At last Thursday's weigh-in, George Foreman grimaced at his announced 256 pounds. This was wrong. Foreman let it be known that he actually weighed 253. The difference, as am of the Big and Tall set know, is one deck chair more or less on the Titanic. Still, Foreman's defiance was interesting. Having turned back the clock last November when he won the heavyweight title at the advanced age of 45, Big George would now undo weights and measures.
How much longer he can have his way with this cosmos, with its ordinary rules and understandings, is anybody's guess. But for now his popularity is so immense that he can apparently bend all the laws of the universe: A 46-year-old boxer can draw better than Streisand, Jackson and Madonna; an overweight fighter can stalk a man in much better trim; a "fiftysomething guy" can extract a decision over someone nearly half his age. He overrides the laws of economics too. George Foreman, however heavy he is and however old he may be, is so popular that he can command $10 million for what is essentially an appearance fee.
Last Saturday's bout in Las Vegas with unknown Axel Schulz, for Foreman's IBF crown, was supposed to be just that, a kind of complicated autograph-signing session. Big George would offer a noisy preamble, the old patter ("My DNA is cheeseburgers") plus some sarcasm that might bait Mike Tyson into a $200 million match ("It'd be taking advantage of him"). Next he would demonstrate his enormous right hand against an opponent who survived a worldwide screening process to weed out anyone livelier than a Joe Louis statue. Then Foreman would receive homage as the oldest man to defend a title, would preside over book signings (his autobiography is due to be released in May) and angle for one more stiff before the year winds down and he closes out his strange and wonderful career.
Thing was, this Axel Schulz, who apparently is better known in his home country of Germany as a TV repairman than a fighter, more or less whipped Foreman. He was busier, more effective and, of course, younger. Maybe even better. Just not quite as popular when it came time for a decision. "I have to fight the ref and the judges," said Schulz, who was supposed to fall flatter than a potato pancake but instead raised a welt the size of a bratwurst on Foreman's brow.
It was a gift decision, no question about it, maybe no more outrageous than those that other champions have received, but a gift all the same. If it wasn't a concerted effort to preserve a perfect ending for the people's champion, it was at least wishful thinking. A big man like that, fighting a handpicked 6-to-1 underdog, shouldn't have to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Schulz, stealing two and three punches out of every break, was a pesky force throughout the 12 rounds. One judge scored it even, but two others had Foreman ahead, seven rounds to five, giving him a majority decision. A large contingent of Germans on hand at the MGM Grand booed the result, and most members of the media ( U.S. and German alike) also thought Foreman had received a home-country decision.
Foreman, who showed up at a postfight press conference in a skimmer and shades, protested that Schulz, 20 years his junior, had not fought nobly. "When you see a fiftysomething guy chasing a guy half his age," he said, "well, what does that say?" He admitted that the bout was unsatisfactory to the extent that "I look like a junkyard dog, and he looks like Elvis," but added, "That's not the way you take the championship of the world from a guy—run, run, run."
Schulz merited his $350,000 payday because 1) he brought more than $1 million in German TV money to the promotion, and 2) he was supposed to walk straight into Foreman and give the people (on this side of the Atlantic) exactly what they wanted. The report on Schulz said that he wouldn't get out of the way of traffic. If you had a right hand, he was available.
But schooled by trainer Manfred Wolke, who won a welterweight gold medal in the same 1968 Olympics at which gold medalist George Foreman waved a little U.S. flag, Schulz moved smartly to his right, keeping himself from danger. One imagines that Michael Moorer, who yielded his title by circling into Foreman's power zone, sat bolt upright while watching the HBO telecast and said, "Oh, circle counterclockwise!"
Foreman's frustration was palpable. "I was thinking, Why doesn't somebody give me a baseball bat," he recalled afterward. Especially irritating to Foreman was Schulz's refusal to be intimidated. "I was waiting for him to fall," Foreman said gloomily, "and he'd punch me back. Talk about sassing your elders!"