DALLAS, June 25 (Reuters Life!) - Big George Foreman says be was transformed from a mean-spirited boxer into a jovial and gentle giant for one reason alone — he found Jesus Christ.
In his just published book “God in My Corner: a Spiritual Memoir”, the pugilist turned preacher recounts how he died and was reborn in a dressing room in Puerto Rico after his famous loss to Jimmy Young in a 1977 fight which ended the first phase of his boxing career — and his life.
Foreman says on that night he was cast into a dark pit that reeked of death but God pulled him out — and he felt so cleansed inside that he could no longer hate or hurt anyone.
Foreman would go from riches back to rags and then to riches again. He even reclaimed the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1994 — 20 years after losing it to Muhammad Ali in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, the steamy capital of what was then Zaire.
Foreman now preaches to a small congregation in his hometown of Houston and has become a successful businessman, known best for his famous “fat-free” cooking grills.
Foreman spoke to Reuters about his book and his warm friendship with Muhammad Ali.
Q: You vividly describe the dark place you went into in the dressing room after the Jimmy Young fight - the stench, the blood you saw, the Biblical verses you did not know before but somehow recited. Are you absolutely convinced that there is no medical explanation for what happened?
A: “I more than anyone was looking for a medical explanation. One thing I detested more than anything in the world, more than religion was religious people. I never intended to be in this (preaching business). But that smell of death and looking and seeing the blood on my hands. I was dead and God pulled me out of this dump yard and gave me a second chance. Amazingly, I didn’t have time to hate anybody anymore. I was not going to say anything mean or try to hurt anybody again in my whole life.”
Q: You grew up in poverty on the streets of Houston — in the still racially segregated U.S. South — and you now have a youth center to help get inner city kids off the streets. What is the biggest challenge facing the African American community today?
A: “I think the biggest challenge is that every child that is born now has got to find his place ... Not one child in this world has an advantage. Life is going to be a challenge to you if you’re John D. Rockefeller with a silver spoon in your mouth. It’s not a challenge for just one generation or ethnic group, it’s for everybody.”
Q: I see no mention in your book of some issues associated with U.S. evangelical Christians such as abortion, gay marriage and school prayer. What position do you take on these issues as a preacher?
A: “I always tell my people in church there are certain words which are purely invented for politics. That’s all they are. My only position on anything is that I get out of this life a decent human being.”
Q: So unlike many evangelical Christians in America you have no political opinions?
A: “No, none at all.”
Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
A: “That it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what someone has done to you. You only find peace of mind with forgiveness. That’s all.”
Q: In the book you talk about your friendship with Ali. He’s a devout Muslim, you are a devout Christian. Did you ever try to convert him?
A: “Did I? Muhammad said to me ‘George, George, if God wants me to know what you got to say let him tell me! Leave me alone!’ I followed that fellow around so much with the Bible. I gave him every sermon in the world about Jesus. I tried to push it on him. But in the end I found in him a friend. I mean I love that man.”