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MIKE DOWNEY

Moorer of '94 Is Foreman of '74

November 04, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

LAS VEGAS — Michael Moorer strides through the MGM Grand casino. Head down. Eyes low. Shades on. Baseball cap backward.

He is heavyweight champion of the world.

No one waves. No one knows him.

*

At the Oz Buffet, just off the casino, people's eyes pop.

In walks George Foreman, to eat lunch. Heaviest of the heavyweights. Gorging George.

Heads turn. Necks crane. Customers wave their forks. "George!" "Big George!"

George waves back.

His nutritionist, Bobby Cook, brings back a china plate from the buffet. He sets it on the tablecloth. George examines the dish like a suspicious puppy, with disdain. On it are fish and a vegetable, marinated broccoli. No meat loaf. No taters. No gravy.

George spears a piece of broccoli and sniffs it.

"Smells funny," he says.

Cook says, "Let's get you some steamed broccoli instead."

George says nah, and pops it into his mouth.

He eats maybe one-third of what's on his plate. Then he pushes it away.

George Foreman, fat-free.

"Man," he says. "I wish I had a sandwich."

*

The heavyweight champ doesn't much care for the former heavyweight champ.

With a sneer, Moorer says, "He's a fake, he's a phony."

Let's see. How else can he put it?

"He's in advertising, " Moorer says.

*

George Foreman turned pro more than 25 years ago. He hasn't been champ for 20 years. He hasn't beaten a ranked fighter in 10 years. He hasn't beaten anybody in 22 months. He hasn't even fought anybody in more than a year and a half.

He is a sportsman turned clergyman turned showman.

Before he fought Muhammad Ali, he says, men from the Nation of Islam begged George to stop saying he would "kill" Ali. Say you'll defeat him, they asked. But please, no more about killing.

George says, "I remember beating this guy and beating this guy and hitting him upside the head. And I remember thinking that I told these (Islam) people that I wouldn't kill him.

"Next thing you know, I retreated just a little bit from what I normally do and I was on the floor, losing the heavyweight championship of the world.

"For years I couldn't live with this. . . . But after a while I met up with Jesus Christ, as you know. I became a preacher and I put down boxing for 10 years. Didn't even shadow-box.

"I came back into this business to make money. To make a name for my youth centers and send kids to college. But I was still restrained, fighting and trying to be heavyweight champion of the world and still be compassionate.

"Because when I hit these guys on the tip of the nose and see them bleed and hurt, I'd back off and call for the Nevada referees to help them out. And I'd help them out and they would still try to hit me, when they knew I was changing boats in the middle of the stream.

"I had Evander Holyfield a couple of times, but he kept coming and I said, 'I am not going to kill this fool.' Tommy Morrison, I let him off the hook. I let them all off the hook, because I didn't want to kill nobody.

"But let me tell you today, brothers and sisters, I ain't going to lie to you. . . .

"First, can I get a hallelujah?"

*

Teddy Atlas shrugs. He is Michael Moorer's trainer. He doesn't care for Foreman any more than Moorer does.

George has three acts, Atlas says. Three cons.

"When he was young, George had the bully con. When he came back, he had the religious con. Now he's got the show-biz con. My job is to make sure George doesn't con Michael."

*

Foreman is inside a ring, sparring. He boxes 12 rounds without a rest in between. He dances with four partners. He looks fit. He looks fresh.

But he doesn't throw one punch.

He blocks them with his arms. He absorbs the blows. Nobody here he feels like killing, that's for sure.

*

Twenty years ago, Angelo Dundee trained Ali. Today, he's in the corner with Foreman.

Back then, George was a taciturn bully. Today, Moorer is.

"You noticed that?" Dundee asks.

We noticed.

Dundee smiles a crooked smile. He says, "They're young, they're mad at the world. They learn. Moorer'll learn."

*

Michael Moorer is ready to fight George Foreman this Saturday. No, more than ready.

"Ready to get this over with," Moorer says.

Nothing George says or does matters any more.

Moorer wastes no words. He says, "I have nothing more to say about the man. I am not going to spend any venom."

*

I will keep punching even if it kills him, Foreman suggests.

He says the Almighty came to him and granted "permission to unwrap and unveil myself." Permission to not hold back. Permission to inherit the earth without being meek.

"How did He come to you?" George is asked.

"He came into my room with some sheets on," George says.

A former opponent, one Everett (Bigfoot) Martin, overhears this. Bigfoot shouts, "A preacher don't talk the way you talk! Talkin' about murder! Talkin' about killin'!"

Foreman whirls and says, "Don't you be lying on me. I never said that, about killing. Don't you be putting words in my mouth!"

George goes off to put broccoli in his mouth.

*

At the weigh-in Thursday, a fit-as-a-bass-fiddle Foreman peels off a shirt and necktie. He goes 250 pounds. For George, this is svelte.

"I was lighter," he says. "I heard the rumor about my being 250. I had to eat up to it."

Moorer is 28 pounds lighter, as well as 18 years younger.

He says little. He spends no venom.

Foreman says, "Michael Moorer is a wonderful guy. All I want to do is show the world that 45, 55 years old is not a death sentence. We can do anything we want to do at any age and I will see you tomorrow and good night!"

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