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God In My Corner

A Spiritual Memior

George Foreman believes in second chances. Some would say he personifies the concept. This giant of a man has twice earned the title of Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world—first at age 24 and again at age 45. But the second chance story he repeats most often has less to do with boxing and more to do with life. God, he claims, gave him a second shot at living.

George Foreman was born January 10, 1949. His mother worked hard to provide for her seven children since George’s alcoholic father was away most of the time. George spent his youth fighting and stealing and dropped out of school by ninth grade. He eventually joined the Job Corps where he learned to box. After graduating from the Job Corps, his trainer urged him to train for the Olympics. Less than two years later, George represented the United States in the 1968 Olympic Games where he defeated his Russian opponent and landed a gold medal.

George eventually worked his way up the ranks of professional boxing, never losing a fight. And on January 22, 1973, he defeated Smokin’ Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title of the world. Along with the title and the huge championship belt, came money, and lots of it. George went on to earn millions more when he agreed to fight Muhammad Ali in 1974. But his winning streak would end with that fight.

Determined to get another shot at Ali, George won his next five fights and prepared to fight Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico. If he could defeat Young, he would undoubtedly get a second match with Ali. But the fight ended with the points in Young’s favor, and George returned to his locker room in shock. More than three decades later, George remembers that locker room vividly.

“What happened to me in that room is so incredibly bizarre, it’s unlikely you’ve ever before read anything like it. Simply stated, I died and went to the other side,” George recounts. Just moments before, George had been a man who didn’t believe in the Bible. He had rejected all religion, Jesus was merely a cuss word, and he didn’t love anybody but himself. After his near death encounter, he was a completely different man.

“All of my hate—and I had hated a lot of people—was gone. God’s love flowed through me to other in a way that, frankly, I can’t adequately understand or express. Every attitude and emotion in me had flip-flopped. How could anyone explain the switch from night-to-day that had taken place? It was nothing short of a miracle.”

After his conversion, repairing broken relationships became a priority. It took more than two years, but he located all the people he knew he had hurt and asked their forgiveness. He even connected with those who had hurt him and offered forgiveness. He called Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Young and Joe Frazier to tell them of his conversion. But few were interested in George’s newfound religion.

Almost immediately, George resigned his television contract as a boxing commentator and retired from boxing to become an evangelist. He preached on the streets of Houston and eventually came to pastor a small church in the area. A few years later, he founded the George Foreman Youth and Community Center.

Several years after retirement, George was near bankruptcy due to bad investments and crooked financial managers. But he refused to give up on the youth center and began accepting speaking invitations so the honorariums could fund the center. Then a new idea hit him. He would return to boxing to make the money his family and the youth center needed. He would become the heavyweight champion of the world. Again. And this time, he would do things right.

Before he could emerge from retirement, however, George had almost 100 pounds to lose. And hundreds of miles to run. And endless hours of training to endure. George watched hundreds of hours watching boxing film and reading articles, trying to learn how to improve his timing. He studied all the great boxers and researched old sports clippings. His extensive research made him a smarter boxer than he had been before. His return to the ring with a respect for the sport—and new techniques that compensated for his lack of speed. And for the first time in his life, he learned to box without hate.

“I wanted my children to see me on television as a good man—not a mean, hateful guy. I now met all my opponents in the middle of the ring with a big smile on my face. Ironically, they thought I was trying to psyche them out . . . I was just being friendly. I wanted to let them know that boxing was a sport to me, and I wasn’t angry at them.”

He returned to the ring at age 37 and, against the advice of most everyone in the boxing world, started at the bottom. He believed it would take at least three years to get his timing back, so he personally selected his fights. He chose opponents who would help him develop new skills. Seven years passed since he had left retirement, and George’s record was 27 wins, 2 losses. It had now been twenty years since George had lost his fight to Muhammad Ali, and he was finally getting the chance to win back his title. He defeated Michael Moorer in 1994 to became the oldest heavyweight boxing champion of all time—as well as the boxer with the most time between one world championship and the next. But after winning the title, George didn’t hang around to celebrate. Instead, he caught a flight back to Houston and preached at his church the next morning.

Since his second retirement in 1997, George has been inducted in to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Ring Magazine has named him the ninth greatest puncher of all time. He has sold tens of millions of George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machines. And his smiling face has endorsed numerous national brands. All the while, George has continued to preach at the same small church in Houston.

“I did what everyone said was impossible—but only because God was in my corner. He said, ‘Let me show you what I can do through you.’ Sure, I worked hard, trained hard, and had to fight my way from the bottom to the top. But each step of the way, God gave me the ability to do it. And He still has more things for me to accomplish before I’m done on earth.”