The Knockout Entrepreneur: The Early Years of George Foreman

He went from being a lean, mean fighting machine to selling lean, mean grilling machines. At 6 foot 3.5 inches, George Foreman stands tall as a leader in the boxing world and business world alike. And, in both, he has risen to unprecedented heights of success. Considered one of the top ten greatest boxers of all time, and having sold almost 100 million George Foreman Grills, this is one entrepreneur who refuses to get knocked down. George Edward Foreman was born on January 10, 1949 in Marshall, Texas. When he was just five years old, the man who acted as his father, a railroad worker, abandoned the family. Along with his six siblings, Foreman's mother packed up the family and moved them to Houston, where she struggled to look for work. It was a rough neighbourhood, but the young Foreman had no problems fitting in.

Foreman spent most of his time wandering the streets of Houston, picking pockets, causing trouble, and staying in abandoned housing most nights. His bad behaviour caused his mother to be hospitalized when Foreman was 14 years old. Over the next two years, Foreman would come to rule the streets. Still, the high school dropout did not know how to read or write. "You'll never be anything," his sister used to taunt him.

Then, one night, Foreman found himself on the run from the police for having mugged someone. "I started remembering from television shows that whenever the criminals were getting pursued, they would go into the water so the dogs couldn't sniff them," he recalls. "So I started digging myself under the mud. And for the first time I realized that I had become a criminal. I had dropped out of school and didn't know what to do with my life."

That is when Foreman noticed a commercial on TV for Job Corps, a job skills training program for youth. He signed up the next day, gradually learning not only how to read and write, but also about bricklaying, forestry, and carpentry. He also happened to learn how to fight.

With endless energy to burn, Foreman began competing - and winning - in amateur boxing matches, and sent $50 home to his mother every month. "I really didn't have a great desire to be a professional boxer," he recalls. "I just wanted to make enough money to live and support my mother."

But things quickly changed for Foreman. "After I started boxing I realized I could hit so hard," he says. Just a year and a half after he had begun fighting, he wound up at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he won a gold medal.

In 1969, Foreman turned professional and adopted a tough-guy persona and almost immediately became unpopular with the public. Foreman, however, did not care much what others thought of him. After all, he had won all of his first 37 fights, including 34 knockouts. In 1973, he won the world heavyweight championship after only two rounds of fighting.

"I'd read the critics and they'd say he's a slugger but he's not a boxer," he recalls. "Then I'd get mad at the critics, other boxers. I wanted to destroy everybody with my fists. I figure I am going to make a lot of money. I didn't care about nothing else but making a lot of money. I didn't care if people liked me."

In 1977, however, Foreman had a religious awakening and left the sport completely. He began traveling the world as an evangelical preacher and working with inner city youth. After the community development centre that he founded in Houston ran out of funding, Foreman decided to return to the ring. He was old, and he was overweight, but it would turn out to be the greatest decision of his life.

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