Larger-than-life icon stages the greatest comeback in and out of the ring

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1974: World Heavyweight champion George Foreman knocks down Ken Norton in the second round of their world title bout in the Poliedro Arena in Caracas, Venezuela. The fight lasted less than two rounds with Foreman scoring his third consecutive knockout victory to retain his heavyweight title. (AP Photo, File)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Along with the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Floyd Mayweather, boxing legend George Foreman is among the most influential Black athletes who have reached overwhelming entrepreneurial success.

Over the course of his career, Foreman’s reputation for delivering vicious knockouts was just as good as his “Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine.” Unlike many athletes, the two-time heavyweight champ has remained a household name long after the point he stepped away from the ring.

The Houston native went from losing a passion for boxing and being nearly penniless to earning more than $250 million for his trademark grill. Foreman initially retired before the age of 30 to pursue what he felt was a calling as a minister for nearly a decade before staging perhaps the most impressive comeback in sports history.

“My life was an inspiration for people who always felt like ‘I can not do anything.’ If I can, anyone can.”In 1994, the then 45-year-old Foreman defeated WBA titleholder Michael Moorer to make history as the oldest heavyweight champ in boxing history. It was the same year that his grill launched, which catapulted Foreman to another dimension of success.

As scholar David C. LaFevor puts it, Foreman undertook “an astute venture into celebrity endorsement that yielded far greater wealth than did his career in the ring.” It is reported that Foreman earned roughly $5 million a month at one point, and he was quoted in an interview with AARP saying that “there were months I was being paid $8 million per month.”

A great deal of Black American athletes foster the respect, riches, notoriety and everything else that comes with being a celebrity, but once their heyday came and gone, they were relegated to being an afterthought or simply going unheard of. 

Foreman, on the other hand, was far more fortunate than his counterparts. He was

Foreman’s reputation for delivering vicious knockouts was just as good as his “Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine.” Unlike many athletes, the two-time heavyweight champ has remained a household name long after the point he stepped away from the ring. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

afforded a second chance, and capitalized on it. “My life was an inspiration for people who always felt like ‘I can not do anything.’ If I can, anyone can,” Foreman said in a speech published by American Program Bureau.

“I lost everything I ever had. I used to have a big house, a Rolls Royce car. I remember going out after boxing my first time and all I had was a garage, and it was about to get repossessed. But I got a second chance and I took advantage of it. That’s what a second chance is all about – taking advantage of it.”

Toward the latter stages of his boxing career, Foreman became – and continues to be – one of the most recognizable TV pitchmen in show business, most recently making appearances on InventHelp and Meineke commercials.

Spectrum Brands (formerly known as Salton, Inc.), used Foreman as its spokesperson for a newly developed grill it was marketing. As time went on, he struck a deal to let the company use his name to sell their product, totaling $137.5 million in addition to monthly royalties. 

Foreman also contributed to the design and concept of the fat-reducing grill, which quickly captivated consumers from all over the world. Since it officially debuted more than 25 years ago, the George Foreman Grill has sold more than 100 million units worldwide. Foreman’s multipurpose grill was recently named the Best Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill by Outdoor Life.

Of all the 72-year-old has undergone, from being a high school dropout, to winning the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, to losing the heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali and regaining it 20 years later, to wide-ranging success as a Black entrepreneur and family man – he will always pay homage to the sport that made it all possible.

“Without boxing, I never could have had anything. Nothing,” Foreman said in an interview with Graham Bensinger. “I’m real thankful for being an athlete, and having a chance to compete in sports because without that, I never could have done anything.”

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