Foreman hopes to save best punch line for Holyfield Comeback trail leads to fight with . . . that other guy


April 19, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Is it time yet to say a few words about Evander Holyfield?


Come on, folks, the fight is tonight, and he's going to be there. He's not on the under card either, or even the underweight card.

Holyfield is the actual heavyweight champion. I know, he's Martin to George Foreman's Lewis. He's the straight man, a second banana. You can say this much for Holyfield, though: You couldn't have the fight tonight without him.

Oh, and one more thing. He's the luckiest person since Ringo. We'll get to that when we're done with George.

The story line here is all Foreman. Is he too old? Is he too fat? Is he a con man? What will he say next, and will his mouth be full when he talks?

"Will I have butterflies in my stomach?" Foreman is saying during one of his frequent stops in the press room (he does three performances daily, including, of course, a supper show). "Sure, I'll have butterflies. I'll eat them, too."

It's as if Dom DeLuise were fighting for the heavyweight title. What's clear is that Foreman represents the hopes and dreams of middle-aged people who live with the hope that love handles are sexy.

George smiles throughout his spiel. He's always smiling. Why not? He made this fight happen. He did it by sheer force of imagination. And he's going to make a minimum of $12.5 million, which is the kind of imagining that Disney used to do on the big screen.

Whatever the joke is, it's not on Foreman.

Here's the truth about the fight. It's probably not going to be close. It figures to be ugly and maybe even sad, although not as sad as when Ali lost to Holmes. That one broke your heart. In this fight, no matter how hard you might be pulling for Foreman, you have to remember that he has won just by climbing into the ring. If nothing else, you have to admire his audacity.

How can he beat Holyfield? It's a physical impossibility to film Foreman in slow-motion, even with a wide-angle lens. If Holyfield statuesque, Foreman is statuary. When you watch him work out, all you can think of is that he'd made a great coat rack. Even his own cornerman, Angelo Dundee, says, "George has two speeds -- slow and stop." If you wanted to make this an even fight, you'd have to chain Holyfield to a post.

Foreman is enormous, with Bunyanesque arms. If you need a guy to chop wood, look him up. But, to win, to get the puncher's chance that someone like Foreman relies on, he actually has to hit Holyfield, who has never even been knocked down. It seems he either can take a punch or knows how to get out of way of a punch. Or both.

Foreman keeps moving, keeps coming. And Holyfield, when he's not dodging Foreman's mailed-in punches, he's working the body. For four or five rounds, Holyfield pounds away at Foreman's ample frame and, eventually, exhausted, Foreman falls, like a wounded elephant.

He is 42, folks. Forty-two. Two times 21. Old enough to know better.

In the year of the comeback, there's a trend that we should have picked up on by now. The comebacks don't work. Jim Palmer gets hit and then limps away from the scene. Look how roughed up he got, and he wasn't even fighting. Mark Spitz turns out just to be another aging pool boy with his hair dyed. He thought the fountain of youth had racing lanes.

Wishing doesn't make it so. Although what makes Foreman so appealing is the case he makes for wishing and hoping. "Without a dream," he says, "you might as well be dead."

Which brings us to Holyfield, the ignored one. Don't dare feel sorry for him. This man's path is littered with horseshoes.

To begin with, Mike Tyson, when he was champion, kept ducking him. That is as good a break as you can ask for. So, instead of Tyson, Holyfield gets to fight Buster Douglas, the worst heavyweight champion since Ingemar Johansson. Douglas was a fluke, and a sloppy, fat fluke at that. This was a pushover, with Douglas providing the loud thud as he fell to the canvas, where he awaited the public ridicule to follow.

Douglas became a joke, and Holyfield became the champion. And who is lying in wait for him with a many-million-dollar promotion? Yes, our George. Foreman, who is not only fat but also old, is there to make Holyfield a rich man -- and he still doesn't have to fight Tyson. He doesn't even have to fight Riddick Bowe.

In the nightmarish world of boxing, Foreman is a dream opponent. Here's a guy who hasn't taken on a decent fighter since 1977, when Holyfield was 14. As Holyfield grew up, Foreman grew old. The only mystery here is that nobody seems to remember that.

In the end, everyone will get what he wants. Holyfield defends his title and gets the money. Foreman gets all that attention and all that money. The public is made happy, at least until the fight begins, after which some of them will yell fraud. It's not a fraud. But it may very well be a farce.

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