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George Foreman had grown up a street-corner wino in Houston's worst neighborhood, a junior-high dropout who'd never learned to trust human beings. He'd turned to animals for love, once keeping 10 stray mutts in his backyard until his mother called the ASPCA. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he had won adulation by mauling people in a boxing ring; now that he had lost for the first time, he lived with a quiet terror. He couldn't stop spending money or conquering women. Every day for the next 30 days he went to bed with a different woman—some days, two. He flew to Paris for a week, to Los Angeles for a week, to Houston for two weeks and then back to L.A. He felt embarrassed to face porters at airports, let alone anyone he knew.
He wired ahead to Houston for his people to have a new $56,000 Rolls-Royce waiting. In L.A. he had a custom-made Lincoln designed by the same man who had created the Batmobile for the Batman TV series. He rented an apartment in Hollywood to go with the house he owned in Beverly Hills and the $250,000 ranch he owned in Livermore, Calif., not to mention the $250,000 house in Houston. He bought a 32-foot mobile home and a Mercedes to keep his Rolls, Cadillac, Excalibur, two Pintos, Capri, pickup truck and other Mercedes company.
He bought cars for his three sisters, his brother, his ex-wife, his aunt and two nephews. He bought a lion and a tiger for his ranch and had special food for them flown in from the St. Louis zoo.
He carried $30,000 in cash in a plastic bag, sometimes pulling it out to smell it. "He spent $400,000 in three months," says his brother Roy. "He was afraid people woudn't love him anymore."
Then, six months after the Ali fight, he beat up five men in one night in a Toronto exhibition that bordered on vaudeville. Six months later he lifted a 500-pound steer onto his shoulders and walked around with it for a publicity shot. He was flailing at love and acceptance the same way he did at Ali, thinking he could win them by exertion of muscle and might. He'd drop a thousand-dollar bill on his mama's dresser and shake his head when she made him sit and wait while she used it to buy him pork and french fries. He'd peel off a grand for his daddy and watch him use it to buy whisky in the same old half-pint bottle.
"He wouldn't open up back then," says his mother, Nancy. "I wouldn't dare to go to his house or call him, he'd get in moods so mean. Then he'd drop by and buy me a Cadillac. I didn't want no Cadillac, I didn't want the neighborhood to think I was some big shot. But after that Ali fight he didn't come to see me for a month, he felt so ashamed."
He fought Frazier again, and instead of going to the neutral corner when he clubbed Frazier to the floor, he stood over him and sneered at the audience that had booed him. "I was one step away from putting my foot on the man's chest," he recalled. "I thought if I killed a man it would only make me more vicious. After I'd lost to Ali, I'd decided I needed more hate. I'd hit you in the kidneys or on the back of the head. I'd beat women as hard as I beat men. [He paid a woman $30,000 in a settlement stemming from an assault and battery charge.] You psych yourself to become an animal to box, and that's what you become. A lion sleeps 75 percent of the day, the rest he eats and breeds—just like a boxer."
He began to notice the changes coming over him. Before, he had always gone into the loser's dressing room to console him. Sometimes he even paid losers extravagant fees to become his sparring partners—so he could ease his guilt. Now he couldn't bear to witness the damage he had wrought. It was taking him longer after each fight to regain control of his speech. To camouflage it, he'd glower into the camera and give curt answers, then go home and recite The Spider and the Fly over and over into a tape recorder, horrified at the way the words wobbled out. The word "optimistic" would come out "omomistis" until five years after he retired.
Even though he was winning again, the picture he kept in his trophy case—the one of him heading toward the floor, with Ali standing over him—kept flashing back. It seemed that every time he turned on one of his eight televisions, Ali's face was there to mock him.