Updated: Aug 18, 2021
It was a half-century ago, but the names still resonate: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman were the heavyweight-boxing kings of the 1970s. While Ali has been the subject of multiple biographies, and Mark Kram Jr. produced “Smokin’ Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier” last year, George Foreman has been without his Boswell—until now. In “No Way but to Fight,” Andrew R.M. Smith, a professor at Nichols College in Massachusetts, has written an insightful life study. It illuminates the many ways in which Mr. Foreman has differed from his storied competitors and found a kind of postcareer success that eluded them.
To the broader public, Mr. Foreman (now 71) may be best known as a latter-day pitchman, once a frequent face in TV spots and print ads. But in his prime he was a truly remarkable athlete, with, it turns out, a remarkable back story. A child of Houston’s hardscrabble Fifth Ward, he grew up in abject poverty. Mr. Smith tells us that he seldom had enough to eat, and “his clothes, which came from donation bags, instantly marked him as poor. Worse than poor.”
At 19, by then a former participant in Lyndon Johnson’s Job Corps, Mr. Foreman won the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. A virtual novice, he entered the Games with a humble 18-4 record. In the finals, he defeated the Soviet Union’s Jonas Čepulis, an opponent 10 years his senior and a veteran of more than 220 bouts.