on-this-date,-april-19:-george-foreman-tried-to-re-write-boxing-history

Long before Joe Exotic weaseled his way into pop culture icon status, the East Bay had its own notorious, tiger-owning, clandestine-dealing man who thought he ruled the world.

George Foreman, though, owned a garish belt signifying he really was the baddest man on the planet when he lived with his pet tiger and lion on a sprawling ranch hidden on the outskirts of Livermore in the 1970s.

Oh, and unlike “Tiger King,” if you wanted to see the wild animals at Foreman’s 5-1/2 acre ranch sitting just off oak tree-laden Mines Road, the heavyweight champ wasn’t always as inviting.

The gun-toting man sitting at Foreman’s front gate wasn’t there to sell tickets or peddle souvenirs. And just in case you didn’t catch his drift, the man had two trained attack dogs at his side to make it clearer.

Still, despite frequently wearing a sneer on his face, Foreman mostly just barked, even back then. A once-troubled kid who was sent to Pleasanton to be reformed as a teen before beginning a boxing career in Hayward, Foreman was just savoring the spoils of becoming heavyweight champion of the world at 24.

“The first time I won the championship of the world it was like, ‘I can’t believe it,’ ” Foreman told the Japan Times recently. “Once you become champion of the world, it’s like, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, John L. Sullivan, Muhammad Ali! It’s like they all just run into your body like a rush. You know that you’re the champion of the world and you feel it. You feel like something ancient all of a sudden. You don’t feel like the regular guy anymore.”

So he got a tiger and a lion. But unlike the Netflix-made star, any real trouble Foreman caused was with his own powerful hands, as he was fond of saying. He used to hold up his massive right hand, ball it into a fist and say, “This is my judge.” Then make a first with his left hand, raise it and say, “This is my referee.”

The closest thing to nefarious activity for Foreman might be his secret midnight meeting with promoter Don King in a dimly-lit Livermore parking lot. King, who finally tracked down Foreman after scouring the East Bay, needed Foreman to agree to fight Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Foreman, who was about to be divorced, needed King to hide any deal until after his divorce was final. The men finally signed a hush agreement in the lot that paid Foreman $5 million.

That all seemed a lifetime ago when the 42-year-old Foreman, on this night in 1991, was fighting for history.

By then, Foreman was essentially a new man. He’d come a long way from the kid who trained in Hayward while on his way to an Olympic gold medal in 1968 and a heavyweight crown in 1973.

George Foreman used to go out jogging in Livermore while training for championship bouts in the 1970s. (Staff file) 

The world had come to know a more affable — and paunchier — Foreman, who was trying to cap a second career comeback by becoming the oldest heavyweight champ. In addition to being a minister, the plump Foreman was starting to become more renown for selling cooking grills and doing muffler commercials than his work inside the ring.

His quirkiness had become endearing. The man who once named his tiger “Tiger” and his lion “Lion,” had gotten even more chuckles out of the fact he’d named all five of his sons “George.”

And his reasoning for the naming redundancy even made a bit of sense.

“I named all my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common,” Foreman frequently said. “I say to them, ‘If one of us goes up, then we all go up together, and if one goes down, we all go down together!’ ”

However likable he had become, Foreman wasn’t popular with bettors when he took on Evander Holyfield in the title bout in Atlantic City on this date in ’91.

Foreman was as tough as ever and still packed a wallop of a punch, but the only thing he won on this night was praise for lasting the entire 12 rounds against powerful Holyfield.

Foreman’s persistence paid off three years later when his right hand dropped Michael Moorer in the 10th round for a knockout victory. At 45, Foreman had become the oldest boxer ever to win a heavyweight title.

He would continue as a boxer for another three years, with his final bout being a 1997 loss to Shannon Briggs when he was 48.

To this day, the 71-year-old Foreman’s legacy continues to evolve. He’s made a point to try to help out young kids, particularly when he created the George Foreman Youth Center in Houston. It’s that center and his other commitments to helping kids who may be troubled find a better path in life that’s brought him continual praise.

“When you have a chance to do something for kids, you change their lives,” Foreman said after receiving the Idaho Humanitarian Award almost two years ago. “Fifty years ago I received a gold medal, all because a lot of people didn’t give up on young people who didn’t have much of a future.”


Also on this date …

2018: Kevin Durant scored 26 points and Klay Thompson added 19 as the Warriors grabbed a commanding 3-0 first-round series lead over the Spurs, beating San Antonio 110-97 at AT&T Center.

1997: The Oakland Raiders select USC defensive lineman Darrell Russell with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.

1981: Rickey Henderson and Jeff Newman each drove in two runs to help the undefeated A’s set a Major League record while beating the Mariners 6-1 in the first game of a doubleheader at the Coliseum. The win was Oakland’s 11th in a row to start the season, a mark that would be broken by Atlanta in 1982.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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