What can possibly be said about heavyweight legend George Foreman that hasn’t already been said? One thing: happy 75th birthday! It was indeed 75 years ago today, when “Big George” was born in Marshall, Texas, his a tough, hungry, later crime-filled early life. Foreman, blessed with immense physical strength, a quick mind that was able to learn, to adapt, to pick up so much, this with the barest of school educations, mind you, was determined to make something of his life.
And, in large part thanks to the Jobs Corps programme to help underprivileged youth that was set up by President Lyndon Johnson, a teenage, tearaway Foreman was given his big chance (and how George wore his LBJ Stetson with pride!).
Hungry, in every sense of the word, Foreman, who missed his mother like crazy and who wandered into the boxing gym primarily in an effort to lose some weight, was soon spotted by trainer Doc Broadus. The rest is history. Quite astonishing history.
Making rapid progress, Foreman, who first laced up the gloves in 1967, won Olympic gold in Mexico in 1968 – this after having compiled a mere 16-4 amateur record. Foreman smashed accomplished Russian Jonas Cepulis in the final at the ’68 Games, his gold medal proudly worn around his neck upon returning home. And Foreman had made big headlines by waving a tiny American flag after his Olympic coronation, this after fellow US athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith had each pumped a gloved fist into the air whilst standing on the Olympic podium, this in a Black Power salute.
Not everyone was willing to shake Foreman’s hand when he got back home (at least not according to the recent, and pretty disappointing, ‘Big George Foreman’ movie).
But Foreman was on his way, and after some slow progress and some pretty safe match making, Foreman was challenging for the world heavyweight title. The sight, and the sound, of Foreman brutalizing Joe Frazier inside two rounds in January of 1973 has long since been emblazoned in the minds of fight fans. Foreman, a genuine Texan monster, looked set for a heck of a long reign as king. But, like his hero and mentor Sonny Liston, Foreman was to fall victim to the incomparable Muhammad Ali. Foreman was left mentally crushed after the African epic of 1974, but in reality he was only getting going as a fighter.
Who can forget the slugfest to end all heavyweight slugfests, between Foreman and Ron Lyle? And then the stunner that saw Jimmy Young beat Foreman and send him, with the aid of God, into a ten-year retirement?
And what about the logic-defying comeback an old, fat, money-hungry Foreman embarked on in 1987, this some twenty years after he had first donned the gloves! Foreman, needing funds to save his Youth and Community Centre, stripped it back to basics and, after adding Charlie Shipes and Archie Moore to his comeback team, he started from the bottom up. Once again.
And it worked, to the extent that Foreman made $millions, became a genuine hero the way his former conqueror Ali had been (and always will be), and managed to win back the heavyweight crown. Foreman’s comeback has been called the greatest in sport’s history, and with good reason. Foreman, coming full circle and forever kicking the ass of all the demons that tormented him, but at the same time inspired him and forced him to fight on, exorcised himself with his KO win over Michael Moorer, this twenty years after his fall in Zaire.
Foreman was the king of kings, and he was on the cover of every magazine that was out there at the time. And Foreman would never have to worry about the electricity being cut at his Youth and Community Centre ever again (again, this happening according to the recent movie).
Foreman, with a grill deal seeing him net many, many more $millions, was set for life. For his new life. Today, at age 75, George is nothing short of a global treasure. Loved by all and appreciated by all, Foreman is in a class of his own when it comes to heavyweight boxers. Some may say Larry Holmes is the greatest living heavyweight, but here the vote goes to “Big George.”