You likely know Pastor George Foreman as a boxing champion—after all, he was both an Olympic gold medalist and the heavyweight champion during his career. You might also know that he won a second title at age 45, becoming the oldest heavyweight champion in history.
Even if you don’t follow sports closely, you likely know George for his indoor grill and all of the television commercials he’s done for countless products over the years.
Yet it’s his faith that plays a central role in the new movie BIG GEORGE FOREMAN, which is based on his incredible story of redemption and second chances. We talked with Pastor George about this new movie (which opens in theaters everywhere April 28), his boxing career, and his faith journey.
Q: Had you ever thought about someone telling your life story as a movie?
A: When I was doing some of the books we wrote, then the idea of a movie started popping in my mind. But you just think about it. It’s not really anything real. You just hope that the story will continue to be told, all the stories about all the people who’ve done wonderful things.
Q: BIG GEORGE FOREMAN shines a light on your boxing career. What was it like winning an Olympic gold medal as a teenager?
A: I’d gone to the Olympics and my joy was to have the uniform. I had my USA on this, USA on that, the colors. And I was happy, just as happy with that as anything that I could accomplish. I got into the ring, and I never thought I’d be an Olympic gold medalist. No way. Then, after two rounds, they stopped the fight and I won! It was the happiest moment of my life as an athlete. I’ve had a lot of boxing matches and a lot of victories, but nothing has come close to that. I was a 19-year-old boy who never had a dream to come true.
Q: You turned professional after the Olympics and by the age of 24, you were the heavyweight champion!
A: I thought I was tough and I could hit hard. I knew I was the hardest puncher around. I mean, I hit with unbelievable power. But when Joe Frazier went down (in the title fight), I thought this has got to be a dream. He jumped up, I knocked him down, and after six times, they stopped the boxing match. Man, I did it.
Q: But it wasn’t long after that you lost your title to Muhammed Ali. How did that impact you?
A: Oh, devastation. I’d lost one of the most precious things, the heavyweight championship of the world. I was devastated. I embraced anger and then revenge. “I’ll get it back. I’ll kill everybody who’s in my way.” That’s the way I thought. And I got to be the number one contender of the world again. So, I was back in the position I wanted to be.
Q: You were the number 1 contender, but then you lost to Jimmy Young. And everything changed. Can you tell us about that?
A: I lost that fight on a decision. I went back into the dressing room, and I actually had an experience with death. In a split second, I was dead and alive again. At the time, I didn’t believe in religion. I thought it was good for everybody else, but I have something to replace it, a million bucks. But after that experience, I saw blood on my face and on my hand and I screamed, “Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!” And, what, 45 years later, I’m still screaming. That changed everything.
Q: How did things change after your encounter with Jesus?
A: I didn’t think that was real, you know. You see religious movies and you read a book or see pictures. But I didn’t think it was really real. I just thought people live and they die, and they sing those church songs and that was it. I didn’t believe this. But I left that dressing room not just believing; I had knowledge of life beyond what I’d experienced beforehand.
I stopped fighting for 10 years. I didn’t even make a fist. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t even go into the gym. I became an evangelist of which I am now at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I just spent my whole time preaching on street corners, television shows, my own ministry in Houston, Texas. That’s all I did. And raised kids. Boy, did I raise kids. They kept coming. And that’s what I spent 10 years doing.
Q: But you eventually returned to boxing. What was different when you returned 10 years later?
A: I never thought I’d put on boxing trunks again. I thought it was all over. I said I would never do it. Well, I went back into the gym with the idea that I’d fight the same style, being able to stop punches and all that. I go into the gym and remember, I’m almost 40 years old. And no one is 40 years old in the gym anymore. Everybody’s 16, 17, 18, you know, young people. And I’d reach and I’d miss, and they’d hit me. I just couldn’t stop the punches anymore. I couldn’t get away. So, I had to develop another style, I had to change.
By the second time around, the second championship, I was actually a grandfather. So you’re thinking, I’ve got to behave when the camera comes on me because I’ve told these kids, sit up straight, put a smile on your face. So I had to behave. And all of the stuff I’d been telling my kids to do, I had to do.
Q: You retired from boxing for good after your second title. What lessons have you learned along the way?
A: The most important thing that a person can have is faith in God. What I most know for certain is that the most important thing that any movie, any book, can do is to demonstrate and show that faith in God is the most important thing that people can have. Keeping my faith in God and spreading it is the most important thing, so that everybody can see, that’s what you need: faith in God.