2. George Foreman (1987-1997)
Very few fighters can claim to have had such a remarkable career as “Big George” Foreman. Regarded as one of the most devastating punchers of all time, Foreman won his first world title during what was arguably the greatest era in heavyweight boxing history. He then retired early, and came back late, to give us one of sport’s true fairy tale stories.
Foreman turned professional in 1969, after winning gold in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Possessing knockout power in both hands, he quickly established himself as a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division with a string of early victories. By the time he challenged Joe Frazier for the world title in 1973, Foreman had racked up 37 straight wins, with all but two ending inside the distance.
However, despite an undefeated record and reputation as a brutal knockout artist, Foreman entered the ring against Frazier a significant underdog. Most fans and analysts expected the undefeated champion, who handed Muhammad Ali his first professional loss two years prior, to dispatch of the younger challenger within the distance.
Big George shocked the world that night in Jamaica, knocking Frazier down six times on the way to a second round knockout victory, and the heavyweight championship of the world. Frazier simply had no answer to Foreman’s size, strength and power, with the sound of legendary commentator, Howard Cosell, telling the world “Down goes Frazier,” becoming one of boxing’s most iconic memories.
In 1974, Foreman would defend the title against Muhammad Ali, in what is now one of the most famous heavyweight contests of all time. A massive financial incentive allowed promoter, Don King, to convince Foreman and Ali to meet in Kinshasa, Zaire, in a fight billed, “The Rumble in the Jungle.”On this occasion Foreman would enter the ring a huge betting favourite, with fans not only concerned that Ali could lose the bout, but also fearing that he could be badly injured.
This time though, it would be Foreman on the wrong side of a result that shocked the world, as Ali picked up a truly memorable 8th round stoppage victory. Foreman received a lesson in psychological warfare on the night as Ali, utilizing the “rope a dope” tactic for the first time, allowed the champion to punch himself out, before unleashing a barrage of punches, which left an exhausted Foreman unable to beat the count.
Although Foreman would rack up a run of five consecutive knockout victories after the loss to Ali, including a second win over Joe Frazier, a surprise unanimous decision loss to Jimmy Young in 1977 scuppered his chances of again challenging for the world championship. The former champion claimed to have had a near death experience in the changing room after the Young fight, where “God had rescued him from a truly hellish place.” Consequently, the 28 year old Foreman swapped the boxing ring for the church alter, retiring from boxing to become an ordained Christian minister.
However, after almost a decade out of the ring, Big George returned to boxing in 1987, aged 38. Foreman admitted that he had to “go back to work” in order to feed his kids and help his community, and that boxing was the only profession he had ever known. Although victorious, the former champion looked slow and overweight in his comeback fight against Steve Zouski, and very few members of the boxing fraternity were taking Foreman’s comeback very seriously.
However, his performances and conditioning would improve, as the former Olympic gold medalist was able to develop a style which would allow him to compete into his 40’s. Using a shell defence for the first time in his career, Foreman now boxed at a much more steady pace, becoming more reliant on short, straight, deliberate punches, as opposed to the energy sapping, wild hooks he had become synonymous with in the first part of his career.
Foreman remained undefeated through until 1991, eventually earning a shot at Evander Holyfield’s undisputed heavyweight championship crown. Written off before the bout, Foreman played his part in what was a highly entertaining and competitive contest, though losing out by way of a 12 round unanimous decision. Despite the loss, Big George had perhaps achieved his goal of showing the world that 40 “was not a death sentence,” and continued in his pursuit of regaining the world championship.
The opportunity would present itself in 1994, when Foreman faced newly crowned champion, Michael Moorer, for the WBA and IBF world titles. The challenger was totally outboxed for the majority of the first nine rounds, but they say that the last thing a fighter loses his power, and as one of the most powerful hitters of all time, Foreman always had that punchers chance.
When that chance came, one minute and 50 seconds into round 10, Foreman, wearing the same red trunks he had worn in the Rumble in the Jungle, grabbed it with both hands, unleashing a stiff one, two onto Moorer’s jaw which knocked the champion out. In one of the most memorable moments in sports history, Foreman had regained the championship some 20 years after losing it to Ali in Zaire. At 45, Big George became the oldest world champion in boxing history, and remains the oldest heavyweight to have held a world title. Although Foreman’s reign as champion is perhaps best forgotten, as he was stripped of both the WBA and IBF titles in 1995, the magnitude of his accomplishments in regaining the title cannot be overstated.
To put the feat into perspective, Foreman had once been a sparring partner for Sonny Liston, who became Heavyweight Champion in 1962, and had now taken the title from Moorer, who was born in 1967. Foreman had not just come back from a few years off to regain the title, he had returned from an entirely different era. The man who had won the heavyweight crown from Joe Frazier, and then lost it to Muhammad Ali, had regained it in the era of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
The two-time world heavyweight champion retired in 1997, at the age of 48, and has since embarked on a highly successful entrepreneurial career which has seen him become the second wealthiest living boxer behind Floyd Mayweather.
This series first appeared on http://boxingtruthman.blogspot.co.uk/