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Foreman the Man of the Big Moment : Boxing: After one of sports' greatest victories, what can he possibly do for an encore?

November 07, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — They sifted through history Sunday, with a clap of thunder still echoing in their ears.

What has George Foreman wrought?

Nothing less than a moment the sports world will forever use as a historical flashpoint, according to many who witnessed his startling one-punch 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer on Saturday night.

Like Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run or Willie Mays' World Series catch or the U.S. hockey team's Olympic miracle in previous eras, when you remember the 1990s, they said, you will remember the landmark 10 seconds that made 45-year-old Foreman the oldest heavyweight champion ever.

Twenty years ago, Foreman was the victim of Muhammad Ali making his own mark on history. Saturday night, donning the old velour red trunks he wore when Ali rope-a-doped him to shocking defeat, Foreman closed the circle.

"It was something that all of you who follow the sport will never forget," said Bob Arum, Foreman's promoter. "It'll go down in history comparable to when Ali knocked George down in Zaire 20 years ago."

No matter what his future holds--and at this point, who's going to guess?--all that mattered Sunday was the short, twisting, concussive right hand Foreman, trailing on all cards, fired into Moorer's chin.

"It was the most significant punch landed in heavyweight history," said veteran boxing observer and trainer Gil Clancy. "That's my opinion."

Said trainer Lou Duva, who is associated with Moorer's camp: "The only thing I can compare it to in my 50 years of boxing was when Rocky Marciano was losing in the 13th round, and he needed to win and he knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott (on Sept. 23, 1952).

"That was the right hand heard 'round the world. And this was all of that. This was like Joe Namath's Super Bowl guarantee, like Bobby Thomson."

Angelo Dundee, who was Ali's trainer 20 years ago and has worked Foreman's corner for three years, said he was never concerned that Foreman was in trouble despite Moorer's repeated pounding on Foreman's face.

Dundee, who had to keep pulling up Foreman's old shorts between rounds because the elastic was well worn out, said he knew Foreman was setting up Moorer by throwing hard left jabs to make Moorer overconcerned with the left.

But he did warn Foreman before the 10th.

"I said you only have nine minutes left and you're losing on the scorecards," Dundee said. "I said you better knock this kid out quick."

In the Moorer corner, trainer Teddy Atlas was clearly concerned that his 26-year-old fighter was leaving himself open to what Atlas called "a sneaky right hand."

Moorer, though he said he tried to circle harder to his right, never could make the adjustment. Soon, after absorbing a couple of rights early in the round, Moorer was raked with a glancing left, then the bomb that gave Foreman the 68th knockout of his career.

Moorer's head flew back so quickly, his body seemed to pause for a moment, his legs and hips caught in the back-first crumple to the canvas. Moorer's head snapped against the floor, raised at the count of three, but he never made a real attempt to get to his feet.

When his corner removed his mouthpiece after the knockout, blood streamed out of Moorer's nose.

"The other guy did the unforgivable sin against George," Dundee said. "He bent down. When you bend down against George, you're in big, big trouble.

"George used that chop right hand, and he's putting 250 pounds behind it. What's in front of it has gotta go down."

For Arum, who has been waging war with boxing's three major governing organizations for years and had to successfully sue to keep this fight alive after the World Boxing Assn. refused to sanction it, Foreman's victory and status as both the sport's most popular person and its most dramatic champion is a chance to cleanse boxing.

On Sunday, Arum said that if Foreman wants to continue fighting--no guarantee--Tommy Morrison would be a natural to be the first challenger because Morrison defeated Foreman 17 months ago.

And Arum said a Foreman-Mike Tyson bout would be "the fight to end all fights."

One man definitely not on any short lists: Larry Holmes, 45, who is challenging World Boxing Council champion Oliver McCall in January. Arum said that Holmes once kicked Foreman out of a post-fight media conference and that Foreman will never forgive him for that.

Foreman, who won the International Boxing Federation and WBA titles Saturday, is due to fight both organization's mandatory challenger, the past-his-prime Tony Tucker, sometime in 1995. But Arum says Foreman might be able to move the sport past the strangling alphabet politics.

"When something cataclysmic like this happens, everybody rethinks their positions," Arum said. "And people might be willing to take a risk and have fights the way we used to, contender vs. contender.

"This is a sport that can't get sponsors, a sport most people look at with a jaundiced eye. This is a sport hardly on the pinnacle of popularity.

"Now you have an event like what happened last night. And for a reasonable amount of time, it will change the perception. Maybe it'll just be for a moment of time, but we have some breathing space.

"But if we go back with that same old Tony Tucker . . . , it'll go right back into the dump."

Left in the background were questions about Moorer's future. Moorer had said even before winning the title last April that he eagerly awaited his chance to retire and go into law enforcement, and was far from a popular champion.

"I think Michael will have to come back," Duva said. "I don't think he can quit that way. What, is he going to become a cop?"

Moorer, of course, could always take 10 years off, experience a religious rebirth and come back into the ring to win back the title.

The man who just accomplished that feat flew back to his Houston home Sunday morning, and, though he held no more news conferences, the thunder was still sounding.

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