Dreimann, who had spent most of his professional life managing Salton's Australian distributorship, may have had marketing genius, but not enough to recognize this as a natural fit. He barely knew who George Foreman was, for one thing. With very few hopes for either Foreman or the product, he agreed in March 1995 to pair them up at The Gourmet Products Show, which happened to be held in Las Vegas that year.
Foreman, for his part, was at the peak of his reluctant comeback, having recently won the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles at the age of 45, clocking Michael Moorer the previous fall. The entire escapade had been conducted as a vaudeville tour, with Foreman making great shtick of his weight and age, beating critics, and eventually Moorer, to the punch.
He hadn't wanted to fight again in the first place, not since that night in Puerto Rico in 1977 following a loss to Jimmy Young. That was the night he found God, experiencing a hallucination that remains vivid to this day. "I smelled death," Foreman says, "a horrible smell. And you never get over it. To this day, if I were to get into a ring, I'd smell it."
But by 1986 he was broke, his bank accounts mysteriously shrinking, oil wells disappearing entirely. "Dumb athlete," he says of his fiscal vulnerability. "So I said, I know how to make money, and for the first time in 10 years, I balled my fists."
It was a tremendous disappointment to him, to be forced back into the ring. It was not the lark it seemed to the rest of us at the time, but a desperate maneuver. Those 10 years after he discovered God and Houston's burgeoning fast-food outlets had been the happiest of his life. He preached three days a week, cruised Westheimer Boulevard in an old Ford Fiesta, consumed cheeseburgers and fried fish sandwiches in enormous quantities. "Ten years of the good life," he says, sighing. "I wouldn't trade that in for anything."
The comeback, at his age and size, was greeted as a joke, and Foreman was obliged to play along. In fact, he hated the idea of taking his shirt off in public, such was his residual vanity. But he could not fight profitably in a muumuu, so he braved the ridicule and, in an economic inspiration, incorporated his limitations and appetites into his new public persona. Taking a page from the great promoter Doc Kearns, Foreman became agreeable to a fault, mounting a grassroots campaign—fighting for $2,500 in Springfield, Mo.—and working the media tirelessly. Once, the night before a big fight, he appeared in the pressroom to see if he could help with any last-minute column angles. The writers, horrified at this kind of availability, told him to go back to his room.
In the process this onetime bully somehow morphed into a cartoon figure in the eyes of the public and was selling out arenas for nothing fights. Arum, remembering how he "despised the guy" at one time, was reluctant to do business with him. But when Foreman came knocking, asking for an otherwise unfillable Christmas date in '87, Arum agreed, to the tune of $12,500. "We figured we'd draw 200," Arum says, "300 tops. We packed in 2,000. He couldn't have done more publicity. I still think he's conning me, but it's good business."
On the bandwagon for good, Arum cut Foreman a check for $12.5 million to fight Evander Holyfield in 1991. The comeback was working, you might say. And Foreman was quick to seize on all the possibilities, even those ancillary to boxing—picking up endorsements with KFC and Doritos, joining the broadcast booth at HBO Boxing. He had an inkling (more than that, actually) that he was building a brand, that paydays beyond boxing lurked somewhere in his future.
So it was that Dreimann and Foreman found themselves in Las Vegas, hawking a strange grill that supposedly drained the fat right off. Dreimann had no particular expectations for either the grill—named the Lean, Mean, Fat Reducing Grilling Machine and a decided dud at the previous year's show—or Foreman, whoever he was. So that it wouldn't be totally embarrassing, Dreimann lured potential buyers to a preshow cocktail party by promising them tickets to Siegfried & Roy.
"It was supposed to last about an hour, then everybody would go off and see the show," says Dreimann, "but about 200 people converged on him, hugging him, shaking his hand. I had to put him behind a table for security reasons. It went for 3� hours like that, and finally I had some assistants go out on the street, looking for kids who might want Siegfried & Roy tickets. We gave them all away."