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The Comeback of George Foreman

By Geno McGahee

On October 30th, 1974, World Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman, stepped into the ring in Africa, to defend against former World Champion, Muhammad Ali in the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle.” The younger Foreman was an angry champion and a destructive one, making easy work of formidable foes like Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, two men that had given Ali all he could handle and more. The odds were stacked against Ali but boxing is a sport that is not always easy to predict.

Although there were claims by Foreman of being drugged prior to the Ali fight, leading to his knockout loss, there is no questioning the fact that the referee was an Ali fan. Foreman was on his feet at the count of eight and the referee called it off, screaming “ten.” At that point, Foreman felt that the business had robbed him of his title and he was going to work hard to get it back.

Foreman would string together five straight knockouts before facing Jimmy Young in 1977. Young was elusive and quick and Foreman was told before the fight that he had to allow some rounds to go by before going for the knockout because of the advertisers. If that is the case, it cost him, as he went on to lose a twelve round decision and then retire from the sport.

After the fight, Foreman would claim to have been enlightened by God and that he was now a new man. He would leave boxing and begin his youth and community center to help impoverished children. He became a preacher, gained weight and looked nothing like the Foreman that once dominated the heavyweight division. Financial troubles and Mike Tyson would bring back the former champion into the sport.

In 1987, Steve Zouski was selected as his first opponent. Foreman came into the fight at 267 pounds, and was a laughing stock for most of the media and fans and he looked rusty as he beat Zouski into submission in round four, but it was all part of the plan. Foreman would fight five times in 1987, a remarkable nine times in 1988, and five times in 1989 leading to a showdown with another blast from the past, Gerry Cooney.

Despite his comeback record at the time of 19-0, 18 KO’s, the level of competition was not taken too seriously, but there were some names of note. Foreman stopped Bert Cooper in two rounds and picked up a seventh round stoppage of Dwight Muhammad Qawi, leading to his fight with Cooney.

By 1990, Foreman had begun getting a very large following. He appeared on many morning talk shows and was a repeat attraction on USA’s Tuesday Night Fights, possibly the best boxing show in history. He would continually call out Tyson, and for good reason. First prior to his loss to Buster Douglas, Tyson held the crown, and a win over Iron Mike would erase the Ali loss and put the belt back around the waist of Big George.

Another reason was the money the fight would generate. Tyson was the George Foreman of his time, an intimidating power-puncher that appeared unbeatable. It was an easy sale and both men had earned incredibly large fan bases.

The final reason that Foreman really wanted Tyson was that when he saw Tyson, he saw Frazier. The uppercuts that were used to destroy Frazier would be useful against Tyson, especially when he ran in. Gerry Cooney hoped to play spoiler and put himself back in line for a title shot, and did well in the first round with Foreman.

A left hook rattled Big George in round one, but Foreman didn’t fall and he continued pushing forward with his jab. For this bout, he weighed 253 pounds, but it was a tight 253. He carried the weight well and it increased his punching power and Cooney soon found that out when an uppercut, followed by a combination sent him to the floor. He got up, and an incredibly devastating uppercut ended the night. Foreman made a statement in two rounds.

On June 16, 1990, Foreman would be the co-feature on an HBO Mike Tyson card. Coming off his loss to Douglas, Tyson would face Henry Tillman, a fighter that had beaten him in the amateurs, while Foreman would take on Adilson Rodrigues, a somewhat respectable contender that had beaten some notables like James Tillis and Bonecrusher Smith. The plan of the double header was to set up an eventual meeting. Don King and Bob Arum were both ready to pit their men against each other for the big money that surely awaited.

Foreman would stop Rodrigues in two rounds, after playing with him a little, and Tyson would easily stop the overmatched Tillman inside of one. Both men were ready for a showdown, or at least it seemed that way. There were rumors that Iron Mike did not want to face Foreman because of the styles and how George knew how to deal with smaller guys like Mike. There were fights with less risk out there for Tyson.

In April of 1991, the “Battle of the Ages” took place, featuring the undefeated, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield defending his title against Foreman. Foreman’s comeback record at this time was 24-0, 23 KO’s, and he came into the fight at 257, which surprised a lot of people. Most felt that he would have came in lighter to catch the quick and mobile Holyfield. Foreman knew best, however, and came in at what was an ideal weight.

Holyfield went through hell to hold onto his title, clinging to Foreman in the final round, forcing referee Rudy Battle to physically pry them apart. Foreman took everything Holyfield dished out and kept coming, but the scorecards kept the title with the champion. Foreman said: “I lost on points, but I proved a point,” and that was the general thought by most fans.

In April of 1992, Foreman took on the lightly regarded Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart, a man that was stopped in one by Mike Tyson and stopped in four by Michael Moorer. Stewart built his career by beating up on mediocrities and was exposed when he faced the upper tier in boxing. Foreman expected an easy night and trained for such. It was a big mistake.

After being dropped twice by Foreman, Stewart rebounded and gave Foreman a savage beating. Foreman was bleeding from the nose and his face was swollen all over. It was a close fight that probably should have gone to Stewart, but Foreman walked away with a majority decision. Foreman never lost his sense of humor, appearing on the Johnny Carson show and stating that the fight with Stewart was a great fight and that “he never laid a glove on me.” He then said that: “I looked good before, during and after the fight.” When Carson showed him a picture of himself, bloodied and swollen, he insisted that the picture was doctored. Foreman was hilarious.

In January of 1993, an in shape Foreman would return and beat up fringe contender, Pierre Coetzer, stopping the tough South African in eight rounds, leading to a showdown with Tommy Morrison for the WBO Heavyweight Title. It became apparent that Foreman was comfortable winning the WBO title just to say that he came back and won the heavyweight title again, since he was most likely not going to be able to beat Holyfield. To his surprise, Morrison used consistent movement and outpointed him.

On April 22, 1994, Evander Holyfield defended his title against Michael Moorer, the former Light Heavyweight Champion. Moorer would climb off the canvas to pick up a very close decision win and the title. Foreman, who was doing commentary for the HBO PPV, began his plan to challenge. He called it a robbery and said that this was the sort of thing that was wrong with boxing. He did what he could to irk the irritable Moorer and it worked. Foreman would get another crack at the title on November 5th, 1994 and he would make the most of it.

Moorer did everything right, using movement and speed to beat up the 250 pound Foreman, but slowly but surely, George was setting a trap. He needed Moorer to get tired and then get him into position. Well behind on points, Foreman finally got the shot in. A right hand in round ten would end the fight and knock Moorer cold. Foreman became the oldest man to ever win the heavyweight title and it had to be the greatest announcement in the history of sports to hear Michael Buffer say: “The winner and once again heavyweight champion of the world, Big George Foreman!” He lost the title in 1974 and won it back again in 1994. Even Jim Lampley’s call should be applauded as he got caught up in the moment and screamed: “It happened! It happened!” It was one of those moments when you realize why you remain a boxing fan no matter what. When the sport is at its best, there’s nothing better or more exciting.

Foreman would defend against Axel Schulz in 1995, giving up a piece of his title for refusing to face the mandatory in Tony Tucker. Schulz moved and piled up points, but would lose a decision. I was in the minority that had the fight overwhelmingly for Foreman with his body shots and jabs overcoming the feather-fisted spurts of the challenger.

The IBF would take away their title when he refused to face Schulz in a rematch, instead taking on Crawford Grimsley for the WBU Heavyweight Title. Foreman would win a decision. He would eke by Lou Savarese in his next fight and lose a controversial decision to Shannon Briggs, in what would be his last fight.

After the Michael Moorer victory, there was nothing left to prove, nothing left to conquer, and Foreman fought understanding that. He would retire with a record of 76-5, 68 KO’s. He toyed with a comeback, once coming up with a battle plan to take on David Tua and then take another shot at the title, but his wife talked him out of it, and he was done with boxing, but he’s made more money off of his George Foreman Grills and now watches on as his children lace up the gloves and give the sport a go. His son “Monk” is 10-0, 9 KO’s, as a heavyweight, although his competition is laughable at this point.

Foreman returned to the sport during a great time for heavyweight boxing, regained the title when the odds were so heavily stacked against it, and made a lot of people smile with his antics and jokes. It was just a great time for boxing and Foreman was certainly responsible for some of it.

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