YOU famously wore the same shorts against Michael Moorer that you had worn 20 years before against Muhammad Ali. What was the thinking behind that?
Everlast had made a series of trunks for me when I was heavyweight champion the first time. There was a tag on them that said, ‘Specially made for George Foreman, heavyweight champion of the world.’ I had held onto a couple of pairs, and I said to myself, ‘When I go into the ring this time , even though I’ll be introduced as the challenger, I’m going to feel like the champ.’ Those trunks were proved right.
Nobody tipped you to win. Were you concerned about unbeaten Moorer?
That didn’t bother me but what did bother me was when I was in the dressing room, getting ready to go to the ring, and the referee came and stopped us right on the spot. He said: “The three-knockdown rule has been waived.” So if I knocked him down three times in one round, that still wouldn’t make me the victor. Before being told about the knockdown rule I was confident because I thought I would be able to knock him down, two, three times early and be victorious. But that’s why I didn’t aggressively go after him early because he might be dropped and then run for the rest of the fight. After the seventh round, I thought, ‘I better go for the knockout.’ He still had a lot of spark left in him though. I hit him in the eighth and he hit me back pretty good and I thought, ‘He’s not ready yet!’
Compare the feeling of beating Joe Frazier in 1973 to the feeling of beating Moorer in 1994.
Man, that Joe Frazier. I was afraid of him and when they stopped the fight in the second round after six knockdowns I just couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I was thinking of John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Jersey Joe Walcott, Muhammad Ali. You could feel the spirit of all those people running through you. That was a moment. Yes, that was an incredible moment. The second time I made a point of believing it. The first time I didn’t believe it. When you fight for the heavyweight championship of the world it does feel unbelievable, it doesn’t feel like you’re really there, it could be a dream. ‘You’re going to wake up soon, you don’t belong in the ring with these guys.’ The second time around, I could deal with all those thoughts. It was a special moment, more so, than when I won the fight with Frazier.
What was the favourite stage of your career? Being a heavyweight wrecking ball in the 1970s, or when you came back in the 80s and 90s?
In the 10 years out of the ring [1977-1987] I became a minister. Sometimes my car would need a booster, and a stranger would stop by to help me out. I asked how much I owed him. He said, ‘Get out of here, big ‘un.’ He didn’t even realise I was once heavyweight champion of the world but he was so kind to me. Everyone was so kind to me and I used to think, ‘I wish I could be champion again because I should have been nicer to people.’ When I came back I built my profile up again and I repaid all the people I had been unkind to. The comeback was my way of saying sorry for being so unkind the first time round. That was the best time of my whole boxing career, when I came back because I gave back. When I was in Reno, Nevada I couldn’t sign autographs or shake people’s hand because I had sprained my hand, so I just sat by a post and let anyone come over and talk, or take a picture. They did. I was there for three hours, and it was the nicest time of my life as a boxer. Nothing compared to that moment – not even beating Frazier, or being with Ali in Zaire.
For several years after your last fight in 1997 there were rumours that you were going to come back yet again. How close was that and have you finally had enough of boxing now?
[Laughs]. When I said I was going to come back at the age of 55, I was going to do it. I was in good shape. I would talk to my wife every night about it. David Tua was the No.1 contender at the time and I knew I could beat him. My wife said, ‘You’re not going back to boxing.’ I said, ‘Yes I am! You think I can’t beat these guys don’t you? I tell you I can beat them.’ She looked at me and said, ‘George, isn’t that the way you want to leave the sport, thinking you can still do it?’ That was so profound. I never brought the conversation up again.
This interview was originally published in Boxing News magazine
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