Schulz bout nearly KOs big payday

ON THE AIR

April 24, 1995|By MILTON KENT

If you see Time-Warner Sports president Seth Abraham, tell him he can start breathing again, because George Foreman escaped the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas on Saturday with the heavyweight championship.

Abraham's stomach must have been in knots, watching Foreman eke out a controversial majority decision over Axel Schulz, because a Foreman loss would have nixed just about any hope of a fight with Mike Tyson, thereby costing Time-Warner a share of the biggest payday in boxing history.

Even with Big George getting the win, albeit tainted, one wonders how damaged the prospects of such a bout are now, with Foreman looking every bit of his 46 years for the first time in his comeback.

"I think a lot of people would say maybe George isn't up to being heavyweight champion," said HBO analyst Larry Merchant, the only commentator of the network's quartet to give Foreman the win.

Foreman's performance didn't stop him from talking a little trash. He said Tyson, who signed a deal with Showtime, would have to come to either HBO or TVKO, Time Warner's pay-per-view arm, which more likely would telecast such a fight.

Even if Showtime, which would demand a healthy stand-aside fee, and Tyson's promoter of choice, the ubiquitous Don King, were persuaded to get out of the way, Michael Moorer, whom Foreman defeated last November for the crown, and now Schulz should get shots at the punchin' preacher before Tyson would. In fact, Merchant said Moorer is contractually entitled to a fight with Foreman, so he probably would have to be paid off, too.

As for Saturday's telecast, it was up to HBO's usual superior standards, with Jim Lampley providing a solid play-by-play. The network looked particularly prescient when it arranged a satellite feed from Schulz's hometown in Germany, with shots of the locals throwing things at a giant screen after the decision was announced.

One negative: Viewers really don't need the post-fight interviews with pugilists who will be engaging each other two weeks down the road in a fight that just surprisingly will be on TVKO.

Strange Magic

What kind of effect would Magic Johnson's return to active basketball have on NBA ratings? Certainly not the same as Michael Jordan's, if for no other reason than he has done it before.

Remember, Johnson made a triumphant comeback to the NBA three years ago at the 1992 All-Star Game, which preceded his captaincy of the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team.

A second comeback might give NBC's ratings a slight uptick, but it probably wouldn't last long, because Johnson's profile has been decidedly low since he retired before the 1991-92 season after announcing that he had contracted the AIDS virus.

At the drafting table

If consumed in small, manageable doses, ESPN's NFL draft coverage was actually pretty good. The network thoroughly, if not breathlessly, stayed on top of all the big developments.

Most notably, ESPN rode the falling draft fortunes of Miami defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who dropped from a presumed selection in the top five all the way to the 12th slot, where Tampa Bay grabbed him.

The funniest intentional moment came Saturday, when Chris Berman declined the request of the New York audience to turn his head so that the home audience could see his thinning pate. Gosh, Chris, some of us made peace with our vanity a long time ago.

By the way, Berman, who is up for a Sports Emmy award tomorrow night as outstanding studio host, will receive the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association award as 1994's Sportscaster of the Year tonight in Salisbury, N.C.

It's the fourth time Berman has received this honor and the second consecutive win for the man nicknamed "Boomer," who will get the award from his father, James.

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