Lee Groves

10: Best Over-40 Fighters

3. George Foreman: Record after age 40 – 17-3 (12)

When Foreman ended his 10-year retirement at age 38, the world responded with derisive laughter, condescension, criticism and concern. Big George, now an ordained minister, paid it no mind and kept chugging along. His deeply-held faith, both in God and in himself, told him that his quest would eventually bear fruit and in the end he got the last laugh.

The secret of Foreman’s success was that when he decided to come back he managed himself as if he were a prospect rather than a returning legend. In the beginning he took small fights for small purses away from network TV cameras. He gradually worked his way back into fighting condition, although the scales registered numbers that were shockingly high for those who remembered him as a sculpted 220-pounder. As Foreman approached his landmark birthday, everything was unfolding according to plan.

To save energy, Foreman developed a telephone-pole jab and sagely cut the ring on fleet-footed opponents with a minimum of effort. In stark contrast to his flame-throwing youth, Foreman fought with a quiet calmness that belied his violent profession. While his relaxed method on offense reminded some of his mentor Archie Moore, Foreman’s crossed-armed “armadillo” defense was lifted directly from “Ancient Archie’s” play book.

As the record proved Foreman’s new in-ring persona paid dividends, but his transformation outside the ropes was even more dramatic. The snappish bully of years past was replaced with a jovial self-deprecating jokester who charmed his listeners with tales of prodigious eating. Foreman’s salesmanship and subsequent ring performances would create a financial windfall unlike any yet seen, especially since the vehicle driving it was approaching a very advanced ring age.

Sixteen days after Foreman turned 40 on January 10, 1989, he disposed of journeyman Mark Young in seven rounds at the War Memorial Auditorium in Rochester, N.Y., his 15th consecutive win on the comeback trail — all by knockout. Four more knockout wins in 1989 over Manuel de Almeida, J.B. Williamson, Bert Cooper and Everett “Big Foot” Martin set the stage for his first big pay-per-view splash against the comebacking Gerry Cooney.

Though the 33-year-old New Yorker could hardly be described as old, Cooney vs. Foreman was dubbed the “Geezers at Caesars.” Foreman, now five days past 41, definitely could be labeled as such but once the action began it was he who performed like a young stallion. After a difficult first round that saw Cooney out-box Foreman at long range and stunned him with a trademark hook, Foreman put Cooney away in round two with vintage destructiveness. A pinpoint eight-punch salvo scored the first knockdown while a ferocious left uppercut-overhand right finished the job. That highlight reel knockout was a revelation to the doubters but the punching preacher knew there was much more in store.

Quick kayos over Mike Jameson, Adilson Rodrigues, Ken Lakusta and Terry Anderson served as a prelude for “The Battle of the Ages” – Foreman versus undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. The 42-year-old Foreman thrilled the crowd that gathered at the Convention Center in Atlantic City but his cluster bombs were delivered too sporadically to mount a serious threat. After Holyfield won a unanimous decision, Foreman said “Holyfield got the points, but I made the point,” that point being that age 40 was not a death sentence but rather an opportunity to do great things.

Three more victories – knockouts over Jimmy Ellis and Pierre Coetzer and a hard-fought majority decision over Alex Stewart – vaulted Foreman into a second title shot, this time against Tommy Morrison for the vacant WBO belt. The anticipated war between punchers who had scored a combined 99 knockouts turned into a track meet as Morrison’s stick-and-move tactics effectively exploited Foreman’s slow feet. The decision for Morrison was unanimous and lopsided (118-109, 117-110 twice).

For all the world it appeared as if Foreman’s quixotic quest was fated to fall short but unbeknownst to everyone — even Foreman — the best was yet to come.

When Michael Moorer dethroned Holyfield in April 1994, Foreman suggested that he should be Moorer’s choice for an “easy” first defense. After successfully making his case to promoter Bob Arum, HBO’s Seth Abraham and Moorer’s brain trust, the fight was on.

Over the first nine rounds Foreman looked every minute of his 45 years 310 days but in the 10th a needle straight right to the jaw anesthetized the 27-year-old’s body. As the MGM Grand crowd shook the building with its celebratory roars, Foreman kneeled in the corner and quietly offered thanks to his Maker. With that single blow, Foreman not only destroyed Jersey Joe Walcott’s previous record as the oldest man to win a heavyweight title by eight years, he became the oldest fighter ever to win a major world title in any weight class.

The Moorer knockout would be his last as he scored a hotly disputed majority decision against Axel Schulz, soundly out-pointed Crawford Grimsley and scored a split decision over Lou Savarese. Many thought the 48-year-old Foreman had done enough to outscore the 29-1, 25-year-old Shannon Briggs but the judges disagreed by giving Briggs a majority decision. Foreman refused to complain about what many saw was an injustice and because of that he walked off into the sunset with more than a touch of class.

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