His powerful punch and menacing demeanor in the ring led George Foreman to Olympic Gold and heavyweight championships, but when Jimmy Young brutalized him in a humiliating defeat in 1977, the street bully from Houston felt he was dying.
“In the dressing room, I was walking back and forth to cool off,” he told The Houston Chronicle. “Then in a split second, I was fighting for my life.”
He lay on a locker room table. While friends and staff attended to his physical body, the battered brute battled with the God he learned little about as a kid. He admitted later he only went to church for the free lunches.
“I kept thinking, ‘You believe in God. Why are you afraid to die?” Foreman told The New York Times. “But I really didn’t believe.”
Foreman began bargaining with his Creator. If God saved him, he would give his prize money to charity.
“I don’t want your money,” a voice responded. “I want you.”
Foreman was bewildered and confused. He had never met anybody who didn’t want money.
“It was the saddest, most horrible place I had ever seen,” he said. “Tears fell. I was scared. I’d never heard anyone turn down money. There I was fighting for my life with something that you couldn’t deal with. That changed my life forever.”
Then as his life ebbed away, too late to repent, Foreman felt a “giant hand” thrust him back into consciousness. He saw his friends. At the same time, he felt strangely filled with the presence of a dying Christ. He felt his forehead bleed and he imagined it pierced by Christ’s crown of thorns. He sensed his wrists punctured as if by the nails of the cross.
“I knew that Jesus Christ was coming alive in me,” Foreman told The Times. “I ran into the shower and turned on the water and — hallelujah! — I was born again. I kissed everybody in the dressing room and told them I loved them. That happened in March 1977, and I never have been the same again.”
A passion began to stir in his heart. “I started reciting the Bible, talking from the pit of my stomach in that dressing room. I was talking about how Jesus was God’s son and that he was alive. So when I came out of that, I asked a friend to go get me a Bible. And he said, ‘What kind?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, one like your mother has.’ So, he went out and bought me a King James version of the Bible. And that’s how I got into religion.”
The turnaround in Foreman was immediate and dramatic. Today, he preaches punchy sermons as pastor at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.
Transformed from a rage-filled street punk into a humble and sweet Christian, Foreman found he couldn’t muster the will to fight anymore, so he dropped boxing for 10 years. Read the rest of the George Foreman story.