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Interview with Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Author, and Entrepreneur, George Foreman

Aired April 26, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET



GEORGE FOREMAN, FORMER HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: Everybody I hit, if I missed them, almost, they would be knocked out. So I thought I was the toughest thing ever invented. I was going to be the best heavyweight that ever existed.

MONITA RAJPAL, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): Even before it started, it was a fight that made history.

FOREMAN: Getting up to Zaire - getting ready to fight Muhammad Ali - I thought this will be a matter of just a little exercise. I'll probably knock him out in three rounds. Two, three - maybe three and a half rounds. That was the most confidence I had in my whole life.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Two boxing titans coming face-to-face to battle it out in the most unlikely of places - Central Africa in 1974 - for a clash that would become known as "The Rumble in the Jungle".

FOREMAN: I felt like he threw, maybe, 150. Still feel those punches. I just underestimated one of the greatest fighters of all time.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Despite his unyielding confidence, a young George Foreman lost in the eighth round, conceding his heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali. He retired three years later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Foreman, 257 pounds.

RAJPAL (voiceover): After a decade out of the ring and a string of wins after his comeback in 1987, it was Evander Holyfield who blocked a determined foreman from clinching the world title in a grueling 12-round fight in 1991. But just three years later, at the age of 45, Foreman proved just how formidable he could still be. Taking the championship title from Michael Moorer - a boxer 19 years his junior.

After their prime, when other athletes fade from the limelight, Foreman stayed firmly in it, even outside the ring.

FOREMAN: This is my time.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Becoming an author. A Baptist minister.

FOREMAN: Now we're ready to cook some burgers on the George Foreman Family-Sized Grill.

RAJPAL (voiceover): And designing a grill that reportedly earned him hundreds of millions of dollars.

This week, on "Talk Asia" we're ringside in Macau with George Foreman, for the professional boxing debut of Chinese Olympic Gold Medalist, Zou Shiming. And find out from the champ what it takes to win it all.

FOREMAN: This fight is all about who's got the most.


RAJPAL: Mr. Foreman, welcome to "Talk Asia".

FOREMAN: Thank you.

RAJPAL: Thank you for your time. What brings you to Macau?

FOREMAN: It's all about HBO Boxing again. And talent. Trying to find talent all over the world and relay the message back to the USA.

RAJPAL: What are you seeing about the interest of boxing in this part of the world?

FOREMAN: This is most amazing, because you don't suspect it that just as many fans here -- especially in China - than there are in the whole world.

RAJPAL: There's this young fighter, by the name of Zou Shiming, we see him on the posters all over here, now. He's making his professional debut at this event here, in Macau. What does an event like this mean for a boxer?

FOREMAN: Yes, especially for Shiming, this is important that he has his own hometown pulling for him. And then the world will get excited. Just like the Beatles. In London, everybody loved them - America said, "Me too". And that's what we're going to do, right here. Showcase this talent so that the whole world can see it.

RAJPAL: What was it like when you had your professional debut?

FOREMAN: Oh, a scary moment. Madison Square Garden. It was the first time I'd been before a professional crowd of this nature. And I'm still nervous.

RAJPAL: Really?

FOREMAN: Haven't overcome yet.

RAJPAL: Interestingly enough, it didn't take you very long to win a major title - your world heavyweight champion title. That was just three years after your professional debut. Tell me about that fight against Joe Frazier.

FOREMAN: Well, it's a frightening thing to get in the ring. Because, you know, you want to be a boxer - you want to be heavyweight champ of the world, but you hope people like Joe Frazier are off the scene. Because he was a real thing this time. You hit him, you just couldn't hurt him. And it was frightening, but I was able to knock him down six times. Boy, life changed for me.


FOREMAN: All of a sudden, one day, you're this boxer that everybody like or you're this guy that people pass on the highway and wave at. The next day, you're this guy that everybody want to touch - be in touch with you. Then you think that this is the answer to all things. Live changed.

RAJPAL: What was the road like, leading up to that point?

FOREMAN: Yes, well, it was all about a physical preparation. I was in good shape - wood chopping, roadwork, climbing hills - all the punishment -

RAJPAL: Old school.

FOREMAN: Old school - all the punishment that was going to be dealt to me, I was going to deal it myself. So when I got in the ring, nothing would be a surprise. And mentally, you say to yourself, "You've got to think of yourself as champion". You just can't think, "I'm still the little rookie" so to speak. And that preparation paid off.

RAJPAL: In terms of the kind of confidence that you felt after that - winning that title - a couple of years later, you're in Zaire for a big match against a gentleman by the name of Muhammad Ali.


RAJPAL: Tell me about the lead up to that fight.

FOREMAN: Well, all suddenly, everybody I hit, if I missed them, almost, they would be knocked out. So I thought I was the toughest thing ever invented. I was going to be the best heavyweight that ever existed. One punch of mine was equal to 20 of any other heavyweight champ, I thought.

So getting up to Zaire - getting ready to fight Muhammad Ali - I thought, "This will be a matter of just a little exercise. I'll probably knock him out in three rounds. Two, three - maybe three and a half rounds". That was the most confidence I had in my whole life.

RAJPAL: In the documentary, "Rumble in the Jungle", he talked about you. He said, "He's scared. There's fear in him -


MUHAMMAD ALI, FORMER HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: Scared to death. He wish he could get out of the whole thing. He wish he could get out of the whole thing. The man is frightened. He's meeting his master, his teacher, his idol.


RAJPAL: Did you feel a sense of fear?

FOREMAN: In boxing, I had a lot of fear. Fear was good. But, for the first time, in the bout with Muhammad Ali, I didn't have any fear. I thought, "This is easy. This is what I've been waiting for". No fear at all. No nervousness. And I lost.

RAJPAL: Yes. It's interesting. There are some analysts who look back at that match, and they say, when they watch the kind of - the fight that took place - they said that, "Muhammad Ali - he delivered 12 right leads". That's something you never do to a champion fighter, because it's almost like it's an insult. It leaves you open - it's almost like an easy punch back. What do you think his strategy was, and were you surprised by that?

FOREMAN: Well you think about - how many right leads they say he landed, or threw - I felt like he threw maybe 150. I still feel those punches. I just underestimated one of the greatest fighters of all time. That's all there is to it. I underestimated him. And I figured he could hit me with all he want, I'm still going to knock him out in a few minutes. But those punch and the power and they start to accumulate. And it wasn't long before I was on the floor.

RAJPAL: And then, what happened?

FOREMAN: Then the most devastating in the world to lose the coveted Heavyweight Championship of the World. I'd worked so hard to get it. Then, you could hear the referee counting, "One. Two - "And he doesn't - you really - your life is going to change once more. From all this confidence to devastation. It happened in a split second. By the count of 10, my whole life was devastated.

RAJPAL: How did you deal with that?

FOREMAN: And I couldn't deal with it. Once you get that kind of devastation - because no one knows the feeling - there's no one to comfort you. I got angry. I started to work again. At the time, I wanted to just rebuild my life, get that Championship of the World, maybe muster up a little hate and revenge.

RAJPAL: And then, what happened?

FOREMAN: All of a sudden, you know, of course, I fought my way up to being number one contender again - got a chance to fight for elimination bout with Jimmy Young. And then my life changed, of course. I had a religious experience - it really set me up.

RAJPAL: Yes, tell be about that moment in 1977 in that locker room, after that fight.

FOREMAN: 1977, when my life really changed. Because one day, I'm in the dressing room. "I don't have to worry about this boxing match - I'm still George Foreman, I'm rich. I could go home and retire... and die". And I don't know how that word sneaked into my conversation, but I couldn't get it out. And I was scared. I said, "You believe in God, why are you scared to die?" And I was lost. I said, "I don't care. If this is death, I still believe there's a God". When I said that, I was rescued from this devastation - this dump yard of sorrow.

And I was in the dressing room again, blood flowing through my veins. I looked on my hand, I screamed. On my forehead, saw blood, "Jesus Christ is come alive in me". And from that point on, I never made a fist. For 10 years, I left San Juan, Puerto Rico and became an evangelist with the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I never thought I'd ever box again.


FOREMAN: I robbed people, I really did. And my life was like - when am I - it's not if I would go to jail, but when.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Foreman, 257 pounds.


RAJPAL: When you look back at the matches that you've lost - big ones like that - do you think, perhaps, as the spiritual man that you are, would you say, maybe that was a good thing? That it somehow lead you through a different path?

FOREMAN: And I look back on my life, the only match I felt I lost was the fight to Muhammad Ali. I'm on the record for five losses or something like that, but the one guy who really whipped me was Muhammad Ali. And it taught me one big lesson. That no matter how big and strong you are, you're going to have to use your mind. You must think things out.

RAJPAL: And that didn't stop you, either, from having a comeback in your 40s. And you became the oldest man to hold the heavyweight world title.


RAJPAL: At 45.

FOREMAN: 45 years old. Heavyweight Champion of the World. And I wanted to jump up and down. I realized, I'm not a kid anymore. So I got on my knees and thanked God.

RAJPAL: Well, what was the decision to come back - to make a comeback at that age?

FOREMAN: I ran out of money. I didn't have any money. And I had to face the situation - the only profession I knew to get money was boxing. I had to go back to boxing. And that was hard for me, because I never intended to box again. For 10 years, I had not even made a fist.

RAJPAL: How did you lose all the money?

FOREMAN: And you think you are wealthy, you think you're rich. But just like one person is out there to become wealthy, other people figured out ways to get your wealth, without having to fight. Or box. And I was a victim of stupidity and ignorance. And people took advantage of my being naive.

RAJPAL: What was more important, though, at that time? Was it money? Or was it the prestige of having a title, the prestige of being famous? What was the sense of success and achievement, for you?

FOREMAN: Well, someone once - a friend told me, "George, one day, you're going to be rich, and you're going to have fleets of Cadillacs. And you going to have it made". So I thought a fleet of Cadillacs, money - I would have it made. And I thought that this would be absolute happiness to me.

RAJPAL: And you weren't happy?

FOREMAN: I didn't find happiness at all. But I enjoyed the success, don't get me wrong, but I didn't find complete happiness. Not until that experience in that locker room in San Juan Puerto Rico, did I find some satisfaction and happiness.

RAJPAL: Tell me about growing up in the Fifth Ward, in Houston, Texas.

FOREMAN: Fifth Ward.


FOREMAN: Rough days. And I grew up with a major obstacle family. My mom ruled. My mom and dad broke up early. So my mom would go to work and I'd go to work.

RAJPAL: And you were one of seven children.

FOREMAN: Seven kids. And what shaped my life more than anything was hunger. There was always a reason to be hungry. Never had enough to eat.

RAJPAL: That never leaves you, though, does it?

FOREMAN: Never. And even now, when I get on the table and I'm dealt a plate of food, I almost fight. I just can't leave anything on this plate.

RAJPAL: You quit junior high - dropped out of junior high.


RAJPAL: The kind of life that you were leading at the time wasn't exactly something that your mom would be proud of.

FOREMAN: I was a thief, and also I mugged people on the street. I robbed people, I really did. And my whole life was like, when am I going - it's not if I would go to jail, but when am I going to prison. Then all of a sudden, I look at my life and see all the great things that happening to me - an Olympic gold medal, Heavyweight Champ of the World twice. I've had some success in business. And this - it's still, to me, unbelievable.

RAJPAL: And yet, when you see other young kids out there now - similar situation as what you were in. Do you see yourself in them?

FOREMAN: I really do. My brother Roy and I started the George Foreman Youth and Community Center. We're going to get a place out there, where kids could come and hang out. I couldn't teach them everything, I'm not going to preach to them. I'm just going to be there, because I know what all the young boys are thinking. And I just wanted to meet them halfway and show them another way.

RAJPAL: What did your mom think about your boxing?

FOREMAN: My mom never was happy and proud that I was a boxer. She never saw me box. As a matter of fact, when the boxing matches would come on, she'd find another room and hide. My mom was not happy about boxing. But when I fought for the championship and won it the second time, she called me the day before and said, "Son, I think you got it". First time she had ever commented about it. She said, "I think you're going to win it". Now, I'm a 45-year-old man. Your mom tell you something like that? How encouraging.


FOREMAN: I felt like a little boy.

RAJPAL: What did you learn about parenting? Because now you're the father of 12 kids. Well, the young people, now. Young men and women. What did you learn about parenting from your mom and dad?

FOREMAN: Yes, I did learn a lot from my mother. It's about never giving up on your kids and whatever they say, just forget it. Tomorrow's going to bring a different day. And each stage of their lives is some differences to deal with.

RAJPAL: You've named your boys "George" as well. Tell me about that.

FOREMAN: Well, if, you know, you're going to get hit by Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield - you better make preparations for memory loss.


RAJPAL: Now, you're just kidding.

FOREMAN: You'd better come up with a name you're not going to forget. But, in reality, I wanted to give my sons something that they could hold on to. If one of us go up, we all are up together. One fall, we fall together. There's nothing like giving a name that everybody have.


FOREMAN: Yes, to run into children, and their parents are trying to explain to them that George Foreman was an Olympic gold medalist. He was heavyweight champ of the world. And the kid doesn't - "That's the cooking man".





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the George Foreman, "Knock Out the Fat" Grilling Show. Let's join George at home, in his kitchen.

FOREMAN: Now we're ready to cook some burgers on the George Foreman Family-Sized Grill.


RAJPAL: You're a preacher - you're a pastor in Houston.


RAJPAL: You are a boxing champion. You're a promoter. A husband, father. An author. An entrepreneur. Let's talk about those grills.

FOREMAN: It is strange. I'd been so successful in Madison Avenue. I sold everything from Doritos to McDonalds, Kentucky Fried - really a success on Madison Avenue. Made a lot of money.

RAJPAL: Where do you think that came from?

FOREMAN: I learned how to sell. I heard a lady say once, "It doesn't matter what you can do, but if you learn to sell, you'll never starve". And it just - I took that to heart. I learned to sell. Then one of my friends said, "Look, you're making all these other companies wealthy. Get your own product". I said, "What do you mean?"

And we talked about it. We drew up a plan to market this little not- so-beautiful grill. No one would give me any money - just like the boxing ring. The bell ring, you're supposed to win, but you've got to fight. And we took this grill and this joint venture. Stockholders and the whole thing. And we sold. First, 5,000, 10,000, 500,000. One day we looked up - to this day, over 100 million we sold of the grill. All because, like I said, that fight attitude - keep fighting.

RAJPAL: And, as a result, you're name became synonymous with a product that introduced your name, I should say, to a whole other generation of people who didn't know anything about boxing. Who didn't follow boxing. I was talking to my colleagues at work, and they said that you kept them from being hungry all through college because of that grill.

FOREMAN: Yes, to run into children. And their parents are trying to explain to them that George Foreman was an Olympic gold medalist. He was heavyweight champ of the world. And the kid's just saying - "That's the cooking man".

They don't even know me as a boxer. They know that grill, though. To see kids follow you down the street, "Isn't that George Foreman?" They know nothing about boxing.

RAJPAL: So if anyone out there who was a detractor about you being associated with a grill - I guess you're the one that's laughing all the way to the bank.

FOREMAN: The grill was really a great thing to happen to our family. All of a sudden, we were able to sell grills. I only looked to sell as a gift. We did this joint venture, and I thought, "Give me 16 grills". That's all I thought I'd get out of it. Because I wanted to distribute them to family members. Little did I know those grills would sell so many. I had no idea.

RAJPAL: What was it about business that you wanted to be a part of?

FOREMAN: The think about it is that you can always do commercials for a company, another commercial for another company. But then, they move on to someone else. I wanted to get into business, do business, and stay into business. And not just be a fad for the time being. But get a business that I could be involved in it until my days are ended.


FOREMAN: But reality, we're looking for determination tonight. This fight is all about who's got the most.

Yes, main event. You better believe it. I tell you, these are big things happening around here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's meet the two opponents.

FOREMAN: 20 years, never bothered me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right hand landed by -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we'll see what happens here, tonight. We got lots of action ahead.

FOREMAN: It's my time.


RAJPAL: What kind of advice do you give to young athletes out there, whether they are young boxers - young fighters - who want to be you -- who want to be the next George Foreman?

FOREMAN: And I talk to young kids all the time. They want to be champion of the world or they want to be famous in sports. Love what you're doing, but understand that athletics - just a small part of your life. Do other things, too. And that's why I've tried to be an author. I've been an actor. And I've tried to - and, of course, I'm a minister to this day. To let children know that, look, you can be heavyweight champ of the world, but there's more to it than that.

RAJPAL: What did boxing give you?

FOREMAN: Boxing gave me a chance to travel all over the world and fulfill a dream. I've always wanted to get on an airplane, trains, boats - all those things, boxing gave me.

RAJPAL: What do you say, if someone describes you as a legend?

FOREMAN: When people call me a legend, I'll say, "Boy, am I that old?"


FOREMAN: It's not the ultimate compliment if someone call you a legend. You know, I'm like, "Don't do that".

RAJPAL: What more is there for you to do, right now? What more would you like to do?

FOREMAN: Life is filled with adventure. There are so many other things I'd like to do. There are other products that I'd like to get out there and say, "Look, the George Foreman blah, blah, blah". And I'm looking for that magical product to sell. Because more than anything, I love to sell.

RAJPAL: What is it about selling? What is it about being a salesman that you enjoy so much? And how did you become good at it?

FOREMAN: And, you know, being a salesperson really motivates me, because I remember people would come into my neighborhood selling vacuum cleaners.


FOREMAN: And there was no one who had a rug in the whole neighborhood. And you see the guy take his jacket out and put on a show with the sole purpose to sell without condition. And I fell in love with being in sales. It doesn't matter what it is, sell, sell, sell. You got to put on a show to do it.

RAJPAL: Yes. And how did you do it?

FOREMAN: In boxing - I used boxing. And that's what I tell the other athletes - use your sport for more than just scoring a basket or a touchdown. Use it to sell.

RAJPAL: Were you a self-promoter, though, when you were boxing? Or were you someone that just wanted to let your fights speak for themselves?

FOREMAN: The second time around, I was really a self-promoter. I couldn't sell myself on boxing. Everybody was saying how old I am. I had to get out there this time and self-promote myself as more than just a boxer. And I would ring the bell, "Yes, I'm closer to 50 than I am to 20". And I'd go on and on and on, selling. Because I was told, early on, people follow a fire truck, but no one follows a water truck. Put on a fire.

RAJPAL: All right. Mr. Foreman, thank you very much for your time.

FOREMAN: Thank you.

RAJPAL: It's been a pleasure.