By George, punch lines still landing

KEN ROSENTHAL

April 09, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

WASHINGTON -- George Foreman says this is his last fight. If you believe that, there's a piece of land he'd like to sell you, provided he doesn't use it to construct a new national headquarters for Jenny Craig.

Big George, retire?

Can't happen.

As evidence, we present the minutes from a news conference yesterday, in which Foreman promoted his June 7 heavyweight bout against Tommy Morrison with a fervor no televangelist could match.

Why, Big George worked himself into a frenzy -- not about Morrison, who is best known for his star turn in "Rocky V," but the possibility of fans waiting too long to order the fight on pay-per-view.

"I want to warn everyone!" Foreman announced, nearly busting out of his blue denim jacket. "Don't wait till the last minute! The lines are going to be too busy! You will never be able to get in!"

Later, he taped promotional spots for virtually every cable system in the Baltimore-Washington area, shouting the 800 pay-per-view number as if the apocalypse was coming and ordering the fight was the only way out.

You can't help but laugh when Foreman is working the room, but it's all in a day's work for the most marketable heavyweight since Muhammad Ali. The truth is, Foreman can't retire. Boxing wouldn't stand for it.

The Morrison fight is expected to be the biggest pay-per-view event of all time, even though Foreman is 40-something in age and 250-something in weight, with a cholesterol count from hell.

Morrison, an explosive puncher, is 36-1 with 32 knockouts. He'd qualify as the next Great White Hope, except his one loss was to Ray Mercer, the clown who blew a $1 million payday against Riddick Bowe by losing to Jesse Ferguson in February.

Ali-Frazier III it isn't, but 2 million viewers are expected. At $29.95 a pop, that translates into nearly a $60 million gross -- not including the live gate from the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, where the top ticket price will be $600.

Think Foreman doesn't sell? A Jan. 16 doubleheader featuring his eight-round TKO of Pierre Coetzer and Morrison's eight-round TKO of Carl Williams drew better HBO ratings than a recent Michael Jackson concert.

And speaking of The King of Pop . . .

"I'm going to befriend Michael Jackson, and so will the Golden Boy," Foreman said, pointing to the blond-haired Morrison. "We may need him to tell us who his plastic surgeon is."

Oh, it's going to be a war. And, lest we forget, it's for the WBO title. Never heard of the WBO? It's not the WBC, WBA or IBF. But XTC Big George promises to wrap its belt around his neck rather than his ample waist, and live happily ever after.

"This is my title match," Foreman said. "I followed the WBC and WBA like a puppy: 'Please, please, please.' They're no longer in my dreams. There's a WBO. It's going to fulfill every dream I have. After that, I won't pursue any boxing at all."

Of course, Foreman made this dramatic announcement only aftertelling the story of how he reluctantly took the fight against Morrison, a boxer he compared to "one of those peppers you don't want to bite into -- a jalapeno."

It all started when the WBO agreed to make Foreman-Morrison a title bout, as long as it was scheduled for 12 rounds.

The first offer to Foreman was $1 million.

"I talked to my wife about it," he said. "She said, 'Darling, you should retire, you shouldn't fight anymore, it's just not safe.'"

The second offer was $2.5 million.

"I don't care," his wife said. "You shouldn't fight again. You should walk away from it."

The final offer was $6 million.

"Are you afraid of Tommy Morrison," his wife asked, "or what?"

See why it's difficult to believe he'll retire?

Still, Foreman insisted, "This will probably be the last time I step in the ring." Asked what it would take to change his mind, he said, "A stock-market crash. The total financial collapse of the country."

Foreman claimed that Bowe and Lennox Lowe ducked him, so now he's not interested in their titles. Still, the Bowe-Lewis fight will eventually come off. Foreman lists his age as "about 45." Who's to say he won't still be around?

"It's obvious I'm closer to 50 than I am to 20," Foreman said. "But I'm productive. People who are 50 or 60 have to realize they don't need to live with fear. I had the fear. I broke out of it."

Broke out of it, and broke the bank.

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