Monday, February 15, 2010

Overall Integrity and Encouraging Tone make Foreman's "God in my Corner" a great read

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark

I recently finished reading “God In My Corner: A Spiritual Memoir” by George Foreman. “Big” George Foreman, as he’s known in boxing, is of course the two-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, having defeated Joe Frazer for the World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC) titles on January 22, 1973, and Michael Moorer for the WBA and International Boxing Federation (IBF) titles on November 5, 1994. He was just a couple of months shy of his 46th birthday when he became champion the second time, far older than the previous record holder, Jersey Joe Walcott, who became champion at age 37. The book was worth while not just because it recounted the shift in attitude Foreman experienced after Christian conversion and his initial retirement from boxing, but also because of its overall inspirational message.

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What is most interesting about Foreman’s spiritual memoir is that he recounts how he really made peace with himself after losing the Heavyweight title and failing to rally back to it. He was soundly defeated by Jimmy Young, a perpetual heavyweight Contender who lost a controversial decision to Muhammad Ali in the only title shot of his own career, and after that defeat Foreman experienced his Christian conversion in the midst of what trainer Gil Clancy said was “heat prostration” in the locker room in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Foreman said he actually died, entering a state something like hell after being overcome in the locker room. He also said prior to the fight he’d made a deal in prayer after learning his nephew faced death in the midst of a coma brought on by a seizure, telling God (if He existed because Foreman wasn’t sure) that he’d be willing to die in his place. Clancy explained in another Book, “In the Corner” by Dave Anderson, that Foreman had exacerbated the challenge of extreme heat by having had the vents taped up in the locker room before the fight because he was afraid someone would pump poisonous gas into it, and when back there after the grueling fight he reached a breaking point. Clancy new Foreman had heat prostration because he was vomiting a brown substance, which he’d witnessed in three weeks earlier in another fighter he trained, Robbie Givens. Nevertheless, whether Foreman experienced simple hallucination or actual temporary death and damnation, he believes it to be something closer to the latter and it changed his life. He immediately retired and became a serious Christian and eventually a preacher with his own church.

Foreman explains that he was angry and mean during his first boxing career, but during his second campaign for the Heavyweight title he accepted people for who they are, respected them as children of God, and began paying attention to his surroundings and enjoying life. He even took in the scenery and learned about the cities he fought in, enjoying an occasional tourist attraction. The clear difference in him after losing to Young is his humility. He was able to let go of his ego and release his arrogance through faith, and he credits the conversion with propelling him back to the title and overwhelming financial success. The sincerity of his narrative expresses the authenticity of his story, but there a few details within it revealing a nagging tendency to cling to the old prideful ways.

Foreman claims he was counted out in less than the required ten seconds when stopped by Muhammad Ali. He also perpetuates the myth that he was tricked by Ali into punching himself out with the “rope a dope” technique wherein Ali covered up on the ropes. It’s true that Ali used the technique, but just like he did when first becoming champion against Sonny Liston (who had the same trainers as Foreman) in the 1960s, Ali took control of the fight in round 1. He landed the first shot, a hard right hand to the chin, and manhandled Foreman throughout the fight. Some of the occasions in which he held Foreman and took body shots resemble his clinches against Liston. In other words Ali was smarter, he was a better boxer, and he was in far better shape than Foreman for that fight. Foreman also says he suspects he was drugged before the fight. Another assertion Foreman makes is that he could have knocked out Evander Holyfield but didn’t want to hurt him. He says he dreamed he’d actually killed Holyfield with a punch and when he hurt him in the actual fight he purposefully let him survive instead of finishing him off, losing the title fight by decision. But regardless of what went through Foreman’s head at the time, Holyfield was a better boxer and fought more skillfully that night. All these things are possible, of course, but the mention of them signifies the difficulty Foreman must still have in accepting those failures. However, that is also evident of his humanity, which he fully admits with the overall message of the book and in his continued ministry. With his advice on aging, he assures the reader that starting over again after hitting bottom or making a comeback at the lower level in a field where once you enjoyed success can be the greatest of blessings. After all, that’s what he did, and the fact that he started at the bottom of boxing the second time around instead of challenging for a title right away is why he, unlike so many other former champions, succeeded. Finally, his advice on integrity, his encouragement with suggestions of spiritual practice at the end of each chapter, and his sincerity make the book a worth while read for people of all faiths or athletic interests.

Recommended reading by George Foreman:
“George Foreman’s Guide to Life: How to get up when Life’s Punches knock you down”