By José Sulaimán: GEORGE FOREMAN, A Giant in Boxing and in Life
I attended an homage rendered to the deceased Arq. Pedro Ramirez Vásquez, whose art in architecture will surpass Father Time and live forever. He was the president of the Olympic Games held in Mexico City back in 1968 – the year where some U.S. athletes showed their disagreement with the American government by raising their closed fists with black gloves that impacted the world. George Foreman, however, danced around the ring after winning that year, showing the gold medal and the U.S. flag with honor and pride – an action that countered, somehow, the black gloves. I call Foreman’s action one of patriotism and profound respect for his country.
Foreman started pro boxing knocking out everybody, even fighting three rivals on the same night. He reached the No. 1 ranking at the WBC, but Joe Frazier showed no interest in fighting him. Dick Sadler, our dear friend and George’s trainer at the time, flew to Mexico. The WBC gave Joe Frazier 48 hours to accept fighting Foreman or it would withdraw recognition to his title. Frazier accepted in 24 hours. The fight was held in Jamaica, where George Foreman became the heavyweight champion of the world by knocking out Joe in three rounds, after five stumbling knockdowns.
Foreman was, at the time, bad-tempered, quiet, very serious, and with a frightening stare, who had no time to smile for anyone. He went to Venezuela to make his first defence against Ken Norton, with the local chairman a strong WBA man who appointed a referee to whom Professor Velázquez, the WBC president at the time, objected. George also protested. The chairman refused to make any changes and Foreman got injured and had his right hand immobilized with a cast. When the commissioner changed his mind and accepted the WBC’s referee, what do you think that happened ? George took off his cast and knocked out Kenny in two rounds.
That promotion was the very first in a life that drew Don King to become one of the greatest promoters of all time, if not the greatest. By the way, the Venezuelan government confiscated the TV equipment after the fight for about two weeks on alleged taxes problems. Don King, who I have always said could sell the devil to Jesus Christ, offered Foreman and Muhammad Ali five million dollars each to fight in Zaire, Africa, in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” They accepted. Five million dollars in 1974!!!!!! My God, that was a real fortune !!!! Ali invented the “rope-a-dope” and spent seven rounds with his back against the ropes with Foreman punching him mainly on the arms, until exhaustion. Ali knocked him out in the eighth round.
George followed Ali everywhere, looking for the rematch. Ali paid no attention to him. In 1976, at my first convention after my first election as president, held in Las Vegas, George came to ask the WBC for a rematch. Ali also came to Las Vegas. When I asked him, he said, “So old George wants a rematch. Well, I’ll give it to him after my next voluntary.” I asked my unforgettable and dearest friend Gil Clancy, who was born, like me, on May 30. He said that he was fighting Jimmy Young and was happy that Ali was next. I told him that Young had a very difficult style for anyone. Gil said, “If he can’t beat Young, he cannot beat Ali.” The rematch never took place. George lost a decision to Young and Ali won a controversial decision against Norton in New York. Foreman found God in his dressing room after the fight and became a preacher. Ali also retired for about a year after his fight.
George Foreman jumped into the ring for business. He knocked out almost everybody. Years later came back to boxing to become the oldest boxer ever to win a title. His career record was of 76 wins, of which 68 were by K.O. Wooow !!! On his return, hamburgers made him very famous. He was no more a vicious looking person, and won everybody with his smile and his hamburger. Later on, he opened a business to sell hamburger machines and made a fortune, but continued preaching and being a man of God.
So everybody knows his heart is as wealthy as himself. He received as an homage an exclusive, never to be made again, HUBLOT watch from the famous Hublot company itself. Hublot and the WBC organised a bidding with a unique reproduction of one watch apiece of the 12 immortals boxers to receive them. George brought Larry Holmes’ for $100,000 and Ken Norton’s for $80,000 dollars. That was his way of paying a respectful homage to those two great heavyweights also in history. But his money went to a fund that the WBC has opened to give a pension to the so many ex-boxers who live today with tears, thinking in their glorious past, while not having a piece of bread to eat.
This is the Giant of Boxing: GEORGE FOREMAN. A pride of the WBC, and an example of what someone who was born in the humblest of beds and raised to glory can do.
GEORGE FOREMAN: a giant as a boxer and a giant in life, as well.