Ahead of the release of his biographical film “Big George Foreman,” heavyweight boxer-turned-pastor George Foreman is reflecting on God’s faithfulness throughout his storied life and sharing wisdom with the next generation of believers.
“You come to a point in your life and you realize the only important thing in your life is [to be] an evangelist,” the 74-year-old said in an interview.
“‘Evangelistic’ is the word that has been so powerful to me in my life. If something happened to me tomorrow … I know I’ve done a good job, and I’m happy about that, trying to spell out to the world, ‘Jesus Christ has come alive in me.’”
But Foreman’s path to a successful boxing career — and eventually, the ministry — has been anything but easy.
Born in 1949 in Marshall, Texas, Foreman was one of seven children and had a problematic childhood defined by instability, violence and poverty. After dropping out of school in the 10th grade, Foreman began abusing alcohol and engaging in violent crime on the streets of Houston’s Fifth Ward.
In 1965, he left Houston for the Job Corps in California, a program developed to help disadvantaged youth by teaching them vocational job skills. It was there that Doc Broaddus, who was a Job Corps counselor and a boxing coach, encouraged Foreman to channel his anger through boxing.
Foreman would go on to win a gold medal at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games and eventually went pro. He beat previously undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973, winning the world heavyweight title. He lost that title to Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.
In 1977, Foreman retired from boxing after a near-death experience brought him to the Lord. He recalled how, in his dressing room in Puerto Rico, he understood the truth of the Gospel for the first time.
“I was dead. There was nothing left of me,” he recalled. “I stared at nothingness, no hope. I was pulled out of this dirty place, and given a second chance to live. That has kept me grounded.”
Determined to spend the rest of his life sharing the Gospel, Foreman became a minister and, in 1980, founded The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, financial hardships compelled the former champ to step back into the ring. In 1994, he became the oldest fighter to ever hold the heavyweight championship at 45, after he bested reigning champion Michael Moore in the 10th round.
Foreman documented his remarkable story in his 2000 book By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman. Now, his story is a major motion picture: “Big George Foreman” opens in theaters on April 28 and stars Khris Davis as the boxing legend and Forest Whitaker as Doc Broadus. The film is directed by George Tillman Jr. (“This Is Us,” “The Hate U Give”).
Foreman told CP that he wanted God’s faithfulness throughout his life — and the many people who mentored and supported him — to serve as a focal point of the film.
“So many people helped me in life,” he shared. “I didn’t know that. I thought I was doing so much … but there are so many good people in my life.”
The athlete stressed the importance of mentorship in a young person’s life, especially for those in unstable situations. In 1984, he founded the George Foreman Youth and Community Center, a non-denominational place for youth who need guidance like he once did.
“I was given so much advice from so many different people, and it’s a matter of trusting,” he said. “Trust that people will give you advice. Listen when they have something to tell you. And I think that that is the key to all the riches in the world, is listening to people who care about you.”
Even in the most turbulent times in his life, Foreman said he knew God was present, but he had to undergo a series of difficulties before realizing just how desperate he was for a Savior. He credited his mother’s prayers with keeping him alive when he should have died.
“In hindsight, [God’s faithfulness] was all over my life, period,” he reflected. “There I was, a thief, on my way to jail, underneath a house, hiding from the police, covering myself from head to toe with slop. I heard their voices, and I knew then I’d have to change things. I didn’t want to be a thief. I didn’t want to be a criminal. And that was a big change for me. And of course, learning how to box and going as far as I could with boxing. But still, I did all of that without the knowledge of God.”
Foreman officially retired from boxing for the final time at 48. He still leads his Texas-based church today and has released nearly two dozen books. In 1994, he launched a brand of grills, and since then, more than 100 million George Foreman Grills have been sold.
The athlete said he’s grateful for his success but firmly believes in the power of living life in light of eternity. He shared that Psalm 1:1 guides his life: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.”
“It doesn’t matter what you achieve, what you accomplish in this life,” he said. “The most important thing is to keep your eye on the true prize, and that’s serving God.”
“Find God, have faith in God,” Foreman added. “It doesn’t matter what happened, believe all things are possible. Don’t ever give up on possibility and your life can be turned and changed for the better.”
The boxer said he hopes his story inspires others to realize that they, too, can turn their life around and find the redemption that is possible through surrender.
“I look back at that movie, and it tells the story of someone coming from nowhere and receiving everything possible in this life,” he said. “And the greatest thing that this life can offer is the chance for everlasting life, finding God, and that’s what I found.”
“Big George Foreman” hits theaters on April 28.