When we last spoke to boxing great George Foreman in 2003 he told us about the amazing, life-changing experience he had in 1977 after his big match with boxer Jimmy Young. While in the locker room after the fight–which he lost–he said he had died and gone to a dark place from which he was ultimately rescued by the grace of God. Shortly after that incident, he gave his life over to God and became a Christian minister. Now he has a new memoir, “God In My Corner” which explores his spiritual transformation and the dark period of his life before he experienced God’s grace (he had considered hiring hit men to kill his enemies). Foreman also says that the “Rumble in the Jungle”—the 1974 fight in Zaire in which he lost his heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali–was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Although Foreman is said to have made over $150 million from his popular line of grills, he continues to preach, as he has for years, at The Church of Lord Jesus Christ in Houston, Texas, and is currently a judge on ABC’s “American Inventor.” He spoke to Beliefnet recently about reading the Bible with Muhammad Ali, his favorite answered prayer, and whether he’ll be making another comeback to boxing. After you finish reading the interview, click through our gallery of personal photos from George Foreman.
When Beliefnet interviewed you a couple of years ago, you spoke about your spiritual experience after your match with boxer Jimmy Young in 1977 [Young won by knockout]. You said that [after the fight] you had the experience of dying and going to a really dark, scary place. Can you tell us about it? Do you think it was hell?
You said that you were interested in several religions before you became a Christian and that you toyed with the idea of becoming Muslim like Muhammad Ali [who took Foreman’s heavyweight title in a bout in Zaire in 1974]. Why did you ultimately choose to become a Christian?
I thought about [Islam], but one day I tore [Ali’s] jacket off of him, being the mean guy that I am, and he cussed me out so bad. And I said, “Wow! I’m like that already.” So, I left [Islam] alone.
And then I admired [David Carradine] from the [1970s television series] “Kung Fu.” He looked Buddhist or something. I don’t know what he was. He just looked so cool—and that karate. And he could stop [doing that] and meditate. And I thought about that [religion], too.
He had gone on the Dick Cavett Show, he and the girl he was staying with [actress Barbara Hershey]. And she just took out her breast right there on national television! He’s there watching them, as [she] breastfed their child. He just looked so tacky. I said, “That’s the end of that thought. I don’t want that religion, either.”
When I was in that dressing room [after the fight withYoung], down on that floor, blood on my hand and forehead, screaming that Jesus Christ was coming alive in me, I wasn’t interested in any religion. [But] from that point on, I started reciting the Bible, talking from the pit of my stomach, in that dressing room. [I was] talking about how Jesus was God’s son and that he was alive. So when I came out of that, I asked a friend to go get me a Bible. And he said, “What kind?” And I said, “I don’t know. One like your mother has.” So, he went out and bought me a King James version of the Bible. And that’s how I got into religion.
Before you became a believer, your advisors had suggested you clean up your bad-guy image by speaking at churches. I’m curious what you would talk about then, since it didn’t seem like you knew a lot about Christianity or the Bible.
Didn’t know anything at all. As a matter of fact, after I lost to Ali, I was trying to get people to get on my bandwagon so I could really get a movement to get a title match. And a friend said that there was a church in Garden Grove [in California] that had a little luncheon every day, and they invite people to speak. He said, “I’m going to invite you to speak.”
So, I got there, and I asked the guy who ran the church, his name was Dr. [Robert] Schuller [now pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove]. I said, “Hey, what should I talk about? I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Well, Muhammad Ali is always talking about Muhammad and Allah. Why don’t you say something about Jesus?” I said, “Okay.” So I just go there and say, “Muhammad is talking about Allah, and I’m going to talk about Jesus.” And everybody laughed. I’d just say that over and over and over. Never believing it, nor did I intend to ever believe it.
So Dr. Schuller, as a matter of fact, when I had [my religious] experience, was the first one I called. And I told him what had happened to me. I said, “Look, I’m not playing, man. Jesus is really alive.” He said, “I believe you, George.” I said, “I’m serious, man! When I spoke at your church, I didn’t know what I was talking about.” He said, “I believe you.”
Isn’t that the strangest thing in the world? When I [started going to church], there were so many preachers there. They’d let me tell [my] testimony, but I didn’t get a chance to preach much. One kid said to me, “George, I know how you can preach. Let’s go on the street corners.” I [began] traveling from one street corner to another, three-fourths through Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, all around Houston. So I picked a certain corner, just by coincidence. And I preached on a corner, it wasn’t too far from where my father, J.D. Foreman lived, who had always been an alcoholic. I didn’t know that he was hiding in the way, listening to everything I said, and watching me carry on.
The next week he was in church. And he said to my mother, “You know, something’s happened to that boy. I got to find out what it is.” He never took another drink. We [would go] to church as brothers–he called me the preacher, and he was Brother Foreman—until the day he died.
How difficult was it to come back to the ring after being a preacher?
The punching bag used to be the fellow I was going to fight. I could just see that bag—see [my opponent] in the bag— and tear the bag up. But, after the experience [in 1977], I went to a punching bag, and it was just rags and leather. I just couldn’t concentrate like that anymore. So, I left boxing for 10 years.
I started a youth center in Houston. The kids would come in and want to learn to box, they wanted to tear up the world, beat up the world. And I’d try to show them they didn’t need anger. They didn’t need all that killing instinct they’d read about. You can be a human being and pursue boxing as a sport. What I learned from them is never to punch in anger. And, in the end, it rubbed off on me. I was able to go back into boxing because I’d learned from the children.You don’t have to try to hurt people and be angry to be an athlete.
But isn’t it hard to throw a punch without being nervous that you might inflict pain on someone else?
No. It would be hard to throw a punch to someone who wasn’t a boxer, who wasn’t in the ring, and who didn’t have on a pair of boxing gloves and who hadn’t been training.