The lifestyle of riches and fame can be achieved, but a person can still feel empty inside. George Foreman takes us through his personal voyage from his troubled youth to being two-time heavyweight champion of boxing in his new book George Foreman: God in My Corner. Somewhere in between it all he found his spirituality and what he was missing personally.
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Chris Yandek: You were a man who had nothing as a child and became a famous athlete with millions of dollars, but you still felt empty inside. You really couldn’t put a price on your beliefs and what defines you personally could you?
George Foreman: “Yes. It’s so rough. You come up in life all you have is want…want, want for food, want for recognition, want for home. Then all of a sudden you have everything you ever wanted and then you become frustrated because you think there is a satisfaction that comes with it. I didn’t find it. I didn’t find it at all.”
CY: I understand how your spirituality changed you, but going from being such an angry person that you wanted to hire a hitman to kill certain people who you felt took advantage of you or disliked to being nice to everybody and forgiving people doesn’t happen overnight. So can you describe what that process was like for you?
GF: “Yeah. I tell people all the time the hardest thing was to accept. You get to be famous, you get money, and all of a sudden comes friends or relationships and you really think you can trust the whole world. It didn’t take but a few days to find out that most people who really say that they’re your friends, they don’t know a lot about you. They let me down and I felt betrayed. I didn’t know anything but getting even. I sat around with a lot of hate. After so much time there are so many people that you want to get even with.
You realize if I hurt them that they are gonna know it’s me and maybe I can hire someone to hurt them. It triggers you because your whole life is filled with getting even with people. It’s more important than even your own ambitions. Becoming heavyweight champion of the world again was even second to getting even with people. I just didn’t have anymore space to hate.”
CY: You go through this whole journey and I think the problem with most people today is you give so much to a young kid, you pull them out of high school and you say they are gonna be a star and you don’t know who is your friend and who isn’t really your friend and you have to deal with all those pressures.
GF: “Yeah. There are more pressures than you can imagine. You think success a lot of times is for yourself, but a lot of it is to show others and sometimes even to help others. Then you get into that position that those others you cared about so much really didn’t care about you. That ended up bringing on a lot of hate and disappointment. I tell you, I was going nowhere and nowhere. One day I remember sitting down frustrated, depressed because I couldn’t find anything else to buy. Just trying to buy my happiness.”
CY: Well the more things you have, the more you realize the less happy you are and even more empty inside you feel at certain points.
GF: “Yeah. Total emptiness. If you are gonna try to buy happiness, you are gonna end up broke and still not have anything. It can’t be bought. You just gotta find that peace of mind and I eventually found it.”
CY: As you say in your book, “I really didn’t have a great desire to be a professional boxer. I just wanted to make enough money to live and support my mother.” Did it just come to a certain point where even if you didn’t have this desire I really shouldn’t waste this talent I’ve been given?
GF: “It really didn’t. After I started boxing I realized I could hit so hard. Then I’d read the critics and they’d say he’s a slugger but he’s not a boxer. Then I’d get mad at the critics, other boxers. I wanted to destroy everybody with my fists. I figure I am gonna make a lot of money. I didn’t care about nothing else but making a lot of money. I didn’t care if people liked me. As a matter of fact, better for me because I didn’t like anyone in particular myself. I’d have to sit there and greave and greave on that all the time. You find yourself with money for this and boxing is for money and you really don’t know why you are in this sport for after awhile.”
CY: So you go through the motions it seems like.
GF: “You go through the motions. I remember losing the title in the 70s. I had a renewed thing, but then I had hate and revenge that to add on to the other things. I wanted to be heavyweight champ of the world because I hated the people I felt betrayed me. I hated boxing Muhammad Ali who defeated me. I hated all the people who cheered for him. That sort of drives you. Then you have another drive along with getting even with people, people betraying you and now I am refueled again with hate. That’s no longer the motion. It’s like I am putting it in action to get everybody, get even with everybody, and hate. It pushed me to the end until 1977 it all came to a head.”
CY: The 1974 fight with Muhammad Ali is one you say you are glad you lost, but you really believe there was medicine in your water and that someone was out to rob you of that victory? You even go to say that you paid $25,000 to the referee to make sure you got a fair fight.
GF: “Yeah. Fair fight because I was a cheater. In other words, sometimes I’d knock guys down and I’d even hit them when they were on the floor. The fear of paying the referee was to make certain I didn’t get disqualified for hitting a person when they were down. I was that mean in the ring. People ask me, are you sure someone put some medicine in your water? I say look, I am sure because don’t think I wasn’t good enough to put something else in someone else’s water if I had a chance. I was a bad guy.”
CY: So now you move on and the lesson in life is to let go and moving on is a big lesson in the book and you’ve moved on with Ali since, but is it hard to see how the Parkinson’s disease has taken over his body?
GF: “What a great human being. It makes you so inspired to really get out there. I know with science and research we are going to find a cure for that disease. Hopefully it will happen in Muhammad Ali’s lifetime because if there is anyone who deserves a second chance to get their physical health back it’s Muhammad Ali. I am hoping doctors and scientists will find a way. I found my peace of mind when I found God. When I met up with Jesus Christ, I found true love existed in the living God. That knowledge of Jesus Christ changed my life. I didn’t have any time to hate anyone. Life was too short. Only time I had in this life was to love people.”
CY: You are 45 years old, everyone says you should already be retired, and you step into that ring with Michael Moorer in November of 1994 who is quicker and faster than you. He dominates many of the early rounds, but still you find a way to win and become the oldest world champion and beat a man almost 20 years younger than you. Did you just want it more and does age and physical ability just not mean anything then?
GF: “Mostly, importantly because I told everybody I was coming back to boxing to get money for my youth center, but I had to be heavyweight champion of the world to do it. I had to stick to my integrity. I had to become heavyweight champion of the world. Someone to say I am old, over the hill, they don’t understand. Something happened to me in Africa. Was I just running my mouth or did something happen? If something happened I could do it again at 45. I became heavyweight champion, the oldest man to do so. I felt so complete and I remember falling to my knees and thanking God because I have been given a second chance.
I found out that age is something that’s going to happen to you. It’s inevitable. I think that was the greatest thing for me, growing a year older. Every year when they say happy birthday, I don’t allow anyone to my party unless they are smiling.”
CY: Would you ever just to have like an exhibition match with Larry Holmes, something for the fun of it?
GF: “Oh sure. I even now get down to the gym and workout with the kids. It’s the strangest thing. You go into a gym and workout real good and you find yourself in good shape. No one is in the gym and I am a 58-year-old man and an old man in the gym is someone who is 25. That’s strange. Would I come back and box someone in an exhibition? I think that would be a way for me to really earn a lot of money for a lot of charities if I get back into an exhibition.”
CY: So you are on this ABC show American Inventor because you have had a successful businessman run yourself. Many entertainers have made more money on their endorsements and business. Is it fair to say you made more money off the George Foreman Grill than you did your entire boxing career?
GF: “I have been successful and I am not gonna kid you in business, a lot more successful in business financially than I was in boxing. None of this could’ve happened without George Foreman winning that gold medal in boxing in the 1968 Olympics and then becoming heavyweight champion of the world. None of this could’ve been possible without a boxing match. You have to include them as one.”
CY: We see you winning that gold medal in 1968 running around that ring and holding that flag up. That was what America was all about then. Don King who you know very well recently said to the major entertainment outlet TMZ.com that Paris Hilton is what America is all about. Is she really what America is all about right now?
GF: “America, you spell it second, third, fourth chance. If I had a chance to do it all over again I’d wear two flags.”
CY: You’ve seen a lot in your life and you see where America is right now and you see what’s going on in society. Many people need someone that encourages them like you do. You looked for encouragement as you were growing up. When Don King says Paris Hilton is what America is all about, that can’t be what America is all about right now can it?
GF: “I really don’t know Paris Hilton that well, but I can tell you this, America is about the people who get out there. I remember out in a job core center with retired veterans who’d come out and volunteer to work to help us boys to look for a second chance to get off the canvas when life would knock you down. America is about those little farmers somewhere who are never gonna make any profit but they keep planting crops and they keep going out helping other kids, teaching them how to farm. You see a guy every morning who opens up his mechanic shop or these people that have the bread stores. That’s about America because they constantly build. It’s a little bigger than Paris Hilton and George Foreman. There is still a lot of ordinary people out there who love giving back.”
CY: Finally, you’ve accomplished many things, so what do you still want to do in this life?
GF: “I told a reporter in 1977 when I made my re-entry into boxing – I stood next to the church, it’s called the Church of Lord Jesus Christ. He asked me what I wanted in the future? I said, 20 years from today to be standing right there in front of that sign being the same human being I am today and you know what I’ve been successful. 20 years from today I still want to be that same guy speaking to you, happy, proud of what happened to me. I don’t have anything bad to say about anyone. I have great things to say about my country. I have a beautiful wife who has given me a wonderful family and wonderful kids so we all are pretty good. George is fine.”
You can purchase a copy and find more information about George Foreman: God in My Corner at www.georgeforeman.com.