George Edward Foreman went from a high school dropout to a millionaire.
Born in Marshall, Texas, January 10, 1949, he grew up poor in Houston. Foreman played some football in junior high, where he tried to emulate his idol, Jim Brown [Daily Dose, 10/20/15]. After dropping out of high school at 15, he joined the Jobs Corps, the central program of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” and moved to Pleasanton, California, to begin vocational training. At 17, the rebellious teen took up boxing, he said, “Just to show my friends I wasn’t afraid.” Foreman’s first bout, which he won, came in the San Francisco Golden Gloves in February 1967. The win qualified him for the 1968 national AAU tournament, which he also won. The 6’2”, 212 pound Foreman was then named to the U.S. Olympic team as a heavyweight, where he would be expected to follow in the footsteps of reigning world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier [Daily Dose, 4/22/16], who had won the gold medal in Tokyo in 1964. With little experience, 19-year-old right-hander arrived in Mexico City for the Summer Games in October 1968. Historically, the Americans had dominated Olympic boxing, but when George Foreman climbed into the ring to face Russia’s Jonas Cepulis for the heavyweight title—the final bout of the tournament—the U.S. had won only one gold. Competing in only his 18th amateur fight, Foreman bloodied the Soviet fighter in the first round. Early in the second, the referee stopped the fight, making Foreman the winner. Immediately after the fight, Foreman carried a small American flag around the ring, a stark contrast to the Black Power salute U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos had displayed atop the medal podium ten days earlier. Less than two years after his first fight, George Forman was Olympic heavyweight champion. “I was just a happy teenager wanting everyone to know where I was from.” Eight months later, he entered his first pro fight.
Forman made his professional debut June 23, 1969, at Madison Square Garden [Daily Dose, 12/15/15], knocking out Don Waldhelm in the third round. He fought 13 times that year and won them all, 11 by knockout. By the end of 1972, he had won 37 in a row to earn a title shot against Frazier, who had claimed the vacant heavyweight crown in 1968. In January 1973, the two former Olympic champions squared off in Kingston, Jamaica, in the “Sunshine Showdown.” Frazier came into fight with a record of 29-0. Forman, despite having a significant height and reach advantage, was made a three-to-one-underdog. “Smokin” Joe never had a chance, as Foreman knocked him down six times while Howard Cosell [Daily Dose, 1/4/16] famously called, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” The fight was stopped in the second round and George Foreman was the new heavyweight champion of the world.
Following two successful title defenses, Forman faced former champion Muhammed Ali in Zaire, Africa, in October 1974. In contrast to the Frazier fight, the hard-hitting Foreman was considered unbeatable and Ali was given little chance. For seven rounds, Ali leaned against the ropes while Forman punched away in what has become known as the “Rope-a-dope” tactic. In the eighth, Ali knocked an exhausted Foreman out to reclaim the heavyweight championship he had vacated over a decade earlier. Ali had won the “Rumble in the Jungle,” still one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Foreman won his next five fights before losing a unanimous decision to Jimmy Young in March 1977. Believing he had a near death experience in the dressing room after the fight, Foreman became a born-again Christian, stopped fighting, and became an ordained minister.
In 1987, after ten years away from the ring and out of money, 38-year-old George Forman announced a comeback. He returned a different man—kinder and gentler. Gone was the perpetual snarl he patterned after Sonny Liston [Daily Dose, 2/25/16]. Foreman came back smiling, joking, and animated. He also returned heavier  while his punches lacked their former snap. Foreman beat journeyman Steve Zouski in March 1987, then reeled off 23 straight victories to set up a title fight with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield [Daily Dose, 10/19/15]. Four years into his comeback, Foreman lost a unanimous 12-round decision to Holyfield. He won three of his next four bouts before facing heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in Las Vegas in November 1994. Forman stunned the boxing world by knocking out Moorer, who came into the fight with a record of 35-0, in the tenth round. At 45, George Forman became the oldest champion in heavyweight boxing history. He successfully defended his title three times before losing a majority decision to Shannon Briggs in November 1997. It proved to be the final fight of Forman’s career.
“Big George” Foreman fought professionally in four decades, amassing a career record of 76-5, with 68 knockouts. He was an Olympic champion and two-time heavyweight champion. Forman dropped out of high school at 15. At 50, he sold naming rights to the manufacturer of Saltan grills for $ 138 million. Mr. Foreman has five sons, all of whom are named George Edward, and seven daughters. Mr. Foreman has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame. The International Boxing Research Organization rates Forman as the eighth greatest heavyweight of all time [between James J. Jeffries and Sonny Liston] and The Ring magazine ranks him as the ninth greatest puncher in history.
On this date in 1968, America’s George Forman stopped Lithuania’s Jonas Cepulis in Mexico Arena to win the Olympic gold medal in the heavyweight class.