Boxer George Foreman turns 70

With this historic victory, George Foreman broke three records.

George ForemanThere was a time in the United States when most people could name the current heavyweight boxing champion. My paternal grandfather McKinley Green probably could have named them all, from John L. Sullivan through Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, the undefeated Rocky Marciano to Floyd Patterson.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title that he’d won in 1964 (as Cassius Clay) by beating Sonny Liston. This was due to his refusal to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam War. “Smokin'” Joe Frazier eventually won the confusing alphabet soup of titles when he defeated Jimmy Ellis in 1970. Frazier then beat Ali, who was by then allowed to make his comeback, in the “Fight of the Century” in 1971.

On January 22, 1973, Frazier lost his title when he was defeated for the first time professionally by George Foreman. Foreman had won a gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He turned professional in 1969. After he beat Frazier, he had two successful title defenses.

Foreman’s lost the title in his first professional defeat, to Muhammad Ali, in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in October 1974 in Zaire. George retired from boxing after a loss to Jimmy Young in 1977 and had a religious conversion. He became an ordained minister and opened a youth center in Houston, TX.

In 1987, at the age of 38, George announced he was returning to boxing to raise money for his youth center. From the Wikipedia: “By 1989, Foreman had sold his name and face for the advertising of various products, selling everything from grills to mufflers on TV….his public persona was reinvented, and the formerly aloof, ominous Foreman had been replaced by a smiling, friendly George.” In fact, it was the George Foreman Grill that made him far more money than he made in his boxing career.

Still, in 1994, he fought a guy named Michael Moorer. “With this historic victory, Foreman broke three records: he became, at age 45, the oldest fighter ever to win the World Heavyweight Championship; 20 years after losing his title for the first time, he broke the record for the fighter with the longest interval between his first and second world championships; and the age spread of 19 years between the champion and challenger was the largest of any heavyweight boxing championship fight.” He eventually ceded the title.

He has a dozen kids. “On his website, Foreman explains, ‘I named all [five of] my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common. I say to them, ‘If one of us goes up, then we all go up together, and if one goes down, we all go down together!'”

Muhammad Ali is 70

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.


There are certain figures who are, for whatever reason, transcendent. For instance, people knew who Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan were, even if they didn’t follow baseball or basketball. Muhammad Ali was, and is, like that. In a period when the heavyweight championship of boxing still was culturally significant, before an alphabet soup of different boxing authorities stripped the championship of any lasting meaning, Ali was most noteworthy.

I remember that it was the conventional wisdom that Clay could not possibly beat champion Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, a fight I recall hearing on the radio. Yet, Clay prevailed.

Shortly after the fight, he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ultimately, it was that conversion, scorned by some opponents who kept referring to him by what he called his “slave name”, that was the gateway to the next phase of his life: being stripped of his boxing crown and even his boxing license in 1967 for his “refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.” This was a momentous event, which “inspired Martin Luther King Jr. – who had been reluctant to alienate the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda – to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.” Ultimately, Ali won his US Supreme Court case, but not before he lost nearly four years working at his chosen profession.

This set the stage for three epic fights with the late Joe Frazier, who died late last year. In 1971, Frazier became the first fighter to defeat Ali then “lost two epic rematches including a ferocious battle known as the ‘Thrilla in Manila.'” Ali went on to have another stretch of boxing success. He has regularly been named one of the top one or two boxers of all time.

But it wasn’t just his boxing prowess. It was the poetry of his boxing style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.

And it was his name change. Lots of actors have changed their name, but Ali’s action gave other athletes, such as Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, permission to do likewise. Whatever one thought of the theatrical arguing between Ali and ABC Sports’ Howard Cosell, I always liked Cosell because he always called Ali by the name he wished to be called.

I was awestruck at the 1996 Olympics when it was the Parkinson’s disease-riddled Ali who had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. One of my favorite Ali memories was when he and his fourth wife, Yolanda, wife were being interviewed by the late Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes.

In 1999, Ali was crowned Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

Happy birthday, Muhammad.

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