HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) — People got killed every weekend in the bloody Fifth Ward of Houston, where George Foreman struggled to find his way as a troubled teenager. With a menacing manner and imposing physique, Foreman became a bully and a mugger.
Either by fate or the providence of God, Foreman found his way into a new government program called Job Corps. Charles "Doc" Broadus, a counselor and boxing coach, inspired Foreman to turn that big chip on his shoulder into punching prowess.
Incredibly, in 20 short months Foreman went from being a no-name novice to becoming the world heavyweight amateur champion. Waving a small USA flag as the new heavyweight boxing gold medal winner was Foreman's "Kodak moment" at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The 19-year-old came home a champion; however, some called him a "chump" for not protesting with other black athletes. This was a gut-wrenching blow to someone who fought so hard to overcome a life of poverty and pain. That chip on the shoulder returned with a vengeance.
Turning professional in 1969, Foreman promptly knocked out 35 fighters, racking up a perfect 37-0 record by 1972. His ring résumé led to a toe-to-toe shot at the heavyweight crown with Joe Frazier on January 22, 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica. Fighting in the first-ever HBO boxing broadcast, millions of people saw Big George rip through Smokin' Joe like a hot knife through butter.
'IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?'
Becoming champ would set Foreman up in fighting the most famous boxer in the world: Muhammad Ali. "The Rumble in the Jungle" with Ali was fought in Kinshasa, Zaire. Foreman showed up with his sledgehammer style and Ali with his secret "rope-a-dope" strategy of laying back on the ropes taking body blows while dodging haymakers. Tiring after the fifth round, Foreman's wicked wallop waned. During a clench, Ali whispered in Foreman's ear, "Is that all you got?"
Like a matador wearing down a bull for the kill, Ali finally sent Foreman to the canvass in the eighth round. Hard was the fall by Foreman as he watched Ali's hands raised in victory. Foreman would sulk and brood for the next year out of the ring.
Jimmy Young spoiled Foreman's five-straight-knockout comeback in 1977. Foreman lost this 12-round fight in Puerto Rico and frightfully found himself in an unnerving duel with death in his dressing room after the bout.
Foreman grew up scoffing at religious people, seeing them as weak and silly. Now he found himself in a deep, dark place engulfed by the tentacles of death. He felt utter sadness, doom, and despair. Believing that God brought him back to life for a second chance, Foreman screamed out, "Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!"
A NEW MAN IN CHRIST
George became a new man in Christ! Once a mugger, he was now a hugger. His trademark scowl vanished, a smile radiated from his now-friendly face. He gave up boxing and started preaching in his hometown of Houston. He planted his own church in 1980 and later built and founded the George Foreman Youth and Community Center for at-risk kids and troubled teens.
George poured his energy and life-savings into helping youth in Houston find hope and a brighter tomorrow. When his fortune ran out, George stayed by the stuff.
Like an old volcano after a decade of dormancy, the fire in George's belly went from a warm ember to a lava flow after realizing he must make the greatest "comeback" of his life to keep his Youth Center and ministry alive for future generations.
He was not only out of shape; those closest to George thought he was out of his mind.
It's not easy turning lard into lean muscle at midlife! George kept smiling, jogging, sweating, hitting the heavy bag, and sparring with the boys. His "ring rust" stained the mat every single day – more so during undercard fights as Big George grew faster and more dangerous.
GREATEST COMEBACK IN BOXING HISTORY
The greatest comeback in boxing history became reality in November 1994, as 45-year-old George Foreman landed a tree-jarring straight right to the chin of 27-year-old Michael Moorer in the 10th round of a fight for the heavyweight championship. Moorer was out cold before crashing to the canvass.
Retiring from boxing in 1997 with a 76-5 career record, George would never have to worry about funding his Youth Center again. His new celebrity helped launch a pitchman career in television marketing and selling his George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine. After selling millions of grills, George sold millions of mufflers for Meineke Car Care Centers.
The smile on George's face didn't come naturally. His once sullen scowl was transformed by the supernatural power of the living Christ. It helps him – as he continues "fighting the good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6:12).
Ron Hale is senior adult/pastoral care pastor at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn. and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.