George Foreman, former two-time world boxing champion, Olympic gold medallist, Baptist minister and purveyor of lean cooking, is 65 today (Friday).

For the first half of his life, the Texas-born boxer was an angry man in the ring, all seething menace and a volcanic temper ready to erupt against his opponent as soon as the bell rang.

Unlike some of the sport's others legends, Foreman was not an eloquent, media-friendly brand. That came later in life.

Long before any punch was ever thrown, his contemporaries Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard made sure their fights were won outside the ring. Both were unbeatable at their peak and hard to best when it came to winning the battle of the soundbite. It's not surprising they were darling of the media and boxing correspondents in particular, relied on their memorable quotes to fill their column inches.

Foreman was more of an acquired taste. He was born in Houston four years after the end of the Second World War beginning life in humble surroundings before becoming one of the most compelling protagonists in heavyweight boxing during the 1970s.

On his way to the sport's summit, he won gold in the highly-charged atmosphere of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City transforming himself along the way from villain to hero in boxing.

A year later he turned professional and, at 6ft 3in and with a reach of 82in, was a heavyweight of not inconsiderable proportions and a reputation for knockout blows. Rather than throwing shots in straight lines to beat up opponents, Foreman tended to club rivals for prolonged sessions.

Two outstanding victories in his early career against Joe Frazier - where he won his first heavyweight championship - and subsequent defence against Ken Norton, offer the best examples of Foreman's technique.

Foreman Destroys Frazier

After building up an undefeated record of 37-0, Foreman met the undefeated Frazier (29-0) in Kingston, Jamaica in January 1973. Few gave Foreman's power a chance against Frazier's raw talent.

Frazier was at his peak coming so soon after victory in the Fight of the Century against Ali, his first loss, in March 1971 at Madison Square Garden New York.

This fight would be different. Frazier was knocked down six times by Foreman in two rounds, with the three knockdowns rule waived for this bout.

After the second knockdown, Frazier was incapable of evading Foreman's combinations. Although he got to his feet for all six knockdowns, the contest was stopped by the referee. The fight is still regarded as one of the most shocking and one-sided demolitions of a one all-time great fighter by another.

Although he was champion for less than two years before losing to Ali, it is a testimony to Foreman's gravitas as a champion that his short reign is remembered for its impact.

Ali, Wilderness Years and Christianity

Although Foreman and Ali could not have been more different in personality, there was one advantage they both possessed. The invincible reputation that Ali once had was bestowed upon Foreman.

Just as Foreman had shocked the world by dethroning Frazier, Ali made his name through guile and speed to usurp Foreman.

After losing to Ali, Foreman went into decline suffering from depression and taking part in fights bereft of self-belief while seemingly unable to exorcise the ghost of Ali's humiliation inside and out of the ring.

He retired in 1977 at 28 and became a born-again Christian.


In 1987 Foreman came back to boxing but his return was overshadowed by a young Mike Tyson whose raw power had captured the public's imagination much the way Foreman had done 15 years earlier.

In 1991, he confounded everyone by going 12 rounds with the young champion Evander Holyfield in a battle of the generations. Foreman lost but went the distance.

In 1994, almost 20 years to the day after his shattering defeat to Ali, Foreman became the heavyweight champion again after knocking out Michael Moorer.

Foreman was 45 and the victory and narrative in the run-up to the bout made him one of the exceptional figures of boxing.

He retired again in 1997 and has since become a successful businessman, insightful boxing commentator as well as popular public figure.

On his 65<sup>th birthday and 19 years after Foreman started his second reign as a heavyweight champion, one can only marvel at his life story.

Few professional athletes have walked Foreman's path and come out of it in the same way: healthy and happy.