George Foreman wishes that he could have ridden a winner in the Kentucky Derby.
The two-time heavyweight champion of the world is a lifelong lover of horses but his ambitions these days revolve around owning a world class thoroughbred rather than saddling up himself.
“I still love the animals. The horses are so important to me. I used to dream about having a horse cross the finish line number one in the Kentucky Derby. I still have such a dream. My wife tells me that I’m not paying that kind of money for a horse though,” Foreman told 32Red.
In May, Justify won the 144th Kentucky Derby. The colt broke a curse by becoming the first in 136 years to win the race as a three year old despite never having raced as a two year old.
“The most amazing thing is that in every generation we seem to come up with something great in the horse racing business to keep inspiring us.
“Isn’t it wonderful that things are still happening in the world of horse racing that inspire us? From the days of Secretariat we still get exciting and improbable things happening. What do we know? We may just have something extraordinary about to happen again.”
Should Tyson Fury eventually manage to reclaim his heavyweight title, it would rank amongst the most improbable and extraordinary comebacks in boxing history. In the two and a half years since Fury dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in Düsseldorf he has faced battles with his weight, the authorities and his own personal demons. The eyes of the world will be on his return to action this weekend. Returning to reclaim glory is a subject that Foreman is uniquely placed to comment on.
The Texan initially retired from boxing back in 1977 as a sure fire Hall of Famer. An Olympic gold medal and a ferocious reign as heavyweight champion of the world testament to his ability. He had beaten Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle and Ken Norton and featured in arguably the most famous sporting event of all time when he faced Muhammad Ali in the famed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.
He incredibly returned to the sport ten years later to add a further, extraordinary chapter to his career. During his second coming, Foreman mixed with the likes of Evander Holyfield and Gerry Cooney before knocking out Michael Moorer to regain his title at the grand old age of 45.
Foreman reinvented himself during his decade away from the sport. The surly, relentless, threshing machine transforming into a happy go lucky, patient, punching preacher. Any man who stands 6ft 9in can punch, but Fury (25-0, 18 KO’s) doesn’t possess the raw power to emerge from his own hiatus as a fighter who can rely on planting his feet and digging in hard shots. He will need to be the same fighter he was that special night in Germany and utilise his speed, movement, and physical advantages.
“Fury hasn’t been off too long. Three years really isn’t too long. I was out for ten years and I never missed a beat. What has made Fury really competitive is his size and it’s not like he’s shrunk over the past three years. He’s still big and he can still win fights,” Foreman said.
“He’s got those physical attributes and that’s his protective zone right there. All he has to do is get in to as good a physical shape as he can do and the rest will come back to him instantly.
“Fury’s style was always all about not trying to do it all too quickly in the first place. He never depended on the quick knockout and he could exist in any era. He’s going to make a good comeback and when you look at his face you can’t help but love the guy. His personality is something that you can look at and love, especially when he starts speaking. There is nothing for people to be disgruntled about at all.”
Momentum has built behind Fury’s return to action and he has been carried along on a wave of goodwill from a once sceptical public but on Saturday night he will have to pull on a pair of shorts, bite down on his mouthpiece and have a fight. His opponent Sefer Seferi – an unheralded 39 year old Macedonian – may have been assigned no more than a bit part role in proceedings this week but in those final few moments before he gets the call to walk, the butterflies will return and the situation will suddenly get extremely serious for Fury. Foreman fought ten times in the year following his return to action, acutely aware that the only way he was going to return to anything like his previous form was through repetition.
“When you’re out of boxing for a period of time there’s a certain freedom you get,” Foreman remembered. “You start thinking: ‘Nothing bothers me. I’m a human being now. I’m gonna eat what I want and sleep whenever I want and do whatever I want to now.’
“All of a sudden you’re in that dressing room and you’re thinking to yourself: ‘What on earth am I doing? I once was free but now I’m bound again.’ You do ask yourself that question because you’re nervous about that.
“Once I got back I knew instantly that I was only going to get my timing and accuracy back by fighting often. The more often I fought, the better I felt and I knew I had to stay in the ring. After a year back in the ring I felt almost back to my old self.
“I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see the old man that everybody else did. I saw a young man with opportunities in front of him so I started from the bottom all over again like I’d done previously. I said that I’d start from the bottom and work my way back up.
“That’s the mistake that most ex-champions make. They want to start at the top again and that’s big trouble.”
Fury has wisely decided to start his own comeback pretty close to the bottom but his profile is such that he will soon face pressure to step up his level of competition. There will be no more comebacks for Foreman and his respect for Fury is such that he modestly chooses to skirt around a question about how a prime ‘Big George’ would have fared against a giant like Fury. In fact, although Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder currently hold sway at the top of the heavyweight division, he is confident that a fit and properly prepared Fury is still the man to beat.
“That guy is so big that I would probably have had to stay low and make certain that my manager wouldn’t have matched me with him,” Foreman laughed. “To be honest he’s like a new computer. They just didn’t exist in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He’s the new kind and you can only face him with the new kind of fighters. Today, I don’t see anybody beating that big giant.
“No doubt about it. If he gets himself fit, he can beat anybody.”