Ready to match paunch for punch Bulk of evidence favors champ...

April 19, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

DON'T GO OUT and eat a hot fudge sundae worrying over the fate of 42-year-old overweight heavyweight George Foreman tonight's title fight against Evander Holyfield.

As amazing as it seems, two of three sports medicine physicians interviewed say Foreman's age, weight and reflexes do not put him at any greater risk than the 28-year-old Holyfield.

In fact, if a man is going to resume boxing at an advanced age, then Foreman has done it exactly right, said Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon, boxing expert and sports medicine specialist in Concord, Mass.

"He took 10 years off," said Cantu. "What that means is that he hasn't taken a lot of blows to the head. In terms of a boxer's brain, we're talking about one that's 32, not 42."

And what that means is that Foreman's reflexes and his hand-eye coordination are intact.

"He is not in any greater danger of suffering a severe head injury than Holyfield," said Cantu.

L But the extra weight and his age will affect his foot speed.

"Foreman is not going to dance around the ring," Cantu said. "He's going to walk and try to slug. He'll move his upper body and try to block blows with his arms, but he's not going to move around the ring."

Of course, there is an unavoidable deterioration of the human body that comes with aging.

Dr. Bill Howard of the Sports Medicine Clinic at Union Memorial Hospital said at a world-class level of competition, no matter how hard a man trains and no matter how well-conditioned he is, a younger man will still be the better competitor.

It is one of the few facts that is bad news for Foreman.

"If you have been in maximum condition at age 25, no matter how hard you train you will never reach that level again," Howard said. "It is very frustrating. In real years, George Foreman is 68 years old, beyond retirement age. He should be grazing in green pastures with his flock."

Yet Dr. Robert Voy, chairman of the United States Amateur Boxing medical committee and a member of the International Boxing Federation, believes Foreman's only real handicap is lack of endurance.

"I don't think, historically speaking, that it is a good idea to be boxing at his age, but Archie Moore was still winning fights at age 46," said Voy. "Foreman isn't just stepping into the ring for this fight. He deserves the opportunity. He has been at it for the last two years to get to this position. And it is proven that training can keep an athlete on a par."

There are three elements that make up an athlete, according to Dr. Cantu: Endurance, strength and coordination.

Endurance peaks in an athlete in his late 20s to mid 30s. At age 42, with 250 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, that is the bad news for Foreman. The rest of the scientific information on aging athletes, however, is surprisingly positive.

Strength and power peaks in the late 30s or early 40s and then begins a slow decline, about one percent a year.

As for coordination, Cantu said it can be maintained at nearly 100 percent until at least age 50 before beginning any kind of decline.

"If you want to put it in terms of other people," Cantu said, "think of a great pianist or string musician. They play with dexterity in their 70s and 80s, close to their peak in terms of reaction time and coordination in doing intricate moves.

"Think of tennis players, who continue to enjoy the sport in their 70s and 80s. At that age, they can't move their bodies, they can't run. But if they can reach the ball, they have the hand-eye coordination necessary to make volleys and keep the ball in play."

Still, Voy and Howard point out, a man Foreman's age will grow leg and arm weary faster than a man Holyfield's age, especially if the older man is carrying more weight.

All three doctors have differing opinions about tonight's outcome.

"I don't think Foreman has any chance at all." said Howard. "He is big and strong and knows how to box, but youth is going to beat him, unless he gets in a lucky punch."

Cantu, who thinks Foreman is a wonderful story and a wonderful human being, hopes he doesn't win.

"It would send all the wrong messages," he said. "If he wins it will be because God gave him a talent, not because he is old and fat and loves pork chops and hamburgers."

Voy, whose office is in Las Vegas, laughs and says he is making his pick based on how much training and stabilizing work has been done on neck muscles.

"I'm batting a thousand picking fights this way," joked Voy, who picked Mike Tyson over Razor Ruddock for that reason. "I'm going with Holyfield. His neck is 19 1/2 inches compared to Foreman's 18."

So much for science.

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