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On this day: Big George Foreman and his dream comeback

When he made the shocking decision to return to the ring to take on heavyweight heavyweight Steve Zosky 36 years ago, George Foreman was by no means the likable and popular figure he is today. What it was like when he entered the ring at the Arco Arena in Sacramento was the curiosity of a former champion who was returning, after a ten-year absence, to the sport he once dominated. Normally, there was as much negativity as there was curiosity about this bizarre return..

No one, least of all sportswriters, felt they were going to see “Big George” continue from the fourth-round TKO he scored over Zouski that evening of that month in 1987 and become, A: two-time world heavyweight champion, B: multiple, multiple , Millionaire, and C: A cherished character known for participating in the most successful sport of boxing in heavyweight history. However, Foreman, who weighed in for his first action in a decade at the 267-pound mark, has done all of the above great things and more.

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In many ways, George’s ability to ignore the vitriol thrown his way by the media was his most impressive achievement. The press openly derided Foreman and his chances of governing again as ridiculous, calling Foreman all sorts of things – crazy, disgraceful, insolent. You name it, George had to hear it. However, for being an incredibly strong-minded fighter that no one else knew he was yet, he recruited the 38-year-old and slowly but surely made pundits eat their words.

And some strong words were. This is from the March 1987 issue of World Boxing, the cover of which was dimly lit by the shameful headline – “Foreman’s Flabby Comeback!”

“After a few more bruised eyelids, Foreman’s comeback will be reduced to nothing.” And George’s former coach Jill Clancy is also quoted in the same issue. “George called me and told me he’d be back. I said, well, come over to the gym so I can take a look at you. I didn’t hear back from George after that.”

Within its pages the magazine contained unflattering text describing the Foreman-Zusuke fight, and by no means was it clear that the publication gave the former heavyweight king more than a snowball in hell to get close to where he wanted to go – namely in a ring with the champ. Current Mike Tyson. And who can blame the magazine’s writers or Clancy’s for thinking the way they did? After all, what George was trying to do was mind-boggling.

Yet, in his daring to be great and, more importantly, in his daring to dream, George achieves his lofty and seemingly unattainable goal. He never got in the ring with Tyson, but he did fight for the title on two separate occasions – losing impressively on points to Evander Holyfield in April of 1991 (Holyfield was a fighter who moved on by TKO Tyson) and then achieving his dream come true in the 10th round against Michael Moorer in November 1994.

World Boxing, in its report on Zouski’s fight, said that only the former champion’s left jab remained from his early years. As it turns out, George had a lot more left than just that!

(A little mention should be made of Zoosky. After losing to Foreman, the 33-year-old from Brockton fought for another four years — winning six and losing six. One of the fighters he met, and went the distance during this time, was an 11-0 bomber named Tommy Morrison. Even though he lost to all the fighters he met – including Tyson, who stopped him in the third round a year before he met Foreman – Zooski was a tough man. Today he’s best known as the man the living legend chose as his first enemy. You’ll see Zooski , played by Barry Hanley, in the upcoming movie “Big George Foreman”, which will be released next month.

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