Foreman turns fat chance into firm challenge

Mike Littwin

April 20, 1991|By Mike Littwin

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- George Foreman didn't win, but that wasn't the point, was it?

He was slow and fat and old. And somehow now, that doesn't matter so much either.

What seems to matter is that, in losing, Foreman was indomitable. You're even tempted to say invincible. This fight was not the stuff of fast-talking con games, or of an old man's professed fondness for cheeseburgers.

This was Foreman standing up to a relentless barrage of punches, trading them with his own, losing, yes, but losing with dignity. There were no laughs Friday night. There was shock and surprise and admiration.

"He had the points," Foreman said. "But I made a point -- you're never too old to dream. I came within inches of winning the heavyweight championship. The only thing that stoped me is Evander Holyfield's strong jaw."

Foreman, with a strong jaw of his own, didn't go down when he had to go down, when logic said he had to fall, when Holyfield threw punches that would have felled half a redwood forest. And yet, Foreman stood. The fat slipped over his trunks, his breathing was labored, but he stood, and, in his better moments, he moved forward and connected his fist to Holyfield's head. They weren't the old Foreman punches, the kind that would have sent Holyfield flying. But the old man hurt the young man once or maybe twice. In the end, the young man was tying up the old man in clinches.

There was no way to believe it possible.

"I hit George with all I had," Holyfield said. "For five years, when I hit guys with all I had, they went out."

Holyfield was surprised by Foreman's stamina. We all were. He said Foreman had a granite chin, although he didn't look to be exactly carved in stone. But he stood, even between rounds, just to prove a point. There are fighters who dance all night. Foreman stood, and that was plenty.

Foreman insisted he belonged in the ring at age 42 and at 257 pounds and despite ringing up a long line of opponents without any hint of pedigree. He was right. All of us -- who, me? -- who said he didn't were wrong.

Point proven. Point taken.

The fans believed. They cheered his every punch, even the ones he waved feebly in Holyfield's direction. And in the few rounds when Foreman delivered hard shots to Holyfield's head, the crowd went nuts. The people chanted his name. They were like the home-town baseball crowd thinking every fly ball to center was a home run.

They were his people here at the Convention Center. That's why it isn't always so easy to separate the winner from the loser, even in a so-called unanimous decision.

Foreman came back to the ring four years ago for a number of reasons, not least in quest of money. He earned at least $12.5 million Friday night in a fight that he made important. In the four-year comeback, he made himself into a lovable grandfather who joked his way into our hearts and to the nearest buffet line.

It was his fight, his promotion.

"This fight," said promoter Bob Arum, plainly in awe of Foreman's salesmanship and glad to stay in his leviathan shadow, "is 80 percent George Foreman, 20 percent the heavyweight championship and this much (forming his fingers to make a zero) Evander Holyfield."

They came to watch Foreman, and they watched in record numbers. The estimates on pay-per-view generally fell between 1.5 million and two million homes, contributing to a take that may reach $100 million and shatter all the records.

The surprise was not that they tuned in, but that they stayed tuned in. People got their money's worth. Foreman was saying throughout this promotion that people trusted him. They still will.

They have to trust him after the third round, when he took three big lefts to the head in what would become an eight-punch barrage. They have to trust him after the seventh when he took maybe a dozen shots, including a powerhouse right that looked like the punch Mongo threw in "Blazing Saddles."

The people were shouting for a rematch. Holyfield didn't seem so sure.

"I don't see any reason," he said, "why I have to fight him again."

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