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MIKE DOWNEY

Foreman Looking for a Fight

July 22, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

George Foreman, the former (and future?) heavyweight boxing champion of the world, sat back in his hotel suite at the Biltmore and spoke of the manly art of fighting cowards. He had just been downstairs in the ballroom, daring Michael Moorer to be a man and mix it up with him at the MGM Grand in their title fight Nov. 5, going so far as to gesture toward Moorer and say, "I'm going to knock this coward out."

Big George, having digested a number of chickens in his day, says that this business of boxing cowardly began 20 years ago Oct. 30, when at 4 o'clock in the morning in a jungle clearing in Africa, the rope-a-dope strategy of Muhammad Ali "made him the rope and me the dope, but he didn't exactly stand up to me, did he?"

Fighters have been running from him ever since, Foreman said, clinching and backpedaling and counting on the judges' sympathy. Now here he is, approaching the 20th anniversary of his most famous fight, fighting still, fighting a man "young enough to be my son." But will Moorer swap punches the way Sonny Liston would have, or the way Joe Frazier once did? No way, Foreman knows. He could beat Moorer with one ham hock tied behind his back.

"Here I am, almost 50 years old, and these monkeys are still running from me!" Foreman practically shouted at the news conference downstairs.

Moorer sat there, astounded.

"Stand up to me like a man!" George barked.

Squinting through dark glasses, Moorer couldn't believe his eyes. Neither could the champ's trainer, Teddy Atlas, who crossed the room to tap Foreman's shoulder and demand a retraction or satisfaction, like a swordsman requesting a duel.

Looking forward, refusing to acknowledge Atlas face to face, Foreman said, "Let me alone. Go mind your manners, boy."

Atlas persisted.

"Go from me," Foreman demanded. "Go from me. Go get me a sandwich."

It is not like Big George to be the villain, to play the lout. Twenty years ago, Ali was the man of the people and Foreman the one who kept to himself. Today, their roles have reversed. It is Foreman who has become the most amiable figure in boxing, and it is unlike him to be calling another man out this way, to not be paying an opponent his propers.

Moorer seemed caught off guard.

Deliberately keeping his volume from rising, Moorer said: "There's a lot to be said, but let's not say it. Let's not be disrespectful to each other. This is a business. This is boxing. We're in it to make money. But we're still human beings outside the ring. So I'd appreciate it if you would respect me as a gentleman, just like I respect you as a man. I don't want this to be one of those ugly promotions."

In his room later, Foreman chuckled and said, more or less, mission accomplished. He had nothing against Moorer personally. Thought him a suitable foe. Yes, he had dissed the man on HBO during fight commentary, but what did the boxer or the network expect? He wasn't in this racket to be anybody's yes man. He wasn't impressed with anything Moorer did against Evander Holyfield, any more than he was impressed with Holyfield for holding, holding, holding when the man outpointed George.

"They call it the art of boxing, the science of boxing," Foreman said, stretching out on his sofa, "but is this what people are paying hundreds of dollars to see? Holding? Ali defeated me with that rope-a-dope nonsense, there ain't no denying that. But look what that gave us. Twenty years of fighters running from better fighters, afraid to stand there and slug it out. All we got now's a bunch of cowards.

"Well, I'm sick of fighting cowards. And I'd think the American public is sick of watching cowards. And what about you? You're a writer--write something! If television won't say it, then you say it. Embarrass these cowards publicly. Expose 'em for what they are."

George, on a roll.

He is serious about this bout, he promises. He is taking no upfront guarantee, so serious is he. He is no more worried about Michael Moorer than he would be about Mary Tyler Moore. He will reduce to 235-240 pounds for this bout, he vows. He will not train on bags of Doritos. He will fight and he will win because, he says, he's got nine children at home and they won't stop eating, so until they're all grown and gone, he must buy the groceries.

Henry Holmes, his attorney and adviser, is more specific. Holmes swears, "George is about to make the greatest comeback of all time. The cheeseburgers will be on hold. The fried chicken, on hold. The hot dogs, on hold. No more burgers, at least until Nov. 6. You're going to see George on broccoli, sparkling water, tofu and Vitamin E. He'll be training at Gold's Gym. He'll be running the sands of Malibu. The only acting he'll be doing is on a Stairmaster. Michael Moorer, my advice to you is from the movie 'The Fly.' Be afraid--be very afraid."

Is the champ's camp very afraid?

Not so you'd know it.

Moorer's manager, John Davimos, said, "Oh, George. Go eat all the cheeseburgers you want. Michael'll destroy you."

Which is exactly what George wants, of course. For Moorer to feel offended. For Moorer's people to tell their man to go out there and shut Big George's big mouth. For Moorer to go stand in the middle of the ring and remind this old fogy that it isn't 1974 anymore. George laughs and laughs and wonders what it will take to make Moorer meet him halfway.

Because if that happens, then George Foreman, 46, will have made the greatest comeback of all time.

"Why come back at all?" a man asks.

Big George attacks the question hungrily, as he would a burger--er, broccoli.

"Oh, I think all fighters want to come back," he says. "Shame on us."

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