Don't tell it to a soul, but Foreman is training

JOHN EISENBERG

February 09, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

WASHINGTON -- In between the videos and flags and ice sculptures and bad jokes and map-of-the-world balloons and sick kids and ex-champions and hangers-on and gospel and flacks and self-flagellating speeches from everyone who ever uttered the word "boxing," George Foreman and Evander Holyfield assumed the usual stances yesterday.

Holyfield was the young, clean champion of all that is good. Foreman was the fat, old man. Those are the roles they have affected during the semi-cartoon hype-a-thon they have undertaken in advance of their upcoming championship fight. It moved through these parts yesterday with most of the talk, as usual, about hamburgers, pizzas and other matters of the mouth.

"I used to eat a dozen eggs when I got up in the morning," Foreman said, "but now I'm in training, so I'm down to 11."

Ba-da-bum.

"George is a light eater," said Lou Duva, a Holyfield adviser. "As soon as it gets light, he eats."

But seriously. . .

"I have a left and a right and a jab and a hook," Foreman said, "and if they don't work, I've got a secret weapon: the belly-bump."

Ba-bum.

The hotel manager presented Foreman with a key, not to the city, but the hotel kitchen. A reporter asked whether the fight might be moved if Donald Trump couldn't raise the money. "All I know," Foreman said, "is that wherever they have the fight, even if it's in a phone booth behind Evander's house, there'll be a dynamite pre-fight buffet."

That is the routine, the shtick. Holyfield and his chiseled body-by-committee against, well, against the anti-athlete. The 42-year-old who trains on hamburgers. A cross between Big Bird and Henny Youngman.

"He's got a nutritionist," Foreman said, "and I've got room service."

Ba-da-bum.

If only it all were true.

It isn't.

"I've had my eye on George during this tour," Duva said, "and he's shrinking."

He is indeed. Big George, as they call him, isn't as big as he was last month, or even last week. The hype doctors are going to hate it when the word gets out. They're going to scream. But it's true: Big George is in training. For real.

"I see him going out to run every morning," Duva said. "I'm heading up to the weight room with Evander, and Big George is heading out to the street. It's the real thing. I don't know what he's doing out there, but he's gone a long time."

All the jokes, the schmoozing, the bit about eating a dozen hamburgers for a snack -- it is just an act at this point, a gastronomic rope-a-dope. Foreman has lost a lot of weight in the last month. We don't know how much. Some reports have put it at 40 pounds. We do know that he looked pretty lean yesterday. Lean for a human whale.

"All I know," Holyfield said, "is that George couldn't fit into a sports jacket when we started this tour [last month], and now he can. I can see what's going on. He's getting into shape. No doubt about it."

Foreman would have you believe that he does it by eating more, by hurling calories and carbos down his mega-hatch without any conscience. He just jokes about it, then jokes about it some more. After a month of touring, he has the part down.

"I'm going on a strict diet of cornbread, turnip greens and burgers," he said.

"It took me years to put this weight on," he said. "I'm not going to part with it."

But he is. It is happening right now, as you eat your breakfast. And Foreman will admit it if you persist.

"I'm in good shape," he said, letting his guard down briefly. "I've been running."

Seven miles a day, he said. Soon he will go to an island in the Caribbean. A place for some good, hard training?

"Naw," he said, "just a place with good room service."

Ba-da-bum.

You can't beat him. No. You can't beat the news out of him. All you can do is look. Look at him and measure. That's what the people in the Holyfield camp are doing. They are looking and measuring. And they are watching Big George shrink. Watching the hamburger man eat not quite so many anymore.

"All this talk about hamburgers," sniffed Bob Arum, the promoter, "but the man is really running and training. He goes into the gym to spar twice a day. He isn't taking any shortcuts."

Meanwhile, the show goes on. The videos and flags and ice sculptures and bad jokes and map-of-the-world balloons and sick kids and ex-champions and hangers-on and gospel and flacks and self-flagellating speeches from everyone who ever uttered the word "boxing." And the shtick.

"I went back and looked up his birth certificate," Duva said, "and in the month he was born, he came out on the 22nd, the 23rd and part of the 24th."

But seriously. . .

"As soon as I'm through here," Foreman said, "I'm going to find me a big plate of hamburgers. Get down to some real business."

Ba-bum.

He is grinning. He sees people catching on. He sees them looking. He knows. This isn't in the script. The hype doctors are going to hate it.

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