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George Foreman wins gold in 1968 heavyweight title match

‘If I hadn’t found boxing, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill half of my dreams. In fact, I didn’t know how to dream until I found boxing.’

The 1968 Olympics heavyweight boxing title in Mexico City was pegged the “Cold War clash.”

In one corner was 29-year-old Ionas Chepulis of the Soviet Union. In the other corner, standing 10 years his junior, was George Foreman, representing the United States.

“When I look back at the fight, all I can remember was how afraid I was,” Foreman told BBC Sports‘ Saj Chowdhury. “Chepulis was representing another ‘superpower.’ I didn’t have the confidence that people thought I had.

“I wanted to win gold, but didn’t expect anything like that to happen in my life.”

Foreman reached the championship match after defeating Poland’s Lucjan Trela, Romania’s Ion Alexe and Italy’s Giorgio Bambini. The match took place 48 years ago on Oct. 26, 1968.

Chepulis soon realized the power behind Foreman’s jabs, when two minutes into the first round, he had a bloody face. The mauling only got worse in the second round, when the boxer was given a standing count by the referee, who eventually called the fight and saved Chepulis before the bell.

“The left jab was my No. 1 punch — I still think it was the best punch in boxing,” Foreman said.

The 1968 Mexico City Games are best remembered for John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest that took place 10 days before Foreman won the gold medal. The sprinters raised their fists in defiance to protest for black civil rights in the States.

So some observers took offense at Foreman bowing before the judges and gleefully running around the ring with a tiny U.S. flag. His actions were perceived as undermining Smith and Carlos’ protest, but Foreman has defended his post-victory response, explaining he just wanted people to know where he came from.

“I had a lot of flak,” he said. “In those days, nobody was applauded for being patriotic. The whole world was protesting something. But if I had to do it all again, I’d have waved two flags.”

One of the men whom people accused Foreman of insulting came to his defense years later. Carlos, who won bronze in the 200-meter event, said the criticism of Foreman was unnecessary.

“You know, a lot of people on the left thought, ‘Oh, George, he disrespected us,’ or ‘he hurt us,’ or ‘he didn’t stand up for us.’ Totally wrong. George was a tremendous individual during that time in ’68, and he’s even greater in life today,” Carlos told Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman.

In the grand scheme of things, Foreman reflected, the gold medal bout and victory was nothing compared with the fight he was in two years earlier. Foreman escaped his impoverished conditions in Texas, found his way to Oregon to enter Lyndon B. Johnson’s Job Corps program and emerged from coach Doc Broaddus’ tutelage as a boxer who only needed 21 amateur contests to show he was ready for the Summer Games.

“If I hadn’t found boxing, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill half of my dreams,” Foreman said. “In fact, I didn’t know how to dream until I found boxing.

“To be standing on that platform was testimony to what hard work, drive and a compassionate society can do for you.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.