Foreman, George (1949—)

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Foreman, George (1949—)

Boxer George Foreman is best known not as the fierce young heavyweight fighter of his youth, but as the oldest man ever to claim the heavyweight championship. Foreman has had a boxing career in two distinct eras, the first spanning the glory years of heavyweight boxing in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the second defined by his astonishing comeback in the 1990s. The forty-plus-year-old Fore-man's comeback earned him the status of an American icon, and as he boxed and boasted about his ability to eat, he became a symbol of determination for a generation many considered over the hill.

In 1968 Foreman won an Olympic Gold medal in Mexico City. After turning professional he beat Joe Frazier to capture the world heavyweight championship. In one of the most publicized fights in history he lost his championship to Muhammad Ali in Zaire. By 1977 Foreman had retired from boxing and become a preacher. But he returned to the ring a decade later, an object of ridicule because of his weight and age. In 1994—at the age of forty-five—he recaptured the heavyweight crown.

Foreman was born January 10, 1949, and was reared in an impoverished area known as the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, by his mother. Foreman dropped out of school in junior high, and earned a reputation as a fighter. After quitting school, Foreman joined the Job Corps. He was shipped first to the Fort Vanney Training Center outside Grant Pass, Oregon, then to the Parks Job Corps Center outside Pleasanton, California. After years of being a bully, this is where Foreman began to box. After graduating from the Job Corps, Foreman worked at the Pleasanton Center and continued to train as a fighter. As an amateur Foreman went on the win the gold medal in the tumultuous 1968 Olympics. John Carlos and Tommie Smith, two American sprinters, had been expelled from the Olympic Village for flashing the Black Power salute during their medal ceremony. Foreman waved a small American flag after winning his gold medal match.

After the Olympics, Foreman turned pro and in his first professional fight knocked out Don Waldheim on June 23, 1969, in Madison Square Garden. Foreman advanced through the heavyweight ranks and on January 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica, Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier in the second round to win the heavyweight championship.

After compiling a record of 40-0, Foreman lost his first professional fight and the heavyweight crown to Muhammad Ali on October 30, 1974, in Zaire. His second loss came to Jimmy Young in March of 1977 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After his loss to Young, Foreman experienced a religious conversion, retired from boxing, and became a street preacher and ordained minister. He eventually became a radio evangelist in Los Angeles and Houston and, finally, established his own church in Houston. He also established the George Foreman Youth and Community Center.

In an effort to raise money for his youth center—at the age of 37 and 10 years removed from professional boxing—Foreman decided to return to the ring. Foreman's comeback began in March of 1987 in Sacramento against Steve Zouski. The first loss of Foreman's comeback came on April 19, 1991, in Atlantic City, when he lost a 12-round decision in a heavyweight championship bout with Evander Holyfield. However, on November 5, 1994, at the age of 45, Foreman recaptured the heavyweight championship with a 10th round knockout of Michael Moore.

Foreman's return to boxing prominence was accompanied by a rush of media attention, and Foreman proved himself as adept a media celebrity as he was a boxer. With his bald pate, broad smile, and massive physique, Foreman made good copy as he boasted about the numbers of hamburgers he loved to eat. Quipped Foreman to a reporter, "Today the biggest decisions I make aren't related to the heavyweight title. They are whether I visit McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, or Jack-in-the-Box." It might have all seemed a joke had he not backed up his words with a powerful punch. In 1999, with a career record of 76-5, Foreman's fans wondered if he could win his next championship in his fifties.

—Kerry Owens

Further Reading:

Foreman, George, and Joel Engel. By George. New York, Villard Books, 1995.

Mailer, Norman. The Fight. Boston, Little, Brown, 1975.

"Welcome to George Foreman's Place." June 1999.