Get serious? George won't until he's in ring

Phil Jackman

April 18, 1991|By Phil Jackman

ATLANTIC CITY -- The only time George Foreman doesn't talk about food is when he's eating. Then, he launches into a series of age quips as the eyes of those assigned to listen glaze over.

It's a fairly interesting spiel Big George brought back to the fight game four years ago, but it has long since worn out.

Still, old habits die hard. "I got the heart of a guy in his 20s," he says. "When other fighters were getting hit, I was resting and eating." (Rim shot.)

If one waits long enough, however, Foreman will slip and allow a little boxing to creep into his monologue. What makes this timely is, in fact, the 43-year-old ex-champion climbs into the Convention Hall ring tomorrow night to challenge Evander Holyfield for his undisputed heavyweight crown.

"Imagine it," says Foreman, giving a pretty good imitation of a guy scarcely able to believe it himself.

"But I said all along this isn't a comeback," he continues. "It's a new career, a resurrection. That's why I took my time and worked my way up like any other kid starting out."

As opposed to a Sugar Ray Leonard, say, who un-retired several times for lucrative fights (against Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran), Foreman says, "I didn't start out looking for a quick title shot. I knew this was going to take some time."

And that meant a series of $25,000 fights, which grew to six figures and, at least once, a million dollar purse. There are those who say George fought a bunch of nobodies since returning from a 10-year hiatus. And he quickly defuses the charge with, "Aw, they're only saying that because it's true."

But Foreman had no intention of proving he could beat this guy or that guy or that he could fight. He had proven that years ago by winning in the Olympics, then storming to the heavyweight crown as a pro. The names of most of the stiffs he punched around meant nothing; he just wanted to get back in the job of fighting.

"Of course I'm not the same as I was in the '70s," he says. "Thank heaven. That was a bad dude. I'm an old man and I've got to fight like an old man."

Translated, that means George won't be jumping around, bobbing and weaving, doubling up on the jab and looking to win points with swift combinations. There's no deep, dark and secret method to Foreman's style. "I knock guys out, that's all," he says.

Even in the heyday of his youth, Foreman wasn't what you'd call a stylist. He was big, menacing and plodding, and his hands, never really fast, swung in wide arcs like wrecking balls.

Until Muhammad Ali dismantled him, pushing him to self-destruction with the brilliant rope-a-dope tactic in Zaire, Foreman could end a fight with just a few smashes. Now, many years later, he relies on the cumulative effect.

One of his sparring partners, Mark Young, says, "George doesn't throw those vicious shots anymore. He doesn't try to take your head off. But he hurts you over and over again because he's so heavy-handed. Pretty soon, you're sore all over."

If Foreman's hands are slow, he's nearly inert from the waist down. But, as he points out, "I've learned a hundred little tricks I never knew before. Things like not wasting punches, cutting down the ring and grabbing a breather by clinching."

With each victory over the last few years, George has gotten smoother and smoother as a promoter. You want to make fun of Foreman's work? Go ahead, and here's a few one-liners you might want to work in there, George would offer. "People were coming to see me," he says.

A good-sized segment of the "fight crowd" began to change its mind about George the night he zapped Gerry Cooney in two rounds. Now no one ever mistook Gerry for Jersey Joe Walcott, that's for sure, but he had the most powerful left hook around and he had done well against some good people, notably Larry Holmes.

In the first round, Cooney nailed Big George with a left hook that shook water off the pipes in the distant shower room. Foreman blinked but didn't budge. Shortly thereafter he hit Cooney with four straight punches that ended it.

To that point, George had doubts about his power, the power that once had been so devastating (six knockdowns in four minutes) against Joe Frazier. "I got my power back, amazing," he recalls.

"Look, there is only so many things you can do in boxing," George says when asked about fight strategy. "You're not allowed to kick and you cannot bite. So a lot of it is kind of like foolishness. It's all about fist-fighting.

"Other guys have strategy. I've never had to prepare any because I do it the simple way. I knock guys out."

With that, George Foreman has had enough of shop talk. "Too serious," he explains. "People get enough of that. We've got all these problems and people get it every day on the TV or in the papers.

"Tell me a joke, would ya? Why give them the serious stuff now? When the bell rings, everyone's going to know I'm serious."

Maybe even Evander Holyfield, who is holding as a 7-to-2 favorite.

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