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Boxed Out; The Former Heavyweight Champ Was Reborn In A Puerto Rico Dressing Room

George Foreman; As told to Francine Russo

April 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

I'd never been much of a talker. I got into boxing because my trainer told me that I could make lots of money and buy fleets of cars by hitting hard. So when my promoters asked me to speak out or to endorse a product, I'd just say, "I talk with my fists."

But in 1977, a few months after I lost a fight to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico and three years after I lost the heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali, I suddenly found that I couldn't talk enough. I had become a regular at the Church of Jesus Christ in Houston, and I was rising at every opportunity to give my testimony.

After that fight in Puerto Rico, I had a religious vision in my dressing room--though my doctors might call it a medical event. All around me was death and nothingness, and I was drowning. Then the hand of God reached down and rescued me.

For a while, I kept my vision a secret. In my experience, all those people carrying the Bible around were poor, weak and unfortunate. I had never wanted anything to do with religion. But, finally, I stepped into that church and soon became a regular.

When I attended, the preacher would announce, "The former heavyweight champion of the world George Foreman wants to tell you how he met Jesus Christ." I would get up and tell my story, and they would applaud and cry hallelujah. Mostly, they just gawked.

"Oh, he's tall," they would say. Or, "He's got muscles." I felt like a sideshow.

Then one Sunday at church some teenage boys I had befriended suggested that I preach out on the streets. We got ourselves an amplifier and traveled to towns in Texas and Louisiana. I would cry out, "I used to want fancy clothes and cars and money, but now that I've found God, I'm a happy man. I drive this pickup truck; it doesn't drive me. Hallelujah."

I preached my heart out. I screamed. A few people peeped out of their windows. But mostly they walked right by.

I thought I had this fantastic message that would stop people in their tracks. But they didn't stop because they didn't recognize me. I was 300-plus lbs., and I had cut off all my facial hair. I didn't look like the George Foreman they knew.

As far as I was concerned, that George Foreman rascal had died in that dressing room in Puerto Rico. I had been heavyweight champion of the world and could buy a swimming pool and a Rolls-Royce, but all it meant to me was ignorance. I didn't want anyone to know I was that guy.

Well, I preached like this for three months. Then one day in a housing project in Shreveport, La., I decided that I would use that guy George Foreman to sell what I believed in. When I was a kid, no one followed the water trucks. But let a fire engine roar by, and people poured out of their buildings in their pajamas, rollers in their hair. I had to be that fire truck.

So I yelled out, "Yes, I'm George Foreman. I was the heavyweight champion of the world. I fought Muhammad Ali. I fought Joe Frazier." And they stopped. They asked, "George Foreman, is that you?" I said, "Yes, and now I want to tell you what God can do for you." And I preached my first real sermon.

From that moment, I used George Foreman, and the invitations started coming from all over the world. In 1979 I was ordained, and in 1980 I started my own church. In 1983 I used my life's savings to create a youth center in Houston.

When I ran out of money, I went back to boxing. But nobody cared.

The TV stations gave me exactly 10 seconds. So I used what I had learned: "Yes, I'm 40!" I yelled. "I used to be heavyweight champion of the world. If I miss you with my left, if I miss you with my right, I'll belly-bump you, boom!" People called the networks and asked to see more of me. Soon Madison Avenue was calling me. I hesitated, but finally I decided it would be O.K. if I sold only things I believed in.

The biggest turning point of my life wasn't becoming heavyweight champion. It was the moment I stood on a street corner and said, "I'm George Foreman." --As told to Francine Russo

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