell us maybe a little bit about that? A lot of fans have heard went on and maybe they want to hear it from your own mouth, what went on in the locker room after you lost that bout?
FOREMAN: Well after, I waited around for the decision in the boxing match of which I really still think I won that boxing match on points. But I didn’t win. So I was so hot. The air conditioners had gone out in San Juan, Puerto Rico that night. It was the hottest place I’d ever felt in my life. I went back to my dressing room to cool off like you normally do and it was so hot you just couldn’t sit down. I was walking and I started thinking, ‘Who cares about this boxing match? You’re still George Foreman. You got money. You could go home and you could go to your ranch and you could retire if you want to. You don’t need boxing. You could retire and die’. From that point on, every word in the conversation led that I was going to die, and I knew I was about to die in a dirty, smelly dressing room that didn’t even have air conditioning. I fought for my life in that dressing room and I heard a voice within me ask, ‘You believe in God, why are you scared to die?’ And I was really afraid.
I was scared and I tried to fight for my life. I didn’t want to tell anyone in the dressing room what was going on because they would have thought maybe he was disappointed that he lost the boxing match. Eventually I tried to make a deal because I knew there was a God. I said, ‘I’m still George Foreman. I can still box and give me money to charity and for cancer’ and the voice answered me within, ‘I don’t want your money, I want you’. Well in a split second, my legs gave out on me and I tried to scream to everyone in the room, ‘Hey ya’ll’. Before I could say another word, I was in this deep dark place over my head, under my feet, nothing, and there was a horrible smell that goes along with death and I knew it was the end of me in a big dump yard. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my mother or my children and I was scared. I looked around and I got mad and said, ‘I don’t care if this is death, I still believe there’s a God’. I just didn’t believe in religion. Then when I said that I believed in God, like a big hand reached in and pulled me out of just hopelessness and I was alive in the dressing room again.
Evidently, they picked me up off the floor and I laid on the table, and as I lay there my doctor’s standing behind me. I told him, ‘Doctor, move your hands, the thorns on his head are making him bleed’ and I saw it, no one else did, blood coming down my forehead. I looked on my hand and I started screaming and I saw blood and I said, ‘Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!’ Well, you know what they did. They strapped me down and took me to intensive care, but I’ve been telling that story now for over thirty-three years how I had no idea that religion exists. I stopped boxing. For ten years, I couldn’t even make a fist. I just went to the dressing room and I hit the bag and it was just a big piece of leather when beforehand it had been Frazier and Ali I’d hit imagining they were on that bag, but this time there was nothing. For ten years I just started preaching. I was ordained an evangelist a year after the Jimmy Young fight and I traveled all over the world telling the story I just told you. I just didn’t believe religion existed. I thought it was for people who were depressed, and I had money and I didn’t need I thought, and that’s what happened in the Jimmy Young fight.
JENNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your retirement. You weren’t officially retired, but you never did fight again for ten years. What was it like in those experiences there preaching and telling people your story?
FOREMAN: It was great, because I always say there’s two doors to the world. There’s a front door, you come in as a wealthy famous athlete, and there’s a backdoor where you’re just on a street corner preaching. I shaved my coveted moustache off. I took all my hair off my head so I’d be on the corner and no one would recognize me. I had gone up to 315 pounds and it was a lot of fun, because I thought you had to be rich and famous to make it in this life. People would stop me if I was getting a battery charger, get me a charger, I’d try to pay them and they’d say, ‘Get out of here big’un’. They’d let me get in line to have an extra big piece of meat at the butcher store. Sometimes even the airline stewardesses would allow me to come up front to a bigger seat. They said, ‘We can’t get you in the booth, big guy, but that seat is too small in coach’. I found out it’s a great world. You don’t have to be famous. For ten years I truly enjoyed myself. I could go into the store, no one would recognize me, and I could buy those detergents that didn’t have any names on them. Nobody cared. I’d shop and started learning how to change my oil, do my own dishes. It became a great world. It was a lot more fun than being some spoiled athlete and having everyone do everything for you.
JENNA: Now one of the most amazing things about your career was the comeback and your decision behind it and it’s something that’s really been unmatched when it comes to boxing. I wanted to ask you a little bit about how you came to that decision to come back to boxing and what were your expectations when you first got back in the gym?
FOREMAN: Well when you take off of boxing, I was a pretty wealthy athlete but I didn’t know how people took advantage of athletes. I’d look in and accountants had found ways of sneaking money out of my bank accounts. I’ve looked and had people who had told me, ‘George, invest in this’ in oil wells and gas wells that didn’t exist. I used to hear about athletes going broke, but I never thought it would happen to me. After about eight years, I looked up and I was broke. I had a portfolio that was pretty much empty and the only thing I knew how to do was box. So I tried to support my youth center to work a place for kids to hang out. The only alternative, I was speaking at a church one night and they asked for an offering for my youth center. They said, ‘Help George with those kids’ and it was so embarrassing. Everybody was looking at me. Here I was, I had been a wealthy athlete and they’re asking people who didn’t have anything for money.
I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to have to ask anyone for anything. I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world again. That’s how I’ll support my youth center!’ I was 315 pounds making a decision after almost ten years to get back into the ring. My trunks, nothing fit me, and I said I was going to be heavyweight champion of the world again. I didn’t say I was going to come back and fight for the money. That’s where integrity started to fit in. I was going to be champ of the world. I started off campaigning, one fight after another. The most I was being offered was $2,500, sometimes $5,000. I even got a purse up to $12,500. That’s when I knew I was on the comeback then.
JENNA: Now when you first came back, most people were not taking you too seriously. How did you deal with that?
FOREMAN: Because of my age, when I told everyone I was coming back into boxing at my weight, they laughed at me. ‘He’s too fat, he’s too old’. I’d hear those things, but every time I looked into the mirror I’d just say to myself, ‘Look, people are saying those things about you, but hey, it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not because is sending you $1. You got to look out for your family.Yyou got to support the youth center’. I traveled all over the country and I’d get into the ring and I was so big, so big, but I kept working out and I kept training. I listened to the jokes about me. As a matter of fact, I started to laugh with them. People didn’t notice that I wasn’t mad. I was laughing because I had ten years of telling people who lost loved ones, have faith. You can do anything. All things are possible. For the first time I had really used the product that I had been selling—have faith. I did. I had more than enough faith to do anything.
CIANI: Changing things up here for a little bit, you were always one of my personal favorite commentators when you did the broadcasting over at HBO. I was wondering (A) if you missed commentating at all, and (B) what were some of your favorite experiences when you did work as a commentator?
FOREMAN: I realized I was at HBO at a very important time in the careers that were broadcast at HBO as well, because I had seen the development of Pernell Whitaker. He was a southpaw, but one of the best boxers of all times and he’ll only be recognized as the years go by. I had seen some of the great fighters. Even Mike Tyson, I did the commentating for one of his boxing matches. I saw the development of Lennox Lewis. All of these guys get better and better, so the experiences were one after another. I did like it because I was on television sharing my view on what I felt people were watching and it gave me a good experience. But one fight after another, they got better and better. James Toney when he developed was a beautiful thing. I saw Roy Jones Junior develop. So the experiences are just too many to really comment on which ones were best. Thirteen years I did it, only intending to do it three years. I ended up doing it thirteen years.
CIANI: Do you miss it at all?
FOREMAN: No, not at all. With HBO, they were such a kind group of people. They’d fly you first class to every venue, and of course you had the best hotels, and you even have a nice lunch before the boxing matches. It was a first class treatment. I miss that sometimes, because I go home and my wife says, ‘Fix your own food, what do you think?’ But other than, I miss being treated like a star. They treated me like a star, but that’s about it. I had so many kids. One child of mine, his team had gone undefeated in Boston not losing one football game. He was in this private school and I didn’t see one game because I couldn’t put it off because HBO would have me for these different weekend days and I couldn’t make commitments. One day I looked up and I said, ‘You know, those kids don’t really want a lot of money. They don’t care about things, but they sure would like to see you standing up in the stands’. So I had to leave to give my kids some time.
CIANI: George, I’m curious, do you currently still follow the heavyweight landscape today and if so, what do you think about the heavyweight division today and some of the top guys out there like the Klitschko brother?
FOREMAN: For the first time, and I hate to use the word, but disappointed I am. The heavyweight division is just about dissolved. There’s not much to offer and I’m hoping my son coming back, George III, will start provoking other athletes to say, ‘I can beat that guy, I can beat that guy’ and the United States might have some good boxers. I’m not happy at all with the heavyweight division. I don’t like the champions, I don’t like their styles, and I don’t even like the contenders who challenge them. Nothing is going on in the heavyweight division. All the life is in the lighter weight divisions. This Pacquiao is the star of the day. Pacquiao is the best fighter out there.
CIANI: Now in addition to Pacquiao, who are some of the other guys out there right now that you do enjoy watching in some of the lighter divisions?
FOREMAN: I like Mayweather as well, Floyd Mayweather, but that’s about the size of it. There are so many others who are equally as good out there but the cream of the crop is that Pacquiao. I just love him. He works out, he trains, and he doesn’t say a whole lot so after his fighting career is over he’ll be known for what he accomplished and not what he said.
CIANI: Now George, you mentioned Pacquiao and Mayweather there. The fight that every boxing fan wanted to see was a mega bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather and now, unfortunately it doesn’t look as if we’re going to get that fight this year. I’m wondering, (A) do you think we’ll ever get that fight and (B) how do you see it playing out if that fight does get made?
FOREMAN: Well it’s one of those fights that I hope never happens because Pacquiao doesn’t need Mayweather in his life. It’ll be one of those life changing experiences for Pacquiao, especially. For instance, I didn’t have to fight Muhammad Ali. I really didn’t have to take that fight. I took the fight and it turned into more than just a boxing match. It became a political statement, one way and the other, and today we’re great friends but if I had to do it over again, because of all the other sprinkling on the pies, I never would have taken part in such a fight. I think Pacquiao had a nice name. Mayweather started to slander him, say things like he was taking drugs. When you start running into people like that, it’s best that you stay away from them. It’s not even necessary to even have them in your life. But if the fight does take place, I think that Pacquiao wins because he’s got the momentum, he has a real trainer, and he’s willing to take the fight. He’d probably beat Mayweather, probably. Not to say Mayweather isn’t a wonderful fighter. He is the best fighter I’ve ever seen in my life, but he can’t beat Pacquiao because there is something else going on in that fight business. Not the X’s and the O’s, but there’s something else.
JENNA: Now George, throughout your comeback, the fight that most people talked about is a fight with ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson who was the champ at that time. Did you ever have any serious negotiations to get that fight and did you ever think that you would, and if you did, how do you think you would have done against him?
FOREMAN: There were a couple of times, serious negotiations were going on with the Mike Tyson fight. Mike Tyson just didn’t want to fight me. Not to say he couldn’t have beaten me. I mean, this guy could punch. The bigger they are the harder they’d fall as far as Mike Tyson was concerned. I guess that I have a feeling, his first original trainer and manager Cus D’Amato must have told him about George Foreman’s punching power as though I would never comeback. So sometimes when you come back and a guy remembers those stories, he says to himself, ‘Look, leave that guy alone’. But I don’t think I would have been that much problems to him. I had a good left jab and I’d always do better when guys come to me, but Tyson was pretty smart with his footwork and hand speed. That would have been a tough fight for me.
JENNA: Well in your comeback, you did go 24-0 and then you finally got a chance at the heavyweight title. It was something that you were planning for throughout your whole comeback. You got a go against Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield who was 25-0 at the time. What were your expectations going into that fight and what did you think about the fight itself?
FOREMAN: Oh, Holyfield was a splendid fighter, very elusive, and he had been well trained. He was a good boxer, pure boxer. A few times I’d hit him and I thought, ‘Boy, I got him now’ and he’d maneuver out of there with his heart, get in position, and even throw punches back. He was not a heavy puncher at all, but he had endurance. I expected to win that boxing match, but I played around with too much publicity, and within 24 hours doing the interviews, and all the things a boxer shouldn’t do. So when the fight started, I was concentrating on putting on a show more than winning that boxing match, but Evander Holyfield had a lot to do with that. This guy was an extremely good, elusive boxer. I had gone twelve rounds with him. I remember in about the eleventh round he started holding on, and the referee told him, ‘Break! Break! Break!’ He would not let go. The statement was made, evidence unleashed, that the age 40 and 50 is not a death sentence for athletes, and that did more for sports than my victory would have if I had knocked him out in one or two rounds. That statement, that age has got nothing to do with it, was good for sports.
JENNA: Now speaking of age having nothing to do with it, after the fight you won three more and then you lost to Tommy Morrison. Then you took a good long period out of the ring. You took about a year and a half off and somehow you got a bout with Michael Moorer who had defeated Evander Holyfield to take the linear title and two of the belts. How did you feel about going into that bout facing a 35-0 Michael Moorer.
FOREMAN: That was a good experience for me because after the Morrison boxing match, actually I had gone into television. I was given a television series where I started doing television. I thought I was going to be an actor, but it was too much work. I realized that acting is more work than boxing. The only luxury in that sport is a king sized bed in the afternoon, in acting. So I came back afterwards and I started negotiating for a title shot. Michael Moorer, of course, had taken the title from Holyfield, and there it is. It just fell right in my lap. Michael Moorer would get a big purse and he thought he would fight the easiest fight of his career with old George Foreman. I already knew that I could punch, and someone had convinced him that he was a better puncher than me. For some reason, the fight took place and he didn’t run. He did not run.
JENNA: What was it like when you got in there? You were getting outboxed primarily for most of the fight and then in the tenth round, you set him up with that beautiful shot. What were you thinking then?
FOREMAN: Well, I had always thought that in the boxing match that if knocked him down in the first round, he would run, run, run, run and I would never catch him. That’s what had happened with Tommy Morrison. He literally had run from me in the boxing match and they gave him a decision. So I know if a gets in his mind he’s going to run from me there’s nothing I can do, but if I can get someone to come to me and Michael Moorer, of course, I jabbed him, hit him in the side in a few earlier rounds. His manager was telling him, ‘Get him! Get him!’ and there he was. I figured I threw the right hand lead, hook, hook, and rather than jump out of the way he would duck the punches. I said, ‘This is amazing! A bird nest on the ground’. I was able to steam in with a one-two combination, left-right, and knock him down. I hit him first up high, and I decided to lower my right hand a little bit. I hit him again with the second right hand and there he was on the canvas. A lot of people said it was a lucky shot, but I had been like that since I was seventeen years old always hitting guys with a shot like that. That’s what I had done all my life.
JENNA: Now you won the title back after twenty years. What was that feeling like, just to finally accomplish something that you had lost to Ali, and you were wearing the trunks that you wore when you fought Ali in that fight. What was it like to regain it after that long a time?
FOREMAN: Yeah, you think about twenty years, a whole twenty year time span passed. I told people that wasn’t the George Foreman in Africa. I could have been champion of the world, I had all these excuses, and people laughed at me. Twenty years later I’m in the ring given a chance and there’s redemption, and from that point on, even for myself on a personal basis I could sit back with some kind of contentment to say, ‘I told you’. But it was back to preaching and being a father again. No big deal. You have one moment in life where you can say, ‘I did it, thank God for it’ and the next day is about getting to the church, and preaching, and doing your work.
JENNA: When you did win it back you were recognized as the champion, and something that’s always been curious for boxing fans is why did you decide to drop the WBA belt and not face Tony Tucker at the time?
FOREMAN: You know, I worked hard, campaigned hard. I had to fight lawsuits to even make certain that after Michael Moorer signed the fight that he would finish the boxing match with me. I did it, took care of that, then after that I forgot about the politics that goes on. You have to pay this guy to do this, you got to ask this guy to do this, I said ‘I don’t need that in my life anymore. I’ve gotten the title. You could have your title back, you could have your title back’ because I had gotten it and I just gave it back to them. That’s not what I wanted to be. Some young kid going around paying sanctioning fees for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to do that.
JENNA: Well you amazed a lot of people towards the end of your career because the last fight you had, you fought a young kid by the name of Shannon Briggs. He was 29-1, he was 25 years old. Yourself, you were a couple of months shy of being 49. To most people’s eyes, you beat him handily in there and they kind of robbed you of the decision. It’s one of the most controversial fights people still talk about in heavyweight history now. How do you feel about that bout and your decision to retire after it?
FOREMAN: It’s funny because I get into a boxing ring and every time, every round I’d try to knock guys out. If a guy would escape me for twelve rounds, he deserved it in the first place. I never went out to win a decision, never, and some guys go out and figure they’re going to go twelve rounds with George and that’s their victory. But I would always pursue a knockout. That’s all I was after. If I go twelve rounds and they gave it to the other guy, I never complained because that’s not what I was trying to do, get a decision. I was trying to knock them out. So I’m comfortable with that. I didn’t get the victory, but I went home. They asked me after the fight, they said, ‘George, you were robbed!’ I said where I came from in Houston, Texas, you don’t scream you were robbed when you still got $4 or $5 in your pocket. Boxing was about, and I’ll never forget, getting that the title was the part to prove my integrity, but I really came back for the million dollars and I ended up with a million and won more $100,000 and I don’t have anything now because I got ten kids. They have gone to college. You think you’re rich? You educate ten kids. Man, that’s a parking meter. You look up and they’ll say, ‘Look Dad, I got a degree!’ and you look and say, ‘I got a barrel wrapped around me and all my clothes are gone’.
JENNA: As they say, it takes just one fight to pay for all their degrees. Did you ever think about coming back at any point after that Briggs fight?
FOREMAN: Yeah, I was going to make a comeback at the age of 55. I was going to stay out and come back at 55. I was in good shape and my wife convinced me that I would have to live in that mobile home outside if I ever go back into boxing. I showed her that I could do it and she said, ‘George isn’t that the way you want to leave the sport? Feeling like you could still do it?’ and I had never considered that. I told, ‘I could do it!’ and she said ‘That’s the way you should want to leave’ and I never came back. I just forgot it because to wake up every morning feeling like you can still do it is it a thrill, but to have someone beat your brains out and you figure I could never do it. I don’t think I ever wanted to wake up like that.
JENNA: So after Shannon Briggs won the heavyweight title in 2007, you never said, ‘Hey, I got the better of him ten years ago, maybe I should give it another shot’?
FOREMAN: You know, I never paid much attention to them. Like I said, for a long time I haven’t been interested in the heavyweight division because the guys don’t seem to be that dedicated. I’m still hungry for a nice American heavyweight champion and if he does come back and I get an exciting one from America, I’m just going to buy ringside seats and popcorn and enjoy myself. That’s what I’m interested in now. Not coming back, but having popcorn and hotdogs and enjoying myself.
JENNA: There was another guy out there that wanted you. He wanted a piece of you bad, and that was Larry Holmes. In 1999 there was a fight that almost came together. They called it ‘The Birthday Bash’. Were you at all disappointed that you never got to go in the ring with Larry?
FOREMAN: Yeah, Larry was a good fighter and I think that would have been a good showcase of talent for Larry Holmes and me. It never happened, and because it never happened, every year he’d go all over the country saying he wanted to fight me. I tell my friends, ‘Every year, Larry Holmes escapes from his nursing home and challenges me, and I have to come out of my nursing home and tell him no’.
JENNA: Well George, I have just two more questions for you and I wanted to ask one more about your son. How far do you think he can go in his journey here? He’s 27 years old, he’s 9-0. Where do you see him going?
FOREMAN: Well he’s going to take his time, and I’ve convinced him, I don’t care how old you are you can’t rush it. He’s getting stronger, he’s maturing later, he’s even starting to get a chest and his muscles are getting tough. Take your time. Next year, we’ll start making our appearances on television and people will get a chance to see for themselves, the best left jab in the heavyweight division. He’ll put his combinations together, and I do believe he’ll reach and grab himself a heavyweight title before it’s over. He can do it, but he’s 27. I told him just take your time. How many guys get a great education from a Rice University? You just can’t do it overnight. If any of my kids want to be boxers, they must get a college education first so it will take them a little longer.
JENNA: Now if you had any advice for an upcoming fighter that wanted to make it big in the sport, what would you give him?
FOREMAN: Start small, learn the business, and it doesn’t matter how big you get, enjoy the publicity because it doesn’t matter how good you are. If people don’t know about you it doesn’t mean much.
JENNA: Alright, and finally, for all the boxing fans out there, your fans, and the listeners of On the Ropes Boxing Radio, is there anything you want to say to them?
FOREMAN: Go out and find George Foreman’s Knockout Cleaning Solutions. It’s an earth-friendly solution. I got it. You clean your house. It doesn’t hurt your children. I’m trying to make myself, you want to something in life that your proud of, not just make money, but it’s good and friendly for the earth—The George Foreman Knockout Cleaning Solutions. Go find it!
JENNA: Always a salesman, George. It was an absolute pleasure having a chance to talk to you because when I started the show, the one guy that I wanted to speak with was you, and so you made my dream come true here today and I just want to thank you again for your time. I wish you all the best with you and your son’s future.
FOREMAN: Thank you so very much.
CIANI: Thank you, George. It was a great pleasure to talk to you.
FOREMAN: Thank you. Bye bye.
For those interested in listening to the George Foreman interview in its entirety, it begins approximately forty-one minutes into the program.
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Article posted on 18.08.2010
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