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George Foreman

The boxing great on his bucket list, Versace ties, Muhammad Ali, Simone Biles and why his greatest athletic asset is his fear

Texas’ own George Edward Foreman was a 1968 Olympic gold medalist. By 1974, he was the heavyweight champion of the world. Then he became the Grill Man, in what turned out to be a multimillion-dollar relationship some call the second best (to Michael Jordan and Nike) marketing partnership in the history of sports. Now, Foreman is starring in NBC’s new show Better Late Than Never, in which the boxing Hall of Famer joins actor/producer/director Henry Winkler, actor/director William Shatner, football legend/NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw and comedian Jeff Dye on a trip to Asia. The men, who ostensibly begin the show as strangers, travel from Tokyo to Phuket and Chiang Mai, Thailand. The four-episode series is the American version of a popular South Korean travel reality show, Grandpas Over Flowers. As Foreman readjusts to the United States, he talks about the late boxer Muhammad Ali, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, Sanford and Son and about how he’s still not into athletes taking stands on social issues.

How did you get involved with Better Late Than Never?

Henry Winkler called … started putting out feelers to see if I would be interested. I thought right off — that’s not going to happen, I have never left home for a month in all of my career days. Not since the [1968] Olympics. I thought about it, and spoke about it with my wife, and I said, ‘Maybe I need to do something like that.’ Why not take a month and just be free?

What did you learn from the journey?

That [my family] can get along just fine without me — and that was scary. I’m happy I was wanted, but I wasn’t needed. The world and everything was just fine without me here … I actually cried when it was all over, can you imagine that? I’d ventured off to myself, done something for myself and done it alone. It made me feel in a strange way kind of happy and proud of myself.

Did you check anything off your bucket list?

I went down a river in Thailand with a raft. And you can actually feel the place being ancient … I have never felt myself enjoy something like that. It’s something I wanted to do, never thought I would do — but I don’t have to do it again.

Why not take a month and just be free?

Did you enjoy the Summer Olympics?

Every four years, that’s a special time for me because when I see them get on that platform to receive the gold medal, I feel it all over again. Feels like it just happened yesterday. Forty-eight years ago — I feel like it’s just yesterday.

Who was your favorite Olympian?

The track and field has been my joy, but the odd thing about it is the guy that I have been enjoying in track [Usain Bolt] is not even from the United States, he is from Jamaica. The gymnast [Simone Biles] is from Texas, so I got a special attachment to her from home.

How did losing to Muhammad Ali in 1974 affect you?

That, for so many years, was a love-hate situation. After I won the Olympics, [I was] trying to get in his footsteps to become champ of the world. Then [when] I did become champ of the world, he became my enemy because he wanted his title back. And then I lost to him. I actually hated the guy. After I found the ministry and we became good friends and talked about it, I fell in love with him all over again. [Ali and I] became such good friends that his passing — I still haven’t recovered. It’s like a part of me perished. I can’t let him out of my heart.

If you can keep politics away from it, we will always have sports.

How do you feel about athletes today taking a stand on social issues?

I never did like it, never did, never did. Because sports is free. It’s when the whole world can come together and compete. If you can keep politics away from it, we will always have sports.

What’s your favorite sport outside of boxing?

Professional football and basketball. I love them.

Describe yourself during football season. Are you like on the couch? Do you go out to games?

First, they moved the Houston Texans … I was so happy the community was involved so … for 10 years I got season tickets, I enjoyed it. But after 10 years, I said, ‘Now I am going back home to sit on the couch and be the average couch potato.’ That’s what I love because I can switch and see three games at one time.

[Ali and I] became such good friends that his passing — I still haven’t recovered. It’s like a part of me perished. I can’t let him out of my heart.

What’s your favorite old-school TV show?

I look to the comedies. I want to smile all the time. The Beverly Hillbillies is my all-time favorite from way back, Ellie Mae and all of that. I was on this show Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx.

What do you like to wear?

I love a suit and I love a tie. And I go for those original Versace ties. Before the gentleman was murdered, of course, he had the best ties in the world.

If you could change anything about your journey in life, what would you change?

If I had anything to do over, I would’ve been happier about everything that has happened to me. There was a period in my life … I wish … if I had to do it all over again, I’d enjoy everything that ever happened, every moment.

If I had anything to do over, I would’ve been happier about everything that has happened to me.

Where does your courage come from?

I’ll tell you a good story about courage … I got in the ring with Joe Frazier because I wanted to be champion of the world, and he was so tough. I had seen him go through people. I was afraid of him, the most afraid I have ever been in my life, most fear I knew. I thought he was going to get me like that — and I knocked him down six times to become champion of the world. My greatest asset as an athlete was my fear. One time I lost my fear and I was so happy I lost fear. I got in a ring in Africa with Muhammad Ali and I lost. So I learned, the second time around, to treasure my fear … it looks like bravery … it looks like courage, but I’m not courageous at all. I am the most fearful fellow I have ever known.

Click below to listen to the full interview.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.