Big George Foreman Brought “Real Change” to the Sport of Boxing!
Big George Foreman Brought “Real Change” to the Sport of Boxing!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (June 20, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
George Foreman

In a country that has grown more and more divided over the past several years with the promise of “change” the people in the White House could take a lesson of the “real change” that Big George Foreman went through on March 17, 1977. “A hero is someone right who doesn’t change,” said Foreman. On that day Foreman learned right from wrong from the almighty!

I once wrote for a website called “Fighters of Faith” and would get the questions “how could a fighter be a Christian and a fighter?” I would tell them “ever hear of David and Goliath?” They say God works in mysterious ways and the conversion in the attitude of Foreman was nothing short of miraculous!

Growing up in the streets of the Fifth Ward in Houston, TX, young George Foreman was one mean person who practiced his throwing by putting rocks through windows of abandoned factories for one thing. He joined the Job Corp hoping to use those hands for some good not bad. “I grew up in the Fifth Ward. The bloody fifth they called it. Every week-end someone got killed,” said Foreman.

Foreman even idolized Hall of Fame NFL star Jim Brown. Talk about a role model and someone with a chip on their shoulder. “When I was a kid growing up in Houston we were so poor we couldn’t afford the last 2 letters, so we called ourselves po’,” said Foreman.

On January 26, 1967, several weeks past his 18th birthday he won his first amateur bout by knockout in the Parks Diamond Belt Tournament. His first trainer was Nick “Doc” Broadus. His final record was 22-4. He won the 1968 Gold Medal in the Mexico City Olympics that September. When you think about it he went from a raw amateur to a world amateur champion in 20 months.

Foreman previously won the National AAU title in Toledo, OH, in March of 1968. In July he sparred 5 rounds with the then Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on two different occasions. In September he defeated Otis Evans for the second time to make the US team. At the Olympics he defeat Lucjan Trela (Poland) 4-1, Ion Alexe (Romania) TKO 3, Girgio Bambini (Italy) KO2 and Ionas Chepulis (Soviet Union) TKO2 for the Gold medal. When he walked around the ring waving two small American flags while several other athletes were pushing “black power”, Foreman became an instant hero for the truly American people.

On the 1968 USA team 7 won medals with Foreman and Ronnie Harris the only Gold winners. I’ve done stories on 2, Armando Muniz and Sammy Goss. Art Redden and James Wallington are deceased. Of the 10 members there were 6 with the Armed Forces. Something you rarely see today.

Foreman turned professional stopping Brooklyn’s Don Waldheim, 5-4-2, in 3 rounds at Madison Square Garden in June of 1969 on the undercard of “Smokin” Joe Frazier and Jerry Quarry NYSAC title bout. Who knew 18 months later Foreman would meet Frazier in Jamaica for the WBC/WBA titles?

Defeating Chuck Wepner, 18-4-2, in his fourth fight was quite an accomplishment. Wepner had his 9 fight win streak stopped in his last fight by Joe Roman, a future title challenger of Foreman’s in 1973. In his eighth fight he went the distance of 8 rounds with Peru’s Roberto Davila in the main event in Madison Square Garden. Davila would be only 1 of 3 boxers in Foreman’s first 40 unbeaten fights not to be stopped by Foreman. In December in his twelfth fight Levi forte, 19-21-2, was down in the second round but somehow managed to go the distance of 10 rounds.

Foreman’s seventeenth fight was his first real test in meeting Argentina’s Gregorio Peralta, 77-5-8, at the Garden in February of 1970 under the Frazier-Jimmy Ellis card. The voting was scattered but Peralta gave Foreman a good fight losing 9-1, 7-3 and 5-4. Foreman would go on to score 24 straight knockouts after this fight including a tenth round stoppage of Peralta some 14 months later.

Included in Foreman’s knockout streak was George Chuvalo, 59-15-2, whom he stopped in 3 rounds. Boone Kirkman was 22-1 and on an 11 fight streak when he was stopped in 2 rounds. In his thirty-sixth fight he stopped the Argentine champion Miguel Angel Paez, 48-15-3, for something called the Pan American title. He was just 1 win away from fighting Frazier for the title.

On January 22, 1973 Foreman would travel to Kingston, Jamaica, to challenge Frazier for the WBC/WBA world titles. There were 23,000 in attendance with Howard Cosell announcing at ringside. People can still hear him saying “Frazier is down. Frazier is down!” Frazier hit the canvas 3 times in the first round and 3 times in the second round before referee Arthur Mercante finally stopped it at 2:26 of the round after a Foreman right uppercut actually lifted Frazier off the canvas and down. “I was scared to death of Joe Frazier before that fight,” said Foreman.

It would be 22 years before Foreman could successfully defend his title in the US. His first defense was in Tokyo, Japan, against Joe Roman, 43-7-1, of Puerto Rico. He had won 22 of his 23 previous fights but was no match for Foreman. All Roman could do is try to avoid Foreman’s punches by ducking under them when Foreman after a flurry of hits and misses finally hit him with a left hook and followed up accidently. Roman’s trainer jumped up on the apron of the ring begging for a disqualification knowing Roman had no other chance. Referee Jay Edson allowed it.

Foreman rushed over and dropped Roman with a right uppercut. When he got up he was a bent over target taking punches when another right uppercut put him down and out. Edson could have counted to 100. Foreman was still the heavyweight champion of the WBC/WBA. This was 8 months after stopping Frazier.

Next would be Ken Norton, 30-2, in Caracas, VZ, in March of 1974. Norton had a dispute with his legendary trainer Eddie Futch and would be without Futch in the corner. Norton came out moving like he was Ali but when your known to drag one foot behind the other he would never be able to stay away from Foreman this way. As muscular as Norton was he fought like he feared Foreman.

Norton decided to stand his ground and he paid for it as Foreman put him up against the ropes Norton moved to his left but got caught by 3 straight right uppercuts that knocked him into the ropes. As he bounced off the referee Jimmy Rondeau wisely gave him a count. Again Foreman rushed Norton and a right uppercut knocked him into the ropes and he took a second count.

Foreman charged him again and landed 3 out of 4 punches with the last putting Norton down for a third time. He tried pulling himself up but was in no condition to continue as his corner was running up the steps to stop it at 2:00 of the second round. Eddie Futch told me “Norton asked me to come back after that fight but I decided not to.” That was Norton’s loss, not Futch’s.

After winning his first 40 fights with 37 by knockout Foreman looked indestructible. They say the mind is 90% of boxing and 10% physical. When you meet Muhammad Ali you know you will not overcome him mentally. The closest was the first Liston fight but the confidence of that win never allowed Ali to fall short again with the “mind game”.

The people in Zaire, now the Congo, received Ali with a hero’s welcome and Foreman as “the villan”. The fight would be postponed when Foreman received a cut in sparring. They would not allow either fighter to leave the country. The fight finally took place in October of 1974 with Ali was 44-2 at the time. American referee Zach Clayton would also serve as a judge and had an association with Don King. Even during the instructions Clayton allowed Ali to chatter away at the menacing Foreman.

Without Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee knowing it Ali made the “rope-a-dope” defense famous that night. Some say he got it from Philly’s “Gypsy” Joe Harris at the Pollock Mink Farm training site near Dear Lake, PA. In Foreman’s corner were legendary knockout king and former world light heavyweight champion Archie Moore and Dick Saddler.

Foreman only knew one way to fight and that was to seek and destroy. It was later revealed that legendary trainer Cus D’Amato advised Ali to land the first punch and as hard as he could hit to make Foreman aware of his power. Ali did just that and the fighters fell into a clinch. With Ali taking heavy punishment on the ropes he allowed Foreman to open up on him taking quite a few on the arms and gloves.

Another tactic by Ali was to pull down on the back of Foreman’s neck to tire him. Referee Clayton would never warn him for this infraction. Ali easily took the first round as Foreman easily took the second round though missing as much as he was landing with Ali on the defense. Foreman continued throwing more punches than Ali and taking the third round.

The fourth and fifth rounds were close with Ali gaining an edge with Foreman starting to show signs of tiring. In the sixth round Ali started out fast landing good jabs and right hands and referee Clayton finally warned Ali for holding behind the head. By the end of the round both fighters were slowing down with foreman throwing wide arm punches.

In the seventh Foreman though slowed down seemed to get the better of Ali who was not throwing much in return. Two judges had Ali ahead by scores of 70-67 (as did this writer), 69-66 and the referee 68-66.

In the eighth round with Ali in the corner Foreman threw a wide left hook that Ali avoided and almost went over the top rope. With 30 seconds to go in the round and Ali’s back to the corner he landed a solid right hand and followed with another and Foreman looked hurt and starting to fall into the ropes as Ali landed a third right hand on the back of the head. As Ali spun out of the corner with Foreman following a right, left and a missed right followed by a left and right hurting Foreman who was spinning out of control and down to the canvas.

Though it was one of the quicker counts I’ve seen Foreman got up at ten and just walked back to his corner. The fight was over with Ali taking the title more by cleverness and a little help from the referee. It was over at 2:58 of the eighth round with Ali regaining the title and Foreman suffering his first loss in 41 fights.

Foreman would come back in 3 months in January of 1976 against the ever dangerous Ron Lyle, 31-3-1, in January of 1976 while Ali announced he would take on Chuck Wepner in March. This would be one of the most brutal knock them down sock ‘em fights in the history of the heavyweight division.

In Foreman’s corner would be Gil Clancy while Kenny Adams was in the corner of Lyle. This was almost 3 years since Clancy took Jerry Quarry a heavy underdog into the ring in New York and completely befuddled Lyle for his first loss. Lyle was coming of a knockout win over Earnie Shavers.

Lyle raced across the ring at the opening bell trying to land a lead right hand the way Ali did in Zaire but Foreman easily stepped to the side as Lyle went past him. Halfway through the round Foreman landed a left hook that knocked Lyle off balance. Referee Charley Roth showed his inexperience by stepping between the fighters after separating them and spinning around.

An overhand right by Lyle rocked Foreman with 20 seconds to go in the round. Foreman was able to tie Lyle up without taking another solid punch until 5 seconds to go when Lyle landed a hard left hook to the head.

In the second round Lyle ran across and missed again to start the round. Lyle landed a strong jab with Foreman countering it with a strong right hand. Both fighters were mixing it up pretty good when Foreman landed a left hook that raised the right leg of Lyle off the canvas. He missed with a second but landed a solid right. Lyle went back to the ropes. Foreman landed a good right with Lyle now in the corner followed by a good left hook. Lyle landed a short right at the bell as both fighters stared at each other as Foreman walked to his corner.

In the third round Foreman landed a two punch combination to the mid-section of Lyle making him fall back against the ropes. Most of the round Lyle stayed on the ropes near a neutral corner with Foreman taking shots at him easily winning the round.

In the fourth round Lyle landed a good straight right hand over Foreman’s left jab that got Foreman’s attention. Inside a right uppercut by Lyle jarred Foreman. A left hook, right hand and right uppercut followed by a left hook knocked Foreman off balance and in trouble. As Lyle followed him toward the ropes he landed a right and followed with a left hook. It seemed Foreman was starting to fall forward and a little help from Lyle leaning on him as Foreman hit the canvas and Lyle tried to hit him with a right uppercut that just missed.

Foreman tied up Lyle and was moving him around in circles. In the middle of the ring it was a slugfest as Foreman landed a left, right and left hurt Lyle. As the fighters were exchanging punches with Foreman landing the cleaner he landed a punch behind the head as Lyle had tried to avoid it causing the punch to and there. A pair of right hands to the head and Lyle was on the canvas.

Lyle barely beat the count and leaned back on the ropes with both hands holding the top strand while Foreman was doing the same in the corner as the referee seemed to checking if Lyle was all right to continue. Four unanswered solid left hooks from Foreman as he had Lyle on the ropes. Foreman ducked a right hand and in coming back up got caught with a left hook.

Suddenly Lyle in the middle of the ring landed 7 unanswered punches started with a right uppercut. As both fighters threw rights at the same time Lyle’s got in first and down went Foreman onto his right arm for the second time in the fight he was down. As Foreman managed to get to his feet in the middle of the ring the bell ended the fourth round.

In the fifth round fighting inside Foreman landed a 5 punch combination. After a break Lyle landed a good left hook. Foreman was hurt but managed to bully Lyle to the ropes. Both fighters very tired. Left hook lands on Foreman’s jaw with little effect. Lyle looks more tired while Foreman seems alert. Both fighters hands down as Foreman lands 4 straight jabs followed by a straight right on the jaw. Lyle comes back with right uppercut to jaw of Foreman.

Inside Lyle doesn’t seem to be able to lift his right to throw it as Foreman lands 7 straight unanswered punches with the last 3 left hooks to the head of Lyle as he falls to his left against the ropes. Lyle seems out on his feet as Foreman lands over a dozen punches seemingly in slow motion with Lyle only landing one left hook in return but Lyle has nothing else left as Foreman steps back and Lyle goes head first to the canvas. As he struggle to get to his knees he rolled over on his back as the count was completed at 2:28 of the fifth round.

To keep the rust off Foreman took on 5 opponents in Canada in an exhibition in Boone Kirkman, Jerry Judge, Alonzo Johnson

It was 15 months after losing for the first time and Foreman is back against Ron Lyle in a fifth that will be remembered for years. Now, after 3 ½ years Foreman gives “Smoking” Joe Frazier his rematch. Frazier even shaves his head so he can “slip” the punches better. Frazier since their first fight lost beat Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis but lost to Ali in the “Thrilla in Manila” in his last bout.

This time the only thing at stake was the NABF title Foreman won defeating Lyle. Both fighters came in at 224. Foreman dominated this fight hurting Frazier with lead right and lefts to the body. Frazier wasn’t the same fighter that would come inside and throw that left hook. He was showing Foreman too much respect. He had no chance at long range.

In the fifth round Frazier with his back to the ropes got hurt with a Foreman combination. A follow-up left had Frazier in more trouble when a lead right and left hook to the jaw dropped Frazier sideways but to his right. He was up and Foreman came across the ring from the opposite corner to land punch after punch until a final combination dropped Frazier right back into the same corner. Though he beat the count he was done. His corner signaled to the referee Harold Valan to stop it at 2:26 of the fifth.

Just 2 months later Foreman stopped Scott LeDoux, 18-3-1, in 3 and 2 months after that John “Dino” Denis, 28-0-1 in 4. Starting off January of 1977 Foreman blasted Pedro Agosto, 27-7-1, down twice in the third and 3 times in the forth causing an automatic stoppage at 2:34. Foreman increased his record to 45-1 with 42 knockouts.

In March of 1977, Foreman traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to meet Philly’s Jimmy Young, 20-5-2, at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Young was very crafty and had just defeated Ron Lyle. He was 13-1-2 in his last 16 fights. He drew with Earnie Shavers in a rematch and Billy Aird in the UK. The only defeat was a controversial one to Ali. Young seemed to do better against bigger opponents. He was a classic boxer who gave Joe Frazier hell in the gym.

Gil Clancy was with Foreman in the corner. Clancy an IBHOF trainer and one of the best commentators at ringside there ever was, passed away March 31st. Clancy rejuvenated the career of Jerry Quarry. This was a close fight from the outset. Young, a very good defensive boxer was making sure Foreman used his legs in the outside heat of San Juan. Going into the last round Foreman had little left as Young scored a knockdown. He didn’t need it to win but it did give him a 115-114 on one judge’s card as the other two had it 116-112 and 116-111 all for Young. This was Ring’s “Fight of the Year”.

In the dressing room Foreman lay on the rubbing when he became ill suffering from exhaustion and heatstroke. He claimed he found himself in a hellish place of nothingness and despair. He pleaded to God to help him. He felt God asked him to change his life. After this experience of CHANGE Foreman was “born again” and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Foreman would eventually become ordained into the ministry in Houston, TX. He also opened a youth center. He would go on Christian talk shows and share his testimony. It would be almost 10 years at the age of 38, to the day when he decided to return to the boxing ring in March of 1987 in Sacramento stopping Steve Zouski, 25-11 in the 4th round. By year’s end he had scored 5 straight knockouts.

In 1988 Foreman scored 9 more straight knockouts upping his streak to 14. Among the opponents in that year were former WBA cruiserweight champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi, 28-5-1, who was stopped for the first time in his career in his previous fight losing to Evander Holyfield. Foreman would be the second and last person to stop him in an interesting fight going 7.

In 1989 Foreman was 5-0 with his knockout streak stopped at 18. In his third fight he stopped former WBC light heavyweight champion JB Williamson, 23-4 and “Smokin” Bert Cooper, 20-4, the following fight quitting on the stool after taking a beating for 2 rounds. In his last fight of the year in July Everett “Bigfoot” Martin, 17-7-1, came off the canvas in the eighth round and went the full 10.

It would be close to 6 months before Foreman would take on his most serious opponent in his comeback in “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney, 28-2, in January of 1990 in Atlantic City. Cooney hadn’t fought in 2 ½ years since losing to Michael Spinks. It didn’t go any better for Cooney this time being stopped in 2 rounds. Before the year was out 4 more bit the dust making it 24 straight wins with 23 by knockout.

It would be over 16 years since Foreman fought for the world title. He paid his dues and would fight Evander Holyfield, 25-0, for the WBC, WBA and IBF titles in Atlantic City in April of 1991. Both Michael Moorer and Tommy Morrison would be on the undercard in separate bouts.

In the seventh round a round house right from Foreman knocked Holyfield off balance. It was a big round for Foreman. In the eleventh round on the third warning referee Rudy Battle took a point away from Foreman for a low blow. Holyfield was on the move this round not wanting to take anymore body shots that possible. He was holding onto Foreman and the fans were very upset with the younger champ.

Holyfield landed a solid right with 20 seconds to go in the round and followed up with a combination before Foreman tied him up. In the twelfth and final round Holyfield was dancing around Foreman and throwing mostly rights. Archie Moore, working Foreman’s corner was yelling “punch him”. Foreman was exhausted by this time chasing Holyfield. The fans were on their feet. Foreman may not have won the fight but he won the respect of Holyfield and the fans. Holyfield would get the decision by 116-111, 117-110 and 115-112.

It would be 8 months after Holyfield before Foreman would fight again. Holyfield signed to meet “Smokin” Bert Cooper who Foreman had destroyed on his comeback. Foreman stopped “the other” Jimmy Ellis, 16-0-1, in 3 rounds in Reno at the end of 1991. In early 1992 he was matched with hard hitting Alex Stewart, 28-3 (28), who never had a fight go the distance. He had losses to Holyfield, Tyson and Moorer. This would be the second straight semi-windup bout for Foreman and it was a hard fight right down to the wire. Foreman took a majority decision, 94-93 twice and 94-94.

It wouldn’t be until January of 1993 before Foreman would fight South African Pierre Coetzer, 39-4, a hard hitting puncher who had just lost back to back fights with unbeaten Riddick Bowe and Frank Bruno. Foreman would finally stop Coetzer in the eighth round. Tommy Morrison beat Carl “The Truth” Williams on the same card. Foreman and Morrison would fight for the vacant WBO title in June.

Morrison was 36-1 with 8 straight knockouts since losing to Ray Mercer. Foreman expected a war but instead Morrison would punch and move, punch and move. He always stayed a step ahead of Foreman and won a fair decision. Morrison would lose his title in his first defense. In the meantime former IBF light heavyweight champion Michael Moorer started campaigning in the heavyweights and won the WBO title but didn’t defend it. He did get a chance for the WBA and IBF titles and dethroned Holyfield. Though Foreman was idle for 17 months he got the first shot at Moorer in November of 1994.

Foreman was 45 years old and stood little chance with the 35-0 southpaw Moorer. Going into the tenth round he was behind 88-83 twice and 86-85. In the tenth Moorer was not moving as much and seemed stunned by a Foreman jab which was followed by a straight right hand and down went Moorer. Foreman became the oldest fighter to ever win the heavyweight title at 45.

The WBA wanted Foreman to fight Tony “TNT” Tucker, 52-2 (42), the former IBF champion. He declined and was stripped of his title. He still had the IBF title and would defend it against the German Axel Schultz, 21-1-1, in April of 1995. The vacant WBU title was also on the line. Schultz had defeated the former WBA champion James “Bonecrusher” Smith in his previous fight. The German surprised Foreman and a lot of fans by giving him one tough fight. In the end Foreman would get the win 115-113 twice and 114-114 for a majority decision. Schultz wanted a rematch and Foreman declined and gave up the IBF title.

Some 19 months later at the age of 47 Foreman defended his WBU title in Chiba, Japan, by defeating Crawford Grimsley, 20-0, over 12 rounds. In April of 1997 at 48 Foreman defeated Lou Savarese, 36-0, in Atlantic City by split decision in his last WBU defense. In November Foreman would have his final fight losing a majority decision to 25 year old Shannon Briggs in Atlantic City. The Schultz and Savarese fights were closer than this one but in losing a disputed decision Foreman called it a day. Briggs would get a shot at Lennox Lewis’ WBC title in a losing effort. It would be another 9 years before he won the WBO title in 2006. Anyway you look at it, it took a future champ to retire one of the top heavyweight champions of all time in “Big” George Foreman.

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