Legendary boxer George Foreman won a sanctioned fight in Springfield on September 15, 1987. An Olympic gold medalist, Foreman lost the championship to Muhammad Ali in 1974 and retired three years later. He returned to the ring in 1987. After easy victories in his first two fights, Foreman met Bobby Crabtree at the Hitchin’ Post USA on east Kearney. Foreman won the bout on a technical knockout in the sixth round. At age 45, George Foreman became the oldest world champion in boxing history when he knocked out Michael Moorer in the tenth round on November 5, 1994.
“Comeback Kid? Not Exactly,” Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, September 15, 1987, 1A.
"The features are nicked and scarred from hundreds of rounds of battle. But the dark brown eyes gazing from that broad, battered face dance with life, animated by some inner, optimistic light. They are truly the windows to George Foreman’s soul. It has been nearly 13 years since Foreman climbed into a steamy ring in Zaire, Africa--heavyweight champion of the boxing world at age 25, a pugilist unparalleled in punching power. He was seen by some as the greatest boxer ever. Universal acceptance would be his if he defeated an over-the-hill Muhammad Ali, then 33. But Foreman’s rise to boxing immortality came to an abrupt end 30 minutes after the sound of the opening bell, when Ali’s right cross sent him crashing to the canvas in Round 8. It was the blow that halted Foreman’s rapid ascension into sports history and hurled him into retirement.
"News accounts later portrayed the idle Foreman in a sad light. His weight ballooned to 320 pounds. Pictures showed a bloated, uninspired man with ghosts in his eyes---spirits of glory lost. But George Foreman is back. And this time, he says, the magnificence he once brought to the ring won’t be fleeting. The road to Zaire to Springfield is a long one. For George Foreman, now 38, it is dotted with lessons learned and demons conquered.
"'I’ve been to the canvas. I’ve had my lip busted. I’ve been knocked down and dragged over. I’ve been missed by left hooks, cut by right hooks,' Foreman says. 'I don’t expect anything different now.' Foreman is traveling that hackneyed path known as 'the comeback trail.”' He’s breezed past two little-known opponents, and fights Bobby Crabtree tonight at the Hitchin’ Post USA in Springfield. The man who fought Ali for $2.25 million before thousands of screaming fans now boxes in bars. The boxer who waved the flag and hammered his way glory and the 1968 Olympic boxing championship now lives with words 'the former' before his name. The former Olympic champion. The former heavyweight champion of the world. The former great.
“'I’m not embarrassed,' he says quickly, his expression dignified. 'Any young guy wanting to fight for the championship has to fight his way up. Why shouldn’t an old guy?' A brief laugh, then: “'the others who came back---Louis, Ali, Ray Robinson, Liston---they all wanted to get back in the big time too fast. They weren’t prepared for it. It took them years to get in that position in the first place.' Foreman refuses to follow that path to what he believes is certain destruction. 'Go for it all too fast and you crumble, both physically and emotionally,' he says. 'I decided to start again from the bottom. I want to go slow.'
"He also wants money to help fund his youth and community center in Houston, Texas. Foreman, now a minister, says the center was about to run out of money, 'so rather than pass the hat, I reactivated my boxing career to earn some money and at the same time get some exercise.' The exercise includes daily runs of eight to ten miles, workouts with the heavy bag and medicine ball, flurried activity on the peanut bag. He fancies himself a better boxer than the 25 year old who lost his world title to Ali. 'I kept trying to knock him out,' Foreman remembers. 'I literally punched myself out. I should have just boxed him and won a decision, but back then I was just rushing into the ring to knock somebody out.'
It took years for Foreman to keep the mental motion picture of his defeat from playing every night to its audience of one. 'It used to drive me crazy---what should I have done, what happened, why did I lose,' he says, his hands clenched in remembered frustration. The ghost was exorcised only when he became Ali’s friend. 'I didn’t want him to see I was thinking about (the fight). I didn’t want him to think that way of me,' Foreman says. 'I rubbed it out and rubbed it out, and eventually, the memory disappeared.'
"Foreman’s soft, clear voice brings to mind the slurred, blurred whisper of Ali---the voice of a man who didn’t know when to leave the ring. The contradiction isn’t lost on Foreman. 'Muhammad kept fighting, kept fighting, kept fighting, and it caught up to him,' Foreman says. 'Me, I’ve had 10 years to stay away, keep from being hit. I think it’s retarded the destruction the average active boxer finds.'
"It may take a year, Foreman figures, to garner the national attention needed for a title shot against Mike Tyson. Athletic autumn looms in any sport for a man of 38. But Foreman doesn’t consider a title bout at 39 to be an unrealistic or unattainable goal. 'I can still hit hard,' he says. 'I can trade punches with all of them. One boxer’s no different from another. It’s a matter of how you want to grit your teeth, bite on your mouthpiece and get in there and fight.'
“'It’s all about fighting,' he says, his eyes clear of demons, his smile filled with confidence. 'I can do it. I’m an old guy, but hey, I’m not dead. I don’t intend to die.'"
Photo courtesy of Paul Dickover.
Watch the championship knock out of Michael Moorer on YouTube.
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