The Knock Out Punch That Changed His Life
Written by Tammy Leigh Maxey   

CapTgeorgethechamphe year was 1977; heavy weight boxing champion George Foreman had just been defeated in a match against Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico.  Back in his dressing room, Foreman was suffering from exhaustion and heatstroke, when a near death experience, in fact a heart-stopping pivot point, changed his life forever.

“It was the most profound thing that ever happened to me in my life,” said Foreman.  “That night in the dressing room after Jimmy Young, I was so tired and so hot, and I just couldn’t keep fight, fight, fighting for my life. Then I heard a voice in that dressing room that asked, ‘Do you believe in God? Why are you ready to die?’  I had just been talking about God. I didn’t really believe in religion. I started fighting, trying to make a deal. Still then, I wasn’t fighting anyone I knew. I said to the voice, ‘Look I am George Foreman. I can give money to charity and for cancer,’ and the voice answered me back, ‘I don’t want your money, I want you.’

GeorgeForemanHeadingIn a split second, I was dead, fighting off death in this dark place, an empty dump yard. It was all over. I screamed, I got mad. I said, ‘I don’t care if this is death, I still believe there is a God!’ and when I said that, I was rescued. I was alive in that dressing room again. Evidently, they had picked me off the floor and laid me on the dressing room table.

As everybody was standing around me, I told my doctor to move his hand because the thorns on his head were making him bleed. He looked at me, everybody looked at me, and I looked on my hand and I told my masseuse to move his hand because he was bleeding where they crucified him. Then I jumped up off the table and started screaming that Jesus Christ was coming alive! I didn’t believe in these things, but I saw it. No one else did. They took me to the hospital of course, ’cause that’s what you do when people start acting like that. I was in intensive care for a couple of days, and finally I got out of the hospital, but I never was the same man. My life changed. For ten years I didn’t even make a fist, let alone box.”

Foreman continued, “I walked away and became a minister in ’79. I went into prisons and hospitals and I started telling people about my experience. Never intended to box again. But as I started working with young people, telling them how to do it at my youth center, telling them ‘You don’t need to be angry, you don’t need to have a killer instinct;’ I was teaching boxing without all of that, I learned myself how to do it. That’s how I was able to make a comeback into boxing. I went back into boxing again. After ten years out as a minister, I went back because I had literally run out of money, especially with the youth center work that I was doing. That got me back to being heavyweight champ of the world again.”

Foreman spoke of the challenges of being a troubled youth. “I grew up in Houston TX. My mother raised us. My father left when I was young. I found myself in trouble early as a teenager, on the streets, dropping out of school. My mother tried all she could. She couldn’t keep up with me while trying to work at the same time. I was running from police as a mug teenager, as a mugger. My life wasn’t going anywhere, anywhere at all. One day I was stealing and the police got behind me mugging people and trapped me under a house. I covered myself with a busted sewage pipe so the dogs wouldn’t sniff me out. It was the first time I realized I was a criminal — a thug. I said, ‘If I ever get out from under this house, and the police don’t get me, I’ll never steal again.’ I was a 16-yr-old boy and I never stole since then.”

GeorgeForemanBoxingForeman’s story continues, “Lyndon Johnson started the Job Corps program, and I heard a commercial, ‘If you are looking for a second chance, join the Job Corps.’ And I did. At 16, I went into the Job Corps. In the evenings, I’d get lonesome. I took up boxing just to get home and be a better street fighter. I had my first boxing match in ’67; in ’68, I was an Olympic gold medalist. It all happened real quick. Just as a way to fight off homesickness, I went into boxing, and to lose weight. Little did I know it would become a profession.”

BoxingTrophiesFamous for his phenomenal career in boxing, as well as his promotions of products like the George Foreman Grill, his books, and reality TV show, few know of George Foreman the race fan. That’s right, Big G, Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time boxing World Heavyweight Champion, likes a little track competition too.

In 1969, Foreman was invited to the Indianapolis 500.  They built a float to honor him as an Olympian and asked him to stay and attend the race afterwards.  “When I heard that fellow say, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines,’ and the excitement of the crowd, it ignited a passion in me,” said Foreman. “Then I knew, ‘This is what I love.’  I’d never seen it like this! You want to compete. I met some good people, and I wanted to make sure I had something to do with the racing sport because it’s so popular. It’s family oriented. You see a family that’s into racing, you can bet their grandkids are into racing. That attracted me to it.”

That passion for racing prompted George Foreman to invest in the IRL Panther Racing Team, owned by John Barnes. “It’s great ’cause I get to meet people and greet people and talk about cars,” said Foreman. “When I go to the locations, I have been invited by the ministers to speak to young people and their families. ’Cause you don’t want to forget that, in boxing too, you get away and are away from home a lot. Some people think, ‘Well since I am away from home so much I can forget my religion.’ I tell people, ‘Don’t be so far away from home that you can’t stop and think about the important things; your duty to your fellow man and of course, your obligations to God Almighty.’”

When he’s not ministering at the tracks or other speaking engagements, Foreman serves as the lead pastor at The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston, TX. “I was with a church early on when I first found religion, and I was ordained at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston. A group of us started our own church in 1980, (The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ). It’s a non-denominational church. I went on as the main speaker. I’ve been with this church since then. For over 34 years, I’ve been in religion, and I’ve been with this church for 32 years. I am the main speaker because I clean up better than anyone else. I say if anyone wants to be the main speaker, he’s going to have to out clean me. I can mop better than anyone in my religion. I think the highest calling in the world that I’ve found is cleaning bathrooms.”

It was after the church was founded that George Foreman and his brother Roy founded The George Foreman Youth & Community Center with the money Big G had saved from his boxing days. “We started the foundation,” said Foreman. “Next thing we knew, all the kids in the world were coming to this place, not just the ones that wanted to be boxers. Most of the ones that wanted to be boxers have moved on. We have an indoor basketball gym, weightlifting, you name it. We have a camp in the summer. It’s all about keeping them out of trouble. It’s about spending time with young people in their lives until they can get out of that danger zone. That’s what the George Foreman center is all about.”

Foreman’s heart for kids is evident in his charitable works, his most recent being “Knock out Pediatric Cancer.”  His involvement and donations are so precious and appreciated that they named a floor the George Foreman Pediatric Center in Indiana at the hospital. “I have been a part of that now for a major part of my life,” says Foreman. “It’s one of those things, you do it but you don’t talk a lot about it.”

Big G has a big family with 10 kids — 5 boys and 5 girls.  All the boys are named George, and 2 of the girls are named a version of (Freeda George and Georgetta).  Now, when the grandchildren come along, they name them before they let him see them. “They don’t want any more Georges,” said Foreman.


Foreman says his wife Mary is the “ruler of the roost.”  “When I speak, they ask me what I consider my most crowning achievement,” said Foreman.  “I raise up my left hand and show them my wedding band.”

When I asked Mr. Foreman what aspect of his life he hopes will ultimately stand out most, he replied, “Most importantly, that someone will read somewhere that George Foreman put God first. I had that experience in Puerto Rico all those years back and it is just as real and fresh as if it happened to me yesterday. People know if you sit down long enough with me, ‘Oh, he’s going to start talking religion.’ And that’s what I really want people to know about me, that I was a church member, and I give my life to Jesus Christ.”­  PivotPointEndingBug

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