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At the beginning of 1974, George Foreman was the scariest boxer alive. The heavyweight gold medallist was fresh off of beating Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. But it wasn’t just that he had beat them, it was the way he demolished these two men — knocking down Frazier six times before their fight was called off and stopping Norton in just two rounds.
Both Frazier and Norton had previously beat Muhammad Ali in their recent fights — the former had knocked him down in ther 1971 bout while the latter had broke his jaw the earlier year. The stage was thus set for the historic showdown between the 25-year old Foreman and the ageing Ali: The Rumble in the Jungle.
Set in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), the fight was meant to be a walk in the park for the heavyweight champion — Ali’s best days were behind him while Foreman was in his athletic prime.
“I took the fight because I could knock him out in two rounds. I thought, ‘$5 million for two rounds? Wow!’, Foreman told NPR. “So I figured I’d knock him out in the second round. You can always tell when you hurt a fighter, he always has something to say. He leaned in and whispered, ‘That all you got George?'”
In arguably the greatest performance of his entire career, Ali, who came in as a 4-to-1 underdog, knocked out Foreman in front of a live crowd of 60,000 people and an estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers worldwide.
It was Foreman’s first loss as a professional boxer, but the impact was deeper than that. “For years afterwards I would agonize, ‘How could this happen?’ That night I lost everything I ever was. It was the most devastating event in my life as an athlete. I was not even a man no more,” he admitted in a later interview.
Foreman tried to make a comeback after his defeat. He got into a violent tussle with Ron Lyle two years after The Rumble in the Jungle and stopped Joe Frazier again in their 1976 rematch, but dropped a decision against Jimmy Young. Foreman retired shortly after the Young bout.
Over the next 10 years, the former spent his life as a born-again Christian, starting off by preaching on street corners then becoming a reverend at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.
Then in 1987, at the age of 38, Foreman announced that he would be making a comeback to boxing. It took him a few years and a couple of losses against Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison before he stood face to face against Michael Moorer who held the unified WBA, IBF and lineal heavyweight titles in 1994.
The fight started slowly for Foreman, who was 45 years old by that time. Moorer was the quicker fighter, peppering the older boxer with jabs and moving away before Foreman could launch a counterattack. By the 10th round, the champion was well ahead on the scorecards, but around the midway point, Foreman caught him with a jab-cross combination that buckled Moorer, dropping him to the canvas.
Referee Joe Cortez administered the 10-count and just like that, Foreman was the heavyweight champion of the world again — becoming the first boxer to regain a world title 20 years after losing it.
At 46 years and 169 days old, Foreman still holds the record of the oldest heavyweight champion in history, and the second-oldest in any weight class, after Bernard Hopkins who won a title at 49 years old.
George Foreman’s training routine & diet
Back in 1974, to prepare for his showdown with Ali, Foreman spent most of his time chopping wood and demolishing training partners in the months leading up to the bout. He also enjoyed running in the morning on golf courses.
“In the early days, like when I was preparing to fight Ali, I’d start training early in the morning,” he recalled in an interview with Muscle & Fitness. “You had to find a golf course—that’s where all the good grass is—so you wouldn’t hurt your legs running on concrete. I’d run on the golf course for about three miles.”
In the mid-90s, for his late-career resurgence, Foreman focused more on his cardio.
“When I was a younger heavyweight champ, I would run maybe three miles a day,” he told The LA Times in a 1995 interview. “Now I set my runs traveling 10 miles and beyond. Every day, getting up early in the morning before much traffic, my wife takes me 10 miles from home, drops me off and I have to get back.”
In addition to more cardio, Foreman and his trainer, Charley Shipes, devised a new way to add boxing to his 10 mile runs every day — fixing a punching bag on a truck so that as Shipes drove slowly, the champion could follow him punching the bag and running at the same time.
“There were many times I wanted to hitchhike. I’m not gonna tease you. I wanted to hitchhike,” Foreman admitted. “A few times I wanted to cry–not because I didn’t have the physical ability to do this, but the idea at my age, still trying to be an athlete. I’d cry out there on the street.”
After his run, Foreman would spend 90 minutes on the heavy bag, “we may hit the bag with nothing but a left jab for half an hour. Then I’d throw the right hand for a half hour. Then we’d go on to both hands. Boom , boom, boom for another half hour.”
“Then skip rope, then weightlifting. Then sparring and wood chopping and hole digging,” he told Muscle & Fitness. “As you get older, you got to be trickier. Guys would extend me beyond five or six rounds. I’d always end up going 12 rounds. So I had to be stronger.”
In the evenings Foreman could spar a long line of boxers who wanted to have a crack at the legend, “Youngsters and men come and volunteer with me around 5 o’clock. This goes on sometimes 15 rounds for three minutes each.”
For his diet, Foreman liked to start off his day with a cup of coffee and some breakfast — “toast and some jelly and half a dozen or more egg whites. Beat them up real good, and sprinkle a little black pepper to make it look like you really got something. I’ll scramble them–stay away from oil, get the spray–flip them around a few times.”
Lunchtime was usually light, his wife would bring him an apple, grapefruit or orange, or he’ll have a tuna sandwich. For dinner he’ll have some rice and pasta with some olive oil. “I’ll get a lamb chop. Lean. No fat. Broiled. Steamed vegetable. I don’t eat a lot of bread. A little fruit – melon or sliced peaches – to end the meal. Sometimes after a hard workout, my wife will treat me to bell peppers and onions and fix me orange roughy fish. It’s the most meaty fish and I don’t have to fight back the bones.”
Every couple of weeks during hard training, Foreman would treat himself to a nice cheeseburger — a indulgence he quickly got hooked on after retiring from boxing for the first time in 1977. “I explored all those things,” he told The New York Times. “I’d drive to East Texas and stop at every fast-food stop. Hot dogs, cheeseburgers. I never knew these things existed when I was champion. I was always starving, eating salads and such.”
Foreman retired shortly after his 1996 fight against Shannon Briggs, but has continued to remain actively training since then.
“I have a 3,000-square-foot gym in my house. I have a treadmill, stationary bicycles, punching bags, all kinds of weightlifting equipment. And so I work out all the time,” he said. “It’s a way of life for me. My life is built around exercise. Sometimes I’m up at two or three in the morning, exercising.”
The former champion has also been lifting more weights since his retirement, something he avoided during his early boxing days.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, I didn’t touch weights. I became heavyweight champ of the world, and it was strictly taboo. No weightlifting—nothing but traditional boxing workouts. But when I came back after 10 years off, I was always hurting myself. So weightlifting served as a kind of rehab for me. It started being part of my workout the second time around.George Foreman Talks Training and Comebacks | Muscle & Fitness
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