When he made the shocking decision to return to the ring to face journeyman heavyweight Steve Zouski 36 years ago today, George Foreman was in no way the beloved and hugely popular figure he is today. What he was when he entered the ring at The Arco Arena in Sacramento, was a curiosity of a former champion who was returning, after a ten year absence, to the sport he once dominated. Typically, there was as much negativity as there was curiosity surrounding this bizarre comeback..
No-one, least of all the sports writers, felt they would see “Big George” go on from the 4th round TKO he scored over Zouski that March evening in 1987 and become, A: a two-time heavyweight champion of the world, B: a multi, multi, multi-millionaire, and C: a cherished figure known for partaking in the sport of boxing’s most successful comeback in heavyweight history. Yet Foreman, who weighed-in for his first action in a decade at the 267-pound mark, did all the great things listed above and more.
In many ways, George’s ability to ignore the barbs thrown his way by the media was his most impressive achievement. Openly ridiculing Foreman and his chances of reigning again as absurd, the press called Foreman all manner of things – crazy, a disgrace, shameless. You name it, George had to hear it. Yet being the incredibly strong-minded fighter no-one yet knew he was, the 38-year-old soldiered on and slowly but surely made the critics eat their words.
And some strong words they were, too. This from the March, 1987 issue of World Boxing, whose cover bellowed the ignominious headline – “Foreman’s Flabby Comeback!”
“After a few more bruised eyelids Foreman’s comeback will fade away to nothing.” And from George’s former trainer Gil Clancy as quoted in the same issue. “George called me and told he was going to comer back. I said, okay, come to the gym so I can take a look at you. I never heard back from George after that.”
The magazine had inside its pages some unflattering text describing the Foreman-Zouski fight, and it was in no way unclear that the publication gave the former heavyweight king not much more than a snowball in hell’s chance of getting anywhere near where he wanted to go – namely into a ring with current champion Mike Tyson. And who could really blame the magazine’s writers or Clancy for thinking the way they did? After all, what George was trying to do was pretty mind boggling.
Yet, in daring to be great and, more importantly, in daring to dream, George achieved his lofty and seemingly farfetched goal. He never got into a ring with Tyson, but he fought for the title on two separate occasions – losing admirably on points to Evander Holyfield in April of 1991 (Holyfield being a fighter who would go on to TKO Tyson) and then realising his dream in the 10th round against Michael Moorer in November of 1994.
World Boxing, in its report on the Zouski fight, said only the former champion’s left jab had remained from his prime years. As it turned out, George had a lot more left than just that!
(A little mention should go to Zouski. After losing to Foreman, the then 33-year-old from Brockton fought on for a further four years – winning six and losing six. One of the fighters he met, and went the distance with during this time, was a 11-0 bomber named Tommy Morrison. Though he lost to all the name fighters he met – including Tyson, who stopped him in the 3rd-round a year before he met Foreman – Zouski was one tough guy. Today he is best known as the man a living legend chose as his first comeback foe. You will see Zouski, played by Barry Hanley, in the forthcoming movie ‘Big George Foreman,’ out next month.