Few remember what George Foreman was initially set to learn in Lyndon Johnson’s Job Corps in 1966, but needless to say, he came out of it with a profession.
Foreman learned how to box through the Jobs Corps amateur team, though his start gave no one any indication that he would one day have a face as recognizable as a president of the United States.
Foreman began his career with two miserable failures, both losses, yet, he was an Olympic gold medalist two years later in Mexico City after overcoming even greater disappointment.
It is, he said, the spirit of the Golden Gloves that saw him through.
“I didn’t win a lot of amateur fights,” said Foreman, who, along with Sugar Ray Leonard, another of boxing’s greatest champions and with a Golden Gloves history, attended Nancy Lieberman’s Dream Ball at the Factory Ballroom on Monday evening. “I only had 25. But when I started winning, I didn’t stop until I won the gold medal.
“You gotta start somewhere, and all of the great ones started in the Golden Gloves.”
The 81st Fort Worth Regional Golden Gloves tournament begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Watt Arena on the grounds of the Will Rogers Memorial Center. The tournament continues through Saturday. Champions crowned in the open divisions on Saturday will advance to the state tournament next week in Fort Worth.
All have dreams of being the next Foreman and Leonard, who used two Golden Gloves national titles as a springboard to Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976, or even Muhammad Ali, who was posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award. Before he was a three-time world champion and Olympic medalist, then Cassius Clay was a Golden Gloves national champion in 1960.
So was Marvin Hagler, Michael Spinks — a gold medal-winning teammate of Leonard in 1976 —Thomas Hearns, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Johnny Tapia and Oscar De La Hoya.
Indeed the great ones did start right here at this level.
“You’re always doing something that is part of someone else’s dream. My original coach believed in me,” Foreman said. “He kept saying, ‘let’s go’ … he’d drive me to another tournament. If he had left me alone, I wouldn’t have done it. You’ve got to have somebody who believes in you.”
Leonard’s amateur and professional career is considered one of boxing’s best at the welterweight and middleweight divisions. His bouts with Roberto Duran, Hearns and Hagler became instant lore.
What makes his career all the more noteworthy in North Texas is how it intersected with stars of the Fort Worth and Texas state Golden Gloves tournament.
Leonard defeated Ronnie Shields — three times a national Golden Gloves champion from Port Arthur —in the first round of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials in Cincinnati, and Fort Worth’s Bruce Curry in the final. Curry, a future world champion and older brother of Donald Curry, lost in a decision in the bout that decided who advanced to Montreal.
Longtime observers of the Golden Gloves call bouts between Shields and Donald Curry in the state tournament at Will Rogers Coliseum in 1979 and 1980 as the most memorable in the last 40 years.
Leonard beamed when asked about that Trials fight.
“It was a tough fight. It was the fight that propelled me,” said Leonard.
Donald Curry, at the time considered the world’s best boxer, pound-for-pound, unified the world welterweight division in 1985 after Leonard retired because of an eye injury. Rumors swirled and the boxing world anticipated a fight between Curry and Leonard, who did eventually return but in a match pitting him against Hagler as a middleweight.
Paul Reyes, Curry’s trainer, is convinced Curry would have defeated Leonard, who was accused of dodging the Fort Worth folk hero.
“There were always discussions, but nothing ever materialized,” Leonard said. “It was just one of those things. We were not in the right place in the right time.”
Regional Golden Gloves
7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, Watt Arena, Will Rogers Memorial Center, Fort Worth