For those of you who are familiar with boxing, this man is one of the best boxers of all time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with boxing, he's the guy who sells the grill. Either way, this man is a legend of the 20th century for both the 70's all the way through the 90's in both boxing and the business world. Nowadays he's viewed as this happy-go-lucky jolly soul, but he wasn't always this way. In fact, in his younger days he was more fierce and scary than Mike Tyson. If there was ever a man who the world thought could not be saved, it was young George Foreman. Yet, his life speaks volumes about the power of God unto salvation.
George Edward Foreman, born January 10, 1949 is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1969 to 1977, then from 1987 to 1997. Nicknamed "Big George", he is a two-time world heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist. Outside the sport he is an ordained minister, author, and entrepreneur. His professional record is 76 wins and only 5 losses, 68 of those wins were by knockout.
In 1973, he defeated Smokin' Joe Frazier by a brutal knockout and won the title of heavyweight champion of the world. The very next year though, he lost the title to Muhammad Ali in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire, Africa. This was completely devastating to George Foreman and sent him spiraling into a deep dark depression that ultimately changed his life forever. Over the next 4 years, he continued fighting until his fateful fight with Jimmy Young.
That fight with Jimmy Young ended in a defeat by a 12 round decision in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1978. In the locker room after the fight, he became so dehydrated due to the 110 degree temperature in the room he essentially had a near-death experience. Normally near-death experiences we hear about involve a bright light, seeing deceased family members and a sense of peace. In Foreman's case, he was hung over a pit in total darkness surrounded by the awful stench of death. It was so horrifying to him that he begged God to let him out of this place. He promised he would tell everyone about what happened to him and give God the glory if he could be allowed to live. Boy oh boy did he do just that!
The very first thing he did as a brand new believer in Christ was tell everybody he possibly could about how Jesus came into his life. He tracked down old friends and even old rivals! He had many very friendly conversations with the very man who put him on the canvas years back. Muhammad Ali was a devout Muslim and was never short on words about anything, nevertheless George tried his best to show his old rival/new friend how Jesus is the only way to salvation. He would even travel to his childhood neighborhood and preach the Gospel on the street corner. These same street corners were where young George would mug people and beat them up just for fun, now people are watching and listening in disbelief as this new George is shouting to the Heavens how Jesus saved his life!
His salvation changed him so radically that he hung up his gloves and for 10 years couldn't even close his fist to throw a punch on a bag. He was afraid to fight because his fighting style was fueled by rage and hate, which Jesus cleansed from his heart. Unfortunately, like most professional sports stars, there were some unscrupulous people working with his finances and he wound up broke in the blink of an eye. The man who was able to buy as many cars and houses as we wanted was suddenly clipping coupons.
None of this phased George's faith in the least. He continued growing in his faith and eventually became the pastor of a small church in Texas. He also opened up a youth center boxing gym and funded it out of his own pocket so the youth could continue going there. Obviously, this was not going to last very long if he's paying for it himself with no income of his own. Then in 1987 he made the decision to come back into boxing and for the next 10 years lived out what has been the most fascinating comeback story I've ever heard.
In his comeback, he wanted to fight smarter than everyone else. He no longer wanted to kill anyone in the ring with him, he wanted to win and be a good sport about it. He used to scowl at his opponents as they tapped gloves, but in his comeback he would actually smile and wish them luck. Everyone who knew him in his younger years thought he was using a psychological tactic to scare his opponents! This was all the result of the change in George's life. He was a new creation in Christ, which meant even in the ring he had to start as a regular fighter and work his way up to a contender. It was undoubtedly a temptation to jump in and take on those top fighters to grab a quick payday win or lose, but he knew who he was. He knew who he was as a man his age, so he had to use more strategy than just pounding everyone into a pulp. He also knew who he was in Christ and that everything he did was going to bring God the glory.
He was 37 years old when he restarted, had his first title shot against world champion Evander Holyfield when he was 40. He lost that fight, but he won the hearts of the crowd. He took another title shot against the new champion Tommy Morrison (who played Tommy Gunn in Rocky V) and lost that fight also. He wasn't finished yet, by the time he was 45 he had his third title shot against Michael Moorer in 1995. This time, in the 10th round, like the shot heard 'round the world, Moorer found himself on his back unable to beat the count. Thus began Big George's second time as the oldest heavyweight world champion in history! He did 2 more fights after that, the first one was a successful title defense and the second was a very close defeat, thus was the end of George Foreman's second reign as champ. In reality, it was one of the biggest comebacks in sports history! You can't talk about a boxing comeback without comparing it to George Foreman's.
Not only did he do boxing to earn money for the youth center, he also took any and every TV endorsement he could get. He did commercials for clothes, car shops, shoes, sports gear, and even the famous George Foreman grill! All the while he made sure to be home in time for church every Sunday morning to preach and minister to his church family. Even if he had a fight Saturday night, he would take the next flight to Houston to get home by Sunday. Talk about some serious dedication! As a result, he earned millions of dollars to pay for the youth center and his family several times over.
Alright, cool story right? What can we learn from all of this?
Lesson 1) No one is unsaveable. As long as a person is alive, no matter how cruel they may seem, they are able to be saved by the power of God. George was a mean, nasty young man who did what we wanted and didn't care who he hurt along the way, but after Jesus came alive in him (as he puts it) he was the jolly happy soul we know and love today.
Lesson 2) It's never too late to change. Sometimes people think because they're too old or have been doing something too long means they can't change who they are. Obviously, they don't understand that when you surrender to Christ, you become a new creation entirely. George Foreman said in an interview after his fight with Evander Holyfield that Holyfield may have won on points, but George proved a point. His point was that 40 years old isn't a death sentence. Normally, in the world of athletics, anything over 35 is considered way too old to compete on a world class level, but Foreman kept it up through his 40's.
Lesson 3) Things can happen in an instant. Sometimes this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously, for Big George it was a good thing when Michael Moorer was suddenly knocked out and in an instant George achieved his dream of reclaiming the title. Obviously, it wasn't so good for Moorer who found himself dazed on his back while the referee counted to 10 and lost the title he worked hard to earn. The point is, life is in the hands of the Lord whether you follow Him or not. That means none of us are guaranteed a single moment in this life, so make every single one of them count.
Perhaps you're reading this as a fellow evangelist. Hopefully this encourages you to keep praying for the lost and reaching out. Maybe you're a fellow Christian who is curious about evangelism, let this be the opening bell that calls you into the fight that is sharing the Gospel.
Or, maybe, just maybe, you began reading this simply because you're a fan of boxing in general and George Foreman in particular, but have no connection with Jesus Christ. Let these lessons sink in and let them transform your life. Don't act like you can't be forgiven, there's nothing on this earth you can do that God can't forgive. At the same time, there's no sin on this earth you can commit that God will ignore. Big George was a liar, thief, adulterer, and his thoughts were so full of rage he was guilty of murder in God's eyes. Yet he was extraordinarily lucky to have been given the chance to come back to life after almost dying, it doesn't mean you will have that chance. Life's too short and unpredictable to put off the most important thing: your eternal salvation. So if you haven't already, please commit your life to Jesus Christ today.