RENO, Nev. -- The script went according to plan here last night as George Foreman battered Jimmy Ellis for the good part of three rounds before Richard Steele mercifully stopped this thorough and one-sided whipping.
The referee stepped in to stop the fight at 1 minute, 36 seconds of the third with Ellis beaten and dazed.
There were no surprises -- except that Ellis was paid more than $100,000 a round ($325,000 total) by HBO to absorb punishment at the hands of Captain Cheeseburger.
Ellis came right at Foreman in the first round, but the big man pumped a stiff left jab that had the Redondo Beach, Calif., native's face red midway through the round.
Foreman came with the big guns in the second. He hammered Ellis to the body while continuing to work the jab. Foreman caught Ellis on the ropes late in the round with a crashing left to the head.
Ellis was so stunned he began walking to the wrong corner after the bell sounded.
As Foreman pounded away at will with heavy rights and lefts in the third, he looked at Steele as if asking him to stop the fight. The ref let it go on for a time, but stopped it as Foreman battered his defenseless opponent against the ropes.
Foreman, who improved his record to 70-3 (66 KOs), had not fought since April, when he lost a unanimous decision to heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield in Atlantic City. Foreman modified his training routine over the past six months after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee -- he wouldn't say which one -- in May.
Ellis, now 16-1-1 (15 KOs), looked puffy and out of shape at 228. It was clear he had built his record on stiffs, and also clear he came here looking for a quick and big payday. His biggest purse, prior to fighting Foreman, was $4,000. Foreman, who weighed in at 257, received $5 million for his work last night.
The fight likely marked the beginning of the final chapter of Foreman's remarkable comeback that began in 1987.
Foreman will turn 43 next month and is fighting on borrowed time. His wife Joan has given him one more year to fight before he goes back to full-time duties as a preacher in Marshall, Texas.
"I sat down with the family [Foreman has eight children] after the Holyfield fight to discuss the future," Foreman said. "We came up with a plan."
The result of the meeting was the year deadline (which runs out in May '92) for a title shot. If a title fight is signed before the deadline, Foreman can take the fight even if it is scheduled in the summer or fall.
Foreman's wife has carried the brunt of the family burden since he launched his comeback. He isn't blowing smoke when he says if there is no title fight signed before the deadline expires he will call it quits.
Joan Foreman was pregnant when her husband launched the comeback. "Now, we've had three children born since I got back in boxing," Foreman said. "She had to be mother, father, psychologist and driver. She said one year. I said, 'That's fair.' "
Foreman owes HBO one more fight after last night's bout. He will honor that commitment. The chance of him getting another title shot will depend on the verdict an Indianapolis jury delivers in the Mike Tyson trial. Tyson has been charged with rape and the trial begins in January.
If he's exonerated, the heat will be on for a Tyson-Holyfield fight. If Tyson is found guilty, the door could be open for Holyfield-Foreman II.
On the undercard, Rafael Pineda captured the IBF junior welterweight title by knocking out Roger Mayweather in the ninth round of a scheduled 12-rounder. This was a dull game of cat and mouse with Mayweather running and Pineda chasing. Pineda caught Mayweather flush on the jaw with a looping left hook at the two-minute mark of the ninth, sending him down with his head lodged between the bottom rope strands as referee Mills Lane counted him out. The three judges at ringside had the fight even before Pineda delivered the finishing blow.