This revealing and exclusive interview appeared in Boxing News on May 11, 1979.
GEORGE FOREMAN is not deaf. George Foreman hears temptation knocking at the door of his Marshall, Texas ranch. But Big George doesn’t need to be delivered from temptation.
The former heavyweight champion listens to the voices, lets the hustlers give their pitch. But, he told Boxing News, all the pitches have missed. He won’t return to boxing.
Foreman, who is only 30, doesn’t joke about his religious activity but he did see some humour in their attempts to return him to the ring.
“Everyone believes God is going to give me a message to go back,” he said, laughing, “but nobody ever told me to stop boxing. That’s the strangest thing in the world.”
“And how can I whip a guy down to the floor and tell him I love him and God loves him? How can I call him brother and beat him in the head? He’d think I was a hypocrite, wouldn’t he?”
Foreman hasn’t fought since that embarrassing loss to Jimmy Young March 17, 1977, in Puerto Rico. In the San Juan dressing room, Foreman says he saw things (“blood coming out of my head”) which led him back to God. The days of high living and big money were over by his choice.
His lifestyle had to change radically. It has.
The country squire estate in Pleasanton, California has been sold. The two Mercedes-Benzes, the pair of Rolls Royces are gone and so are the eight German shepherds and the pet lion. The wardrobe, more than 100 suits, has gone also.
Foreman can’t spend $80,000 a month anymore, not with his current occupation.
The Spartan life he leads now also cost him his second wife, a Miss Black Teen America, who didn’t want to sit around the house and pray all the time.
But Foreman is not bitter. In fact he seems happier than he’s ever been. Now he has something to believe in.
“I spend 90 per cent of my time alone,” Foreman said in a rare interview. “I fast (but he weighs 250), pray – no food, or water – because it keeps the old George Foreman dead. If I didn’t, all the offers, all the people coming and patting me on the back, saying ‘Hey Champ,’ would get to me.
“The old George Foreman wanted the best homes, the finest cars, the women around him. Now I don’t seek to please my body. I try to cater to my soul. My body will perish but my soul is everlasting.
“Now I know what’s right.” Foreman said. “You got to stop smoking, drinking, lying, wearing long hair or running around with other people’s women.”
Foreman, a troubled youth who was well known to police in the Houston ghetto where he grew up, thought he’d get religion one day but not in the manner he has.
“I figured if I ever got religion, I’d go shave my head, study karate, do something spectacular. I’d be like a monk. I never thought I’d be preaching about the Son of God. I wasn’t that much of a talker; now I can’t shut up.
Living modestly, Foreman is able to meet his few bills. But he’d be interested in a job where he could impart religious values to young people.
He admits to missing boxing but says the money can’t lure him back.
“If I say I’m broke and someone gave me $100,000, I’d give it to someone who needs it more. Maybe I’d build a church.
“I don’t keep up with boxing. I haven’t seen Larry Holmes fight in years. I have no interest in participating any more. I don’t condemn boxing and I do miss it. It was my profession, something I practiced years and years.”
Foreman was asked about the gymnasium on his ranch. Does he ever punch the bag just for fun?
“The old gym I had, well, no one goes in there,” the one-time KO artist said, “The gloves are sitting in there. Some time I’ll move it all into a store-house.”
He really doesn’t stay current about fights. Told that Joe Frazier’s son Marvis has just won the National Golden Gloves heavyweight title, Foreman acted surprised and then pleased.
“Isn’t that something?” Foreman said about the son of the man he won the title from back in 1973. “He must be a good fighter. That makes me feel old. I remember him as a little boy.”
Foreman isn’t always alone. He has gone to Japan and Africa, back to Zaire (where Ali regained the title during their “Rumble in the Jungle”), and will travel with his Bible in his hand. At home, his mother, Nancy, lives nearby.
“My Mother and I lead similar lives,” he said. “Lives of praying.”
Ask Foreman how he rated as a boxer, as a champ, and he limits himself. He’ll say he was “good” but credits manager-trained Dick Sadler for much of his success.
“Well I think I was like the devil is,” he said. “I was a big old bag of wind, bragging about my fighting ability. Dick found me the right fights. He brought me along right.
“I wasn’t like Joe Louis or Cassius Clay or Sugar Ray Robinson. I was a good athlete but I wasn’t no great fighter. And there will always be great boxers but in every generation somebody has got to stand up for God, make a sacrifice for him.”
Bill Caplan was Foreman’s publicist and has been friendly with George going back to his amateur days. He believes Foreman is sincere about not coming back.
“Look, I offered him $250,000 to fight anybody he wanted. He could’ve fought a sparring partner if he wanted to. He turned it down. And here’s a guy who won’t take any money for preaching,” Caplan said.
The persuasive Don King tried a different tack. Knowing money is not Foreman’s goal, he tried another idea.
“Between you and me,” Foreman said, “What Don suggested was paganism. He wanted me to put the cross on my robe, on my trunks. But that’s not the sign of Jesus Christ. You know, Don is not a humble-minded fellow but I tell him to do something for God before he leaves this world.
“I told him if God ever needs a PR man, he’d send an earthquake or a hurricane along. The big message is letting people see your life, teaching by example.
“When I fought you were assured I’d fight three minutes a round, that somebody would get knocked down or out. I can’t do no less for Jesus now.”
Foreman’s idea of happiness is standing on a ghetto street corner, perhaps in front of a bar where street people congregate, and using an amplifier to tell them to put God into their lives. He tells them “to hurry up to God, put away the foolish things of this world, to repent.”
He sees himself as a fisherman, trying to lure people back to religion.
“Really,” he said, “I’m not George Foreman anymore. I’m George Foreman, a fisher OF men. And when I drop my hook in the water, I cover up the bait so they don’t see it. I go where the so-called bad people are, the sinners, and I talk to them.”
Sometimes his message is not well received.
“I’ve had people come up and blow dope in my face, testing me.” He said. “When I was boxing, when I was a tough fella, they’d never do that.”
Yet Big George doesn’t strike back. He won’t smite the heathens.
“I’m happy to have people do that because I just turn the other cheek. People are watching me, checking out my new life. They want to see if I’m serious. I am.”
Make no mistake. George Foreman is serious. He’ll not return to boxing.
Temptation should move on, knock on other’s doors. Foreman will not succumb.
This man of cloth is not going to wear boxing gloves.
FOOTNOTE: Foreman, of course, did return. 15 years after this interview, He sensationally – and historically – regained the heavyweight crown at the age of 45.