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George Foreman Talks Boxing, Business and TV stardom

George Foreman

George Foreman

George Foreman, 68, is a world-renowned boxer and entrepreneur. But these days, the former heavyweight champ and grill salesman extraordinaire is traveling the world with NFL legend Terry Bradshaw, iconic actors William Shatner and Henry Winkler, and comedian Jeff Dye on NBC’s hit reality show Better Late Than Never, which premieres Jan. 1, 2018, at 9 p.m. ET. We caught up with “Big George” for a blow-by-blow of his globe-trotting adventures and classic fights.

What’s been your favorite trip that you’ve taken on Better Late Than Never?

Lithuania. Remember, I won a gold medal back in ’68. My opponent, can you believe, was from Lithuania. I kept getting invitations to come visit him, visit his country. And when I did get there, he’d already passed on. I got a chance to spend time with his grandson. Can you believe that? It touched my heart because that guy was an important person in my life. Ionas Chepulis, don’t ask me how to spell anything.

What did the Olympics mean to you?

After the gold medal, I leave out of there, I’m signing autographs, and I haven’t stopped since that day. It was the beginning of the career of a boxer, a celebrity boxer.

How have fans treated you in different countries?

I didn’t know everybody I met, but everybody seemed to know me. “Hey, George! How ya doin’ George?” It doesn’t matter what language you spoke, everybody could say George Foreman. It was very meaningful.

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Who’s been the most fun to travel with?

Terry Bradshaw. He’s a two-edge sword, because he’s the most fun guy in the world, but if you pull him off to the side, he’s got the biggest heart, so I enjoy Terry. But then, William Shatner’s so smart. If you sit around him long, you always come out with something you didn’t know about. And the Fonz, he’s everybody’s host.

Bradshaw and Shatner have both put out albums. Did they ever sing on the road?

Oh, all the time. As a matter of fact, if you want to have your rest interrupted, ask them to belt out one. They are into singing when we go to a club. There’s a live band playing, Shatner gets up and he starts with this real smooth, jazzy type delivery. He’s smooth. And Terry Bradshaw, he’s always got a country tune hidden behind somewhere.

Any good road trip pranks?

Too many, I wish I could tell you about all of them. We were just talking about how Shatner tricked me. He made me think I was in one place, when I was in another, by putting up fake signs as we were driving.

That’s a good one…

No. That’s terrible. I’m just finding out that some of the things, even to this day, I thought were actual were not. I owe him a punch, man.

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Did you try any exotic international food?

Oh, yeah. Too many things. I tried everything. When I was a boxer, I had to stick to the old steak and salad. This time, traveling all over, I tried everything. The most exotic were the bugs. They were very good, too. I hate to tell you but I prefer them to potato chips. You don’t have a guilty conscious when you put those down. A lot of protein. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Speaking of food, how did you get involved with the George Foreman Grill?

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The grill started off as a joke, because I was doing all these commercials. Madison Avenue’s darling with Doritos and Oscar Meyer wieners, you name it. I was doing all these commercials. Someone said, “Georgie, you’re making all these other companies, why don’t you get your own product and make it.” I said, “Sure, how much you gonna pay me?” They said, “No. Let’s form a joint venture. We did the grill as a joke. I thought maybe I’d sell seven of them — one for my aunts and me and friends. Little did I know, that thing sold over 100-some-odd million grills.

How did selling the company impact your life?

I’m a salesperson. That’s what I do. I even sold boxing to convince the world that I could be heavyweight champ of the world, at almost 50. That was selling. That’s what I do, is sell. So someone says, “Well, George, can we buy all of your grills?” I said, “Sure, it’s for sale.” Simple as that. Everything was for sale. It was a big impact. I’m just waiting to get another company, so that I can build it up, and sell again.

Do you have anything in the works?

Yeah. The George Foreman shoes. The most comfortable shoe ever. I got with some guys at Stanford University, and they engineered a shoe for people who’ve hurt themselves and their back. The shoe is a living organism. As you walk, it corrects everything and next thing you know, you’re running a mile, two miles, three miles. And the secret to life is movement, activity, so I got a shoe now I’m going to promote. It’ll be coming out soon. The George Foreman shoe.

What are your emotions when you hear the classic, “Down goes Frazier” call by Howard Cosell?

“Down goes Frazier!” Yeah, that’s something special because I fought a lot of guys — big, tall, whatever. But the only one I was truly afraid to fight was Joe Frazier. And I remember knocking him down, thinking, “He’s gonna kill me.” So I knocked him down again. And I said, “Oh, I better get this over. He’s mad!” I knocked him down six times, and finally they stopped the fight. I was the heavyweight champion of the world. The most exciting moment as a professional for me.

On the other side of the spectrum, “the Rumble in the Jungle.” What are your thoughts on that fight, looking back all these years later?

The one thing you learn as a professional boxer, have excuses for when you lose. I had so many excuses, I can’t even remember them all. But Muhammed Ali was a better man that night, he beat me fair and square. I was shocked because I hadn’t lost to anyone. I didn’t even know how to lose. I really didn’t. He tricked me. I beat him up, beat him up, and got tired. And next thing you know, he just tapped me on the chin, and there I was being counted out.

Early in your career, a lot of people accused you of being too serious, being aloof. Now you’re always smiling, you’re outgoing, you’re traveling the world, meeting fans across the globe. What has changed since the beginning of your career until now, personality-wise?

You wake up one day and you’re alive and you’re breathing, and then all of a sudden you wanna share this with everyone. Beforehand, it was a horrible life, I just wanted boxing for money, I was looking for fame, but mostly a lot of money. I hated the sport, I hated the people in the sport, I didn’t like anything about anything. Then you get a second chance, and you love it all. I was proud to be a boxer the second time around. To get a chance to be rescued from bankruptcy, all of those things. You never stop smiling about it. You wake up in the morning, you look at yourself, and you say, “I’m here, I got another day.” Life is good and you start expressing that. That’s the only difference.

You grew up poor, and now you’re a millionaire on top of the world. What advice would you give to people struggling who may feel hope is lost?

I laid under the house one night running from the police. They were trying to chase me and I thought they were going to send the dogs under the house to capture me and bite me. And I remember lying there thinking, “My mom never, she never had a thief in the family.” And I’d become a thief. And I said, “If I get from under this house, and the police don’t catch me this night, I’m gonna do something with my life.” And can you imagine that? A 16-year-old boy crawling from under the house and able to do something with his life. Hopelessness to so much hope. Everybody’s got that opportunity in America. All you gotta do is believe.