It’s amazing to consider the radical changes that can happen inside a man once he realizes he has a darling, baby-faced version of himself staring back up at him. Now, imagine a dozen of them spread over the years, all looking up to you for guidance.
That’s what happened to two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman, who said having 12 children, five sons and seven daughters, is what helped transform what first appeared to be the most menacing monster on planet earth into one of the most cherished and beloved sports celebrities in history.
“I explained to my kids how to behave, so I couldn’t go into the ring and stare people down anymore,” Foreman said.
When Foreman decided to make his epic comeback to boxing in 1987 after a decade out of the ring, the new man walking into the ring on fight night appeared much different than the first.
For sure, the second career Foreman had in boxing was markedly different than the first. Instead of scowling and growling at anyone and everyone he encountered, Foreman’s newfound talent was lighting up a room with his smile.
Of course, Foreman still hit like a mule, the best evidence of it coming in 1994 when he stopped Michael Moorer in the 10th round to recapture the heavyweight championship of the world 20 years after losing it to Muhammad Ali in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match in Zaire, Africa.
But now in the epilogue of his amazing story, Foreman revealed that the scarier looking younger version of himself was mostly just an act, one the retired all-time great was simply trying to emulate from Sonny Liston, one of Foreman’s stablemates and a former champ himself.
“So I found myself carrying myself like him,” Foreman said. “I thought, well, that’s that way I’m going to be champion. I might as well act like that.”
It worked for a while. From 1969 to 1974, Foreman’s emulation of Liston produced the scariest heavyweight knockout machine since Liston (pre-1964 at least), though also one who suffered virtually the same fate as Liston at the hands of Ali.
Like his protégé Foreman ten years after him, Liston’s title reign was ended by Ali. He stopped Liston in the sixth round in 1964, then famously changed his name to Cassius Clay and stopped him again in just one round the next year.
But Liston remains historically one of the scariest heavyweight punchers in history, as does his disciple, Foreman, who carried the same mean scowl and equally big stick on fight night until his first retirement in 1977.
“Yeah, what a role model that was,” Foreman said. “He just stared at people, and was always sizing people up for a knockout.”
So that’s what Foreman did, too.
“You case the room, and you always look at a person like ‘I can beat that person, or I can beat that person’,” Foreman said. “That’s all I was ever thinking about.”
But all that changed after Foreman’s 10-year hiatus from boxing. When he returned to the ring, things were different. He’d been knocked out by Ali in 1974. He retired from boxing three years later after losing a decision to Jimmy Young. He had a spiritual conversion and ultimately became a Christian minister.
But perhaps most important to why Foreman wanted to carry himself differently post-1987 was that he realized he was a role model himself.
“Acting all tough when you have children of your own looking at you? I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to be one fellow,” Foreman said. “The one they saw at home would have to be the same one they saw in boxing matches, on televisions, in commercials.”
So Foreman, who won the Olympic gold medal in boxing in 1968, picked up the world heavyweight title in 1973, and did so again in 1994 by defeating Moorer, said those feats were great, but none of them compared to the hardest thing he ever had to do.
“To be one person is the hardest thing to do,” Foreman said. “To be one fellow.”
But Foreman had a great reason to change his ways, so he did.
Actually, he ended up having 12 of them.