After the 1968 Olympics, I turned professional. In 1971, Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight championship. In the meantime, I was working my way up and soon became the number #1 challenger. I got a chance at the title in 1973. Frazier was heavily favored to beat me, but I knocked him out in two rounds. Then I defended my title against Puerto Rican heavyweight champion Jose Roman. I beat him in 50 seconds, the shortest ever heavyweight championship match. Then in 1974, I defended my title against Ken Norton who had just beaten Muhammad Ali and I beat him in just two rounds.
The 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” with Muhammad Ali in Africa was a very different story for me. Ali arrived first and worked to win over the population. He had them chanting, “Ali bomaye” — “Ali, kill him.” During practice, I got a cut over my eye and we had to postpone the fight for a month. Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko wouldn’t let us leave the country because his government had put up the money for the fight. Ali was a great boxer and an incredible showman who seemed to enjoy all the hype. I hated Zaire and just wanted to get the fight over with. Ali used the extra month to taunt me and to keep me from being focused. Rumors were spread that my food would be poisoned and that a curse was being placed on me to paralyze me.
When we finally got into the ring, I didn’t let Ali dance around. I drove him into the ropes. Ali changed tactics to use the stretching of the ropes to lean back and away from my swings and then maul me in clinches. This “rope-a-dope” strategy made me swing wildly and tire. In the eighth round, I was exhausted and when Ali connected, I went down. I got up but they stopped the fight. It was my first defeat and Ali remains the only person to ever beat me by a knockout. It was a devastating loss for me.
I fought my way back beating the top contenders until I lost a decision to Jimmy Young in 1977. In the locker room, I had a near death experience and pleaded with God to help me. I heard him ask me to change my life and ways, and I became a born-again Christian and an ordained minister. I devoted myself to my family, my church and the youth center I opened to help troubled youth.
I poured my life savings into my youth center. Having grown up in a home lacking food and a father figure, I wanted to do all I could to help young people and to give back for what I had been given. When the money ran out in 1987, I decided to go back to boxing, even though I had been out of the ring for 10 years and had never wanted to go back. It was a big challenge. I had to train twice as hard as when I was young and fit. Even so, with the training and the inner peace I had found in the Lord, I didn’t tire in the late rounds like I had as a young, intense fighter
By 1994, I had earned a title shot so I wore the same red trunks that I wore in my loss to Ali 20 years earlier, but this time I was a huge underdog. In the 10th round, I knocked out Michael Moorer and went back to my corner to kneel in prayer. At age 45, I was the oldest fighter to ever win the world heavyweight crown and with 20 years in between my title matches, no one had ever come back after that much time between title matches.
Even though I toyed with the idea of showing that age 55 is not a death sentence, I had my last fight at age 48. My wife, family, religion and church are all much more important to me now.
I want others to have the educational opportunities my family did not have. I tell my 10 children and my congregation that real power comes through education. I had a powerful punch but physical strength diminishes over time. I’ve seen world champions that quickly lost all their money and ended up broke, but with an education, you never lose what you have learned. New opportunities always open up and you can always start over again if you have a good education. Public colleges like TJC can make all the difference in creating a brighter future for you and your family.
- TJC Hero and Friend George Foreman divides his time between his home, his Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston and his ranch in Marshall, Texas. Read more about George and his many interests at www.biggeorge.com Sunday, July 12, 2009 Volume 131, Number 46 By George Foreman