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Q&A With George Foreman

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George Foreman is an Olympic gold-medalist, two-time heavyweight champion, an entrepreneur and above all a family man. He’s been in the ring with the likes of Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson; and sparred with me for 20 minutes. We covered a lot of topics about the champ’s life and he opens up to me a about a multitude of topics. Our conversation went like this:

Q: What made you decide to get into boxing when you first started?

A: I never truly wanted to be a boxer. I wanted to be a football player. Then when I left Houston, Texas of course I wanted to be the best street fighter when I got back to Houston from Grand Rapids, Oregon and California. And I went down to the gym to try to learn how to hit the speed bag and the skip rope so I could frighten people when I got back to Houston. Next thing you know I’m in the ring. I didn’t want that I was so scared of it. I had my first boxing match in ’67 and I was an Olympic gold medalist by ’68. It just happened to me.

Q: What did that gold medal mean to you?

A: To this day it still reigns as the greatest feat that I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted that gold medal and I’ve never had a dream to come true in my life. Still I can’t believe it. Unbelievable.

Q: During that time it was during the Cold War. Did you feel a lot of weight on your shoulders during that gold medal match?

A: Well you know you go into the Olympic village and all of us became just like one group of people. The only thing that separated us was the different colors we wore. We found out we were all pretty much the same. You really had this pride of course going into the gold medal match against a Russian opponent. That had a lot of politics attached to it. But when I won that match it was just a boxing match. I was nervous because he (Jonas Cepulis) had beaten as many people as I had won boxing matches over.

Q: When was the first time that you realized that you had a god’s gift in boxing with the natural talent that you had?

A: You get into the ring and you fight like everybody else. A couple times I would look down and the guy would be on the canvas and the referee would stop the fight and I always wondered what is happening? What is going on? So even though I trained as hard as I possibly could I always knew there was something going on. I knew it was a gift that I’d win and I always knew I’d win.

Q: You’ve had a lot of fights over the years. What is your favorite venue you’ve ever boxed in?

A: I think I had three maybe four, but no more than five boxing matches I was fighting in Madison Square Garden. One day I just fought George Chuvalo and I walked out of the back to come out of the dressing room right into the street way and there were people waiting for me. I didn’t know what that was all about. It was the first time I had people or a crowd waiting to say hello. From then on Madison Square Garden became my favorite venue.

Q: When you beat Joe Frazier when did you know in that fight that you were actually going to win? You seemed pretty dominant. When the first bell rang you came right out and went right at him. When in that fight did it click in your mind that you actually could beat Joe Frazier?

A: It never did because it was the only pure fighter in my whole career that I knew could fight. You know the trainers would always tell you this guy’s got this this weakness. This guy’s got no chin. This guy’s old, but my trainer and I went into the dressing room with Joe Frazier and we both looked at each other and said don’t even go there. So I knocked him down once and he had been knocked down twice before. And then I thought if they let the fight go on he could possibly get me back. I wasn’t sure I was going to win that fight until it was all over.

Q: Now that fight had a pretty big buildup and you guys both had undefeated records going into it and you actually were a 3-1 underdog. Did that get in your mind mentally that you’re not getting the respect you deserved? You were undefeated coming in and you’ve won a lot of fights. Did that kind of give you a chip on your shoulder?

A: Not at all because I knew if anyone was an underdog I was to Joe Frazier. Not only me, but everyone else that fought him. I think that when he fought Muhammad Ali even he had no idea that this man would keep coming like he did. You have to prepare for that so the odds were really good in that fight. And of course I hit him with that shot I told you about. I always knew there was some way I would knock people down and win boxing matches somehow. I just knew that. I didn’t depend on my ability at all.

Q: You talked about Muhammad Ali. Let’s kind of transition to the Rumble in the Jungle. How physically exhausted were you at the end of that fight?

A: We’ll the fight ended in the eighth round. And I carried the fight to him every round. I never would take a step back and that was the problem. You can’t go in and decide you’re not going to take a step backwards. I came in, he hit me and I tried to hit him back. He had all the experience and plus he had knowledge of being a boxer. Muhammad had been in the ring with a lot of tough guys. He knew he couldn’t be physical and he had to use his mind and his patience. And he did that with me. He used both mental and patience with me.

Q: How about your relationship with Muhammed Ali? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

A: As the years have gone by we became the best of friends. I miss him because he was one of the best friends I ever had in my life and you don’t replace people like that. Especially friends that you admire. I loved that guy. I really loved being around him and I loved talking to him. Everything about Muhammed Ali I really loved.

Q: What did he do that made him stand out from the crowd?

A: Muhammed Ali to me was a thrill. You meet a lot of people that were so happy to meet him. But every now and then you meet a person that is a thrill. Muhammed Ai was a thrill to meet. You knew you were in the presence of a real celebrity when you saw him. He was kind enough to share his celebrity with you. If you were sitting in the corner or something he’d say, “Hey George! George Foreman let me whoop you!” He would let you share in his celebrity. That’s what was so good about him. He never thought he was better than anyone. He was always ya know a celebrity, but kind with it.

Q: What did he (Muhammad Ali) mean to this country to the world for that matter?

A: I think one of the greatest things that America ever had was Muhammad Ali. If you’re in Russia, China, Japan, Africa and you say America the first thing that comes to mind is Muhammad Ali. Ali Ali Ali. He was like a natural wonder that we had. I hope is name lives on because of it.

Q: You took a 10-year hiatus in the middle of your career. If you could change things over would you do the same?

A: Well I had this experience in a dressing room where I died and was alive again. I had an experience and started screaming Jesus Christ! And man I never used words like that. I came home and became an evangelist in the church of Jesus Christ, spent 10 years to read the bible and redefined myself. Tried to help others achieve their dreams. That was the best ten years of my life. I ate whatever I want. Oh man it was a blast. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.

Q: Now what made you come out of retirement and fight for the second time around?

A: Well I had this profound experience. Something happened to me. I became broke (laughs). And I didn’t have another profession. I spent all those years in boxing. It was the only profession I had. I was teaching the kids in the ring in my youth center I put together for them. Never a punch in anger. And as I taught them I learned the same thing. So it gave me the desire not only to come back into boxing, but with the right mindset.

Q: Tell me your thoughts on the state of boxing today versus what it was when you were boxing?

A: Well boxing was the supreme sport. The heavyweight champ of the world was everything. Then over the years we started to share that with the Super Bowl, the NBA, and all kinds of other sports. Today we have the MMA. You have to share it with them not, but still if there’s ever a great crowd attracted to a great event it will always be a boxing match. So boxing has its rightful place and the state of boxing I think is 100. The future is in the boxer’s hands.

Q: What do you think boxing can do right now to be more transparent and draw in more fans?

A: Well a good boxer is going have to be more than just a good boxer. He’s going have to be a personality that every parent can say I want my boys to be like him. We had that in Joe Louis. We even had that in Rocky Marciano. We had some great champions in the past and we’re going need that now and that will change boxing. Be a hero and not about yourself. Your body has to be what every parent wants their son’s body to be and the conversation. Everything. So a guy in boxing is going to have to dedicate himself to being not only a good boxer, but a good human being.

Q: What are your thoughts on Floyd Mayweather?

A: Floyd Mayweather was no doubt one of the most skillful fighters of all-time. If you’re going to rate him on skill you’ve got to put him right in the class of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and all the great boxers even Muhammad Ali. You name him Mr. Skills.

Q: Do you think his fight with Connor McGregor would actually happen?

A: You know that move is on to them another day. MMA is great and boxing is great. When you put them together it turns more into a circus.

Q: Talk about Mike Tyson for a little bit. I’m from upstate New York and he was a big name in the Catskill region and an even bigger one in the Albany area. Tell me about the type of athlete he was and the potential that he had.

A: Mike Tyson was a phenomenon. It’s like he’s one of the eight wonders of the world. This guy could hit you so fast and the strength. He would do it so fast and it would have power to it. He’s hit you in the temple and knock you out. I think if he had about three more years to reign and stay in top condition he could have gone down in history next behind Joe Lewis as the greatest fighter of all time. I’m talking about a fighter now. Remember I rank Ali as one of the greatest men of all-time. But fighters Tyson could have been number two right behind Joe Lewis.

Q: You worked awhile for HBO. How did you like broadcasting and being on the other side of things?

A: It was a thrill for me because I had a chance to really explain to the average boxing fan what boxing is all about. They see two guys slugging it out and I tell them about footwork, mindset, jab, holding, walking to the side. That was a thrill and I truly enjoyed it. I’ve don’t it for a lot of years and I look up and say you know what I’ve got to raise children. Now that I’ve raised all my kids I need to go back.

Q: What’s an average day for George Foreman? What are you doing with your time nowadays?

A: I’m a fulltime minister and that’s what I do three nights and one day a week. I’m in the church conducting as the main speaker. I do that. I still have the George Foreman youth center. I spend some time with the kids teaching them about boxing and footwork. And I travel all over the country. Whenever I have an opportunity I travel all over the world speaking motivational talks. And I also have a T.V. show “Better Late Than Never.” And I spend one month out of the year traveling the world and showing it to the world.

Q: George did you ever think in your wildest dreams that life would turn out this way for you?

A: No idea. I remember standing on that platform as a 19-year-old boy listening to the national anthem in the background and I kept thinking this has got to be a dream. This can’t be real. Cause that’s the way I walk around generally every day thinking this had got to be a dream.

Q: Tell me about your family life.

A: Well I’ve got about I don’t know 14, 15 almost 16 grandkids and they keep me busy because they love their grandpa. A couple of them really love me they stick right with me. So I make time to babysit with my wife. I love that. I have a good wife that keeps me in line and makes me eat properly. I have a lot of children that I’m really proud of. So I have a good family life.

Q: Talking about eating properly how did you come up with the idea of the George Foreman Grill? I’ve got to kind of shift gears a little bit.

A: Well the grill start off as a joke. I was doing so many commercials I became the darling of Madison Avenue. I did everything; McDonalds, Pepsi Cola, Meinike. I had everything and one got to me. George you’re making all these companies rich. Why don’t you get your own product? And we started looking for a product. We found the grill, not in its present form of course. We made a pretty piece of furniture with it. I didn’t believe it would sell like that, but I started at the boxing matches and writing about it. It sold a million and people thought impossible. We ended up selling over 100 million of those things.

Q: I told my mother I was doing this interview with you and she has a George Forman Grill and she swears by it.

A: (Laughs) If I told you I knew it would be such a success I would be lying. The thing worked for me and my wife loved it. I thought I was going to get as many as 16 for my whole family and that’s all I thought it would become. I never thought it would be such a success. Never. Worldwide too.

Q: Now looking past everything what are your plans for the future?

A: Well that’s the one thing I do. I wake up every morning thinking about the future. So many people were bugging me about their new inventions so I partnered up with invent help and help that company help clients develop their inventions make them pretty and present them to companies. I’m happy about that. And of course I’m still working on a shoe that’s going to comfortable for everybody to get up and walk. Everybody needs to realize the only thing they forgot to do is to stay moving. A lot of people don’t move because they’re not comfortable. Coming up with a comfortable shoe that will make every person walk not much, but get up. That’s my future ideas.

Q: We’ve talked about a lot in the past 15 minutes or so. Boxing and everything that we just talked about. What’s the greatest moment in your life? I’m sure there’s so many of them, but what sticks out the most?

A: Well I tell everyone this. My true profession is an evangelist with the church and Lord Jesus Christ. And when I’m a preacher that’s for me. That’s all I ever wanted to do to be a preacher. So when I was doing that whether Sunday school morning or Wednesday and Saturday evenings I’m at my most. I love those moments and I feel better about myself when I’m doing it.

Q: Mr. Foreman thanks a lot for joining me and I hope we can keep in touch.

A: No problem. Bye now.

Photo compliments of Dailysports.com

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John C. Longton III is the sports editor of the Albany Student Press. He previously served as sports editor for Hudson Valley Community College's student newspaper, the Hudsonian. Longton also works for Townsquare Media, the Albany Patroons, and runs his own podcast weekly, Rated R Sports.

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