Former Champ George Foreman Switches from Punching to Preaching
Why, at 30, when a fighter like Foreman could be staging a lucrative comeback, would he turn his attention to the saving of souls? According to George, it all began on a steamy night in Puerto Rico more than two and a half years ago. He had just lost his last professional fight, a 12-round decision to Jimmy Young. "I was back in the dressing room," Foreman recalls, "just walking and cooling off. I thought the loss wasn't any big thing, that I had a lot of money, I had been everywhere and I was still tops. Then a lightning thought just slipped in. 'You might as well die,' it said. I tried to shake it off, but I kept hearing that voice. It said, 'You believe in God. Why you scared to die?' I thought, 'Yeah, I believe but not enough to die.' "
That, however, is exactly what Foreman claims happened next, though doctors at the time said he was suffering only from extreme heat prostration and a slight concussion. "I literally died," Foreman insists. "I could feel life getting away from me. I was trying to keep it in me, like someone controlling their temper, but I slipped, and then I was in some other place. It was like a dump yard out there, man, and I was sad," he continues. "I knew no help could come, but the next thing I knew I was back in the dressing room and light was hitting my body like a slap." Regaining consciousness, Foreman remembers babbling incoherently, shouting quotations from the Bible and imagining he wore a crown of thorns. "I fought everybody in that room to get into the showers," he says, "to baptize myself in the name of Jesus. I told them they had witnessed a miracle."
Today Foreman bears witness to his dramatic rebirth on street corners in his hometown of Houston. Behind him a 7-by-12-foot marquee proclaims GEORGE FOREMAN, EX HEAVYWEIGHT BOXER LIFTING UP JESUS CHRIST RIGHT HERE. Recently a gang of toughs sidled up to him and blew smoke in his face as he preached. True to his calling, Foreman turned the other cheek and quietly stood his ground. "I was an animal until Puerto Rico," he explains. "Now I'm a man."
Guided to the places they preach by "dreams and visions," Foreman and other members of the nondenominational Church of the Lord Jesus Christ spread the word in shopping centers, playgrounds and honky-tonk neighborhoods. Foreman, who is not an ordained minister, admits conversions on the streets are rare. "The hardest thing in my life," says George, "is to tell somebody something I know and have them not believe it. But once in a while, someone will come to the church, and that's worth it. I'm just planting the seed like God wants me to, but only God can make it grow."
The man Foreman would most like to convert is his old nemesis, Muhammad AM, who took Foreman's championship five years ago. "Before I came to God," confesses George, "I actually hated that man." But when AN visited Houston last month, Foreman only wanted to talk. "He knew I had some love in my heart for him," says George. "He said God told him he was going to have to straighten out his life, and he told me he was doing everything he could, giving money to people and all that. I told God I'd do that too," comments Foreman, "but God didn't want money—he wanted me. I told Ali that God wanted him too. He listened, and we hugged."
In keeping with his new calling, Foreman has abandoned the carousing that marked his days as a fighter. Once a notorious womanizer ("I didn't have to know a woman but 15 minutes and I'd be in bed with her"), the twice-divorced ex-champ now lives quietly, with his aunt, in a small house on the outskirts of Houston. At one time he owned four houses, 15 cars and a recreational vehicle. "I remember once actually getting mad because I couldn't find nothin' else to buy," he marvels. "Can you imagine that?"
Today he has gotten rid of everything but a 1979 Lincoln, a dented pickup truck he drives when he preaches and a 200-acre ranch for his mother. (His four children live with their mothers.) The new Foreman runs a mile every day, doesn't smoke or drink (or even watch TV) and fasts monthly to keep down his ballooning figure. The onetime Olympic gold medalist has received numerous offers to return to the ring, but has rejected them all with no second thoughts. "I could make millions of dollars," he boasts. "But fame and fortune ain't enough to make me quit what I'm doing. God called on me to preach and he just wants me to preach. Nothin" extra."