George Foreman had one of the most historic and storied careers in boxing history. No one before or since has accomplished the feats that “Big George” did with what was known as “The Comeback”. Foreman had been out of the ring for ten years and launched a second career that ended with him becoming the oldest heavyweight champion in history, completing that journey a full twenty years after he had lost the title.
In part 2 of this “On The Ropes” Classic interview, I discuss with George the reasons for coming back to the sport and how he expected to do returning to the ring. Foreman talked about the rumored Mike Tyson fight and ultimately getting another shot at the title. “Big George” also talked making history against Michael Moorer and what it felt like to finally accomplish his goal. Additionally, Foreman gave his thoughts on his fight with Shannon Briggs, his decision to retire and his advise to young fighters. Here is what George Foreman had to say.
JENNA: Now one of the most amazing things about your career was the comeback and your decision behind it. I wanted to ask you a little bit about how you came to that decision to come back to boxing and what were your expectations when you first got back in the gym?
FOREMAN: Well when you take off of boxing, I was a pretty wealthy athlete but I didn’t know how people took advantage of athletes. I’d look in and accountants had found ways of sneaking money out of my bank accounts. I’ve looked and had people who had told me, ‘George, invest in this’ in oil wells and gas wells that didn’t exist. I used to hear about athletes going broke, but I never thought it would happen to me.
After about eight years, I looked up and I was broke. I had a portfolio that was pretty much empty and the only thing I knew how to do was box. So I tried to support my youth center to work a place for kids to hang out. The only alternative, I was speaking at a church one night and they asked for an offering for my youth center. They said, ‘Help George with those kids’ and it was so embarrassing. Everybody was looking at me. Here I was, I had been a wealthy athlete and they’re asking people who didn’t have anything for money.
I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to have to ask anyone for anything. I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world again. That’s how I’ll support my youth center!’ I was 315 pounds making a decision after almost ten years to get back into the ring. My trunks, nothing fit me, and I said I was going to be heavyweight champion of the world again. I didn’t say I was going to come back and fight for the money. That’s where integrity started to fit in. I was going to be champ of the world. I started off campaigning, one fight after another. The most I was being offered was $2,500, sometimes $5,000. I even got a purse up to $12,500. That’s when I knew I was on the comeback then.
JENNA: Now when you first came back, most people were not taking you too seriously. How did you deal with that?
FOREMAN: Because of my age, when I told everyone I was coming back into boxing at my weight, they laughed at me. ‘He’s too fat, he’s too old’. I’d hear those things, but every time I looked into the mirror I’d just say to myself, ‘Look, people are saying those things about you, but hey, it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not. You got to look out for your family. You got to support the youth center’. I traveled all over the country and I’d get into the ring and I was so big, so big, but I kept working out and I kept training.
I listened to the jokes about me. As a matter of fact, I started to laugh with them. People didn’t notice that I wasn’t mad. I was laughing because I had ten years of telling people who lost loved ones, have faith. You can do anything. All things are possible. For the first time I had really used the product that I had been selling—have faith. I did. I had more than enough faith to do anything.
JENNA: Now George, throughout your comeback, the fight that most people talked about is a fight with ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson who was the champ at that time. Did you ever have any serious negotiations to get that fight and did you ever think that you would, and if you did, how do you think you would have done against him?
FOREMAN: There were a couple of times, serious negotiations were going on with the Mike Tyson fight. Mike Tyson just didn’t want to fight me. Not to say he couldn’t have beaten me. I mean, this guy could punch. The bigger they are the harder they’d fall as far as Mike Tyson was concerned. I guess that I have a feeling, his first original trainer and manager, Cus D’Amato, must have told him about George Foreman’s punching power as though I would never comeback. So sometimes when you come back and a guy remembers those stories, he says to himself, ‘Look, leave that guy alone’. But I don’t think I would have been that much problems to him. I had a good left jab and I’d always do better when guys come to me, but Tyson was pretty smart with his footwork and hand speed. That would have been a tough fight for me.
JENNA: Well in your comeback, you did go 24-0 and then you finally got a chance at the heavyweight title. It was something that you were planning for throughout your whole comeback. You got a go against Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield who was 25-0 at the time. What were your expectations going into that fight and what did you think about the fight itself?
FOREMAN: Oh, Holyfield was a splendid fighter, very elusive, and he had been well trained. He was a good boxer, pure boxer. A few times I’d hit him and I thought, ‘Boy, I got him now’ and he’d maneuver out of there with his heart, get in position, and even throw punches back. He was not a heavy puncher at all, but he had endurance. I expected to win that boxing match, but I played around with too much publicity, and within 24 hours doing the interviews, and all the things a boxer shouldn’t do. So when the fight started, I was concentrating on putting on a show more than winning that boxing match, but Evander Holyfield had a lot to do with that. This guy was an extremely good, elusive boxer. I had gone twelve rounds with him. I remember in about the eleventh round he started holding on, and the referee told him, ‘Break! Break! Break!’ He would not let go. The statement was made, evidence unleashed, that the age 40 and 50 is not a death sentence for athletes, and that did more for sports than my victory would have if I had knocked him out in one or two rounds. That statement, that age has got nothing to do with it, was good for sports.
JENNA: Now speaking of age having nothing to do with it, after the fight you won three more and then you lost to Tommy Morrison. Then you took a good long period out of the ring. You took about a year and a half off and somehow you got a bout with Michael Moorer who had defeated Evander Holyfield to take the linear title and two of the belts. How did you feel about going into that bout facing a 35-0 Michael Moorer.
FOREMAN: That was a good experience for me because after the Morrison boxing match, actually I had gone into television. I was given a television series where I started doing television. I thought I was going to be an actor, but it was too much work. I realized that acting is more work than boxing. The only luxury in that sport is a king sized bed in the afternoon, in acting. So I came back afterwards and I started negotiating for a title shot. Michael Moorer, of course, had taken the title from Holyfield, and there it is. It just fell right in my lap. Michael Moorer would get a big purse and he thought he would fight the easiest fight of his career with old George Foreman. I already knew that I could punch, and someone had convinced him that he was a better puncher than me. For some reason, the fight took place and he didn’t run. He did not run.
JENNA: What was it like when you got in there? You were getting outboxed primarily for most of the fight and then in the tenth round, you set him up with that beautiful shot. What were you thinking then?
FOREMAN: Well, I had always thought that in the boxing match that if knocked him down in the first round, he would run, run, run, run and I would never catch him. That’s what had happened with Tommy Morrison. He literally had run from me in the boxing match and they gave him a decision. So I know if a gets in his mind he’s going to run from me there’s nothing I can do, but if I can get someone to come to me and Michael Moorer, of course, I jabbed him, hit him in the side in a few earlier rounds. His manager was telling him, ‘Get him! Get him!’ and there he was. I figured I threw the right hand lead, hook, hook, and rather than jump out of the way he would duck the punches. I said, ‘This is amazing! A bird nest on the ground’. I was able to steam in with a one-two combination, left-right, and knock him down. I hit him first up high, and I decided to lower my right hand a little bit. I hit him again with the second right hand and there he was on the canvas. A lot of people said it was a lucky shot, but I had been like that since I was seventeen years old always hitting guys with a shot like that. That’s what I had done all my life.
JENNA: Now you won the title back after twenty years. What was that feeling like, just to finally accomplish something that you had lost to Ali, and you were wearing the trunks that you wore when you fought Ali in that fight. What was it like to regain it after that long a time?
FOREMAN: Yeah, you think about twenty years, a whole twenty year time span passed. I told people that wasn’t the George Foreman in Africa. I could have been champion of the world, I had all these excuses, and people laughed at me. Twenty years later I’m in the ring given a chance and there’s redemption, and from that point on, even for myself on a personal basis I could sit back with some kind of contentment to say, ‘I told you’. But it was back to preaching and being a father again. No big deal. You have one moment in life where you can say, ‘I did it, thank God for it’ and the next day is about getting to the church, and preaching, and doing your work.
JENNA: When you did win it back you were recognized as the champion, and something that’s always been curious for boxing fans is why did you decide to drop the WBA belt and not face Tony Tucker at the time?
FOREMAN: You know, I worked hard, campaigned hard. I had to fight lawsuits to even make certain that after Michael Moorer signed the fight that he would finish the boxing match with me. I did it, took care of that, then after that I forgot about the politics that goes on. You have to pay this guy to do this, you got to ask this guy to do this, I said ‘I don’t need that in my life anymore. I’ve gotten the title. You could have your title back, you could have your title back’ because I had gotten it and I just gave it back to them. That’s not what I wanted to be. Some young kid going around paying sanctioning fees for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to do that.
JENNA: Well you amazed a lot of people towards the end of your career because the last fight you had, you fought a young kid by the name of Shannon Briggs. He was 29-1, he was 25 years old. Yourself, you were a couple of months shy of being 49. To most people’s eyes, you beat him handily in there and they kind of robbed you of the decision. It’s one of the most controversial fights people still talk about in heavyweight history now. How do you feel about that bout and your decision to retire after it?
FOREMAN: It’s funny because I get into a boxing ring and every time, every round I’d try to knock guys out. If a guy would escape me for twelve rounds, he deserved it in the first place. I never went out to win a decision, never, and some guys go out and figure they’re going to go twelve rounds with George and that’s their victory. But I would always pursue a knockout. That’s all I was after. If I go twelve rounds and they gave it to the other guy, I never complained because that’s not what I was trying to do, get a decision. I was trying to knock them out. So I’m comfortable with that. I didn’t get the victory, but I went home. They asked me after the fight, they said, ‘George, you were robbed!’ I said where I came from in Houston, Texas, you don’t scream you were robbed when you still got $4 or $5 in your pocket. Boxing was about, and I’ll never forget, getting that the title was the part to prove my integrity, but I really came back for the million dollars and I ended up with a million and won more $100,000 and I don’t have anything now because I got ten kids. They have gone to college. You think you’re rich? You educate ten kids. Man, that’s a parking meter. You look up and they’ll say, ‘Look Dad, I got a degree!’ and you look and say, ‘I got a barrel wrapped around me and all my clothes are gone’.
JENNA: As they say, it takes just one fight to pay for all their degrees. Did you ever think about coming back at any point after that Briggs fight?
FOREMAN: Yeah, I was going to make a comeback at the age of 55. I was going to stay out and come back at 55. I was in good shape and my wife convinced me that I would have to live in that mobile home outside if I ever go back into boxing. I showed her that I could do it and she said, ‘George isn’t that the way you want to leave the sport? Feeling like you could still do it?’ and I had never considered that. I told, ‘I could do it!’ and she said ‘That’s the way you should want to leave’ and I never came back. I just forgot it because to wake up every morning feeling like you can still do it is it a thrill, but to have someone beat your brains out and you figure I could never do it. I don’t think I ever wanted to wake up like that.
JENNA: So after Shannon Briggs won the heavyweight title in 2007, you never said, ‘Hey, I got the better of him ten years ago, maybe I should give it another shot’?
FOREMAN: You know, I never paid much attention to them. Like I said, for a long time I haven’t been interested in the heavyweight division because the guys don’t seem to be that dedicated. I’m still hungry for a nice American heavyweight champion and if he does come back and I get an exciting one from America, I’m just going to buy ringside seats and popcorn and enjoy myself. That’s what I’m interested in now. Not coming back, but having popcorn and hotdogs and enjoying myself.
JENNA: There was another guy out there that wanted you. He wanted a piece of you bad, and that was Larry Holmes. In 1999 there was a fight that almost came together. They called it ‘The Birthday Bash’. Were you at all disappointed that you never got to go in the ring with Larry?
FOREMAN: Yeah, Larry was a good fighter and I think that would have been a good showcase of talent for Larry Holmes and me. It never happened, and because it never happened, every year he’d go all over the country saying he wanted to fight me. I tell my friends, ‘Every year, Larry Holmes escapes from his nursing home and challenges me, and I have to come out of my nursing home and tell him no’.
JENNA: Well George, I have just two more questions for you. If you had any advice for an upcoming fighter that wanted to make it big in the sport, what would you give him?
FOREMAN: Start small, learn the business, and it doesn’t matter how big you get, enjoy the publicity because it doesn’t matter how good you are. If people don’t know about you it doesn’t mean much.
JENNA: Alright, and finally, for all the boxing fans out there, your fans, and the listeners of On the Ropes Boxing Radio, is there anything you want to say to them?
FOREMAN: Go out and find George Foreman’s Knockout Cleaning Solutions. It’s an earth-friendly solution. I got it. You clean your house. It doesn’t hurt your children. I’m trying to make myself, you want to something in life that your proud of, not just make money, but it’s good and friendly for the earth—The George Foreman Knockout Cleaning Solutions. Go find it!