- No Way but to Fight: George Foreman and the Business of Boxing by Andrew R. M. Smith
Despite its storied history as an integral part of the American sporting scene, in recent decades boxing's popularity has declined precipitously. George Foreman, therefore, represents one of a dying breed in the late twentieth century—an American professional boxer who emerged from his increasingly marginalized sport to become a well-recognized popular culture figure. While a few fighters from the lighter-weight classes managed the same feat, only Foreman developed such a status in the post–Mike Tyson heavyweight ranks. Foreman's rise was all the more remarkable for occurring during a middle-aged comeback, when he was old enough to be the father of the other, then-current celebrity fighters. In No Way but to Fight: George Foreman and the Business of Boxing, Andrew R. M. Smith adopts a straightforward, chronological approach to limn both Foreman's career in and out of the ring and the social and cultural forces that affected it.
Smith notes that, for Foreman, the "most consistent aspect of his career remains the ability to adapt and reshape his image" (8) and that those changes undergird much of this [End Page 88] monograph. The chameleon-like nature of Foreman's image makes him a slippery subject for a biographer, but Smith deftly charts the boxer's evolution from his initial appearance in the limelight as the symbol of patriotic African American athletes at the contentious 1968 Olympics to the grandfatherly television figure of the early twenty-first century. As Smith illuminates, the evolution of Foreman's public persona often emerged from the intersection of both the changing (and charged) racial environment in which he operated and the cutthroat development of the modern business of boxing. While many of his image shifts reflect agency on Foreman's part, Smith also delves deeply into the machinations of boxing managers and promoters who sought to shape the fighter's persona for financial reasons. Smith's Foreman emerges from the narrative as a principled yet adaptable figure navigating the difficult waters of fame and the fight game. That genial and moral core also allowed Foreman to build a successful post-ring career as a popular and trusted celebrity endorser and television personality.
While Smith offers an excellent account of both the public and private George Foreman, a few issues do arise. Although the author's claim to chart Foreman's entire career is true, the monograph focuses heavily on the fighter's first stint in the ring; the Houston native's successful boxing comeback and transition to product pitchman receive only a cursory examination late in the book. Those individuals seeking a detailed study of Foreman after the 1980s will find useful information here, but they may also need to look elsewhere. Despite a lengthy exposition on Foreman's family background and childhood, Smith's decision not to specify the year of his subject's birth is a peculiar omission in a biography. The large number of sentence fragments that stud the otherwise lively text also disconcerted this reviewer. These are, however, minor quibbles with a strong monograph that deserves a wide audience in academia and beyond.