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Richard Hoffer
June 25, 1990
History is served as KO artists Mike Tyson and George Foreman connect
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June 25, 1990

Punch And Duty

History is served as KO artists Mike Tyson and George Foreman connect

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Mostly, Foreman can be funny, as when he discusses his weight, his opponent or his age. In Las Vegas he happened onto a nice piece of business regarding casino buffets and pretty much stuck to it until fight time. And he repeated a joke about a seafood diet: "I see food, I eat it."

He has become the people's fighter. "Anytime somebody spends $400 to see me fight, I'll jump out of the ring and dance with them, if they like," he says. "Can you imagine $400? You can buy a lot of washing powder with that. When people start spending money like that, you owe them more than punch power."

Of course, it is punch power that they're really paying to see. Foreman is slow and ungainly, and you wonder what he would do if somebody danced away for 10 rounds the way Rodrigues did for one, frustrating Foreman. But so far Foreman has always caught his opponents—21 knockouts in the 22-fight comeback—before either his age or bulk could be exploited. And the impact of Foreman's knockouts seems almost theatrical, as if those 263 pounds really are useful. Rodrigues's trainer, Angelo Dundee, later said his fighter complained that Foreman's glancing blows were paralyzing his arms.

The beauty of the promotion—it certainly wasn't in the matchmaking—was that Tyson's knockout blow was right there for comparison with Foreman's. And Tyson's didn't suffer. Tyson, so streamlined for this fight that the press was aghast at his compact appearance during the one public workout the week before, charged Tillman at the opening bell, knocking the backpedaling 1984 Olympic gold medal winner into the ropes with his jab. Tillman, whose sensible idea it was to avoid Tyson's attack, then landed a terrific right hand on Tyson and was emboldened by its effect. "I thought I had something there," said Tillman, whose career has been in decline since Evander Holyfield whipped him for a junior heavyweight title three years ago. "I didn't."

Two minutes and seventeen seconds later, Tyson struck Tillman with a short right hand so devastating that even Tyson froze at the impact. Perhaps because he remembered the shame of Tokyo, where he was photographed on hands and knees, drunkenly searching for his mouthpiece, he was suddenly full of compassion for his fallen rival. After Tillman was counted out at 2:47, Tyson rushed from the neutral corner to Tillman, his gloved hands out, to lift him. Tyson later explained, almost sheepishly, "We're friends."

In the days leading up to the fights, it was assumed that Tyson and Foreman would follow this twin bill with another, thereby building the gate for their own inevitable match. Last week's copromotion by Don King and Arum had its own bizarre attraction—the two bitter enemies had been forced into a marriage of convenience that was interesting in its own right—but the odd alliance was coming asunder almost before Tillman had regained his senses. King, who promotes Tyson, had done his part for the second doubleheader by signing a fight with Alex Stewart, the WBA's No. 6-ranked heavyweight. But Arum, who promotes Foreman, was having trouble with his end. He had Francesco Damiano, the former European champ, signed, but there was some confusion over whether HBO, which contributed to the purses for the Las Vegas twin bill, would be interested in Damiano under the conditions Arum proposed.

Arum, it turned out, wanted Foreman to fight Damiano for his World Boxing Organization (WBO) title, a franchise that Arum ordinarily doesn't respect, except that the title could be worth money to Foreman in overseas markets. "With that title I can take George all over the world, fighting European champions for two, three million bucks," Arum says. "At least you can call it a championship fight."

But HBO will only accept Damiano in a 10-round, nontitle fight. "HBO spent $22 million to unify the title," says Seth Abraham, senior vice-president for sports at HBO, which backed the series that ultimately united the WBA, WBC and IBF titles under one heavyweight—Tyson. "We're not interested in muddling the picture with a fourth title."

And beyond that, there was King, who suddenly found objection to Damiano's ties to the WBO, which does business with South Africans. King decided he couldn't be part of such a promotion. Better to have a fighter like Michael Dokes, who has had a long-term arrangement with King, in for the payday than deal with a group that has the taint of apartheid. So Tyson and Foreman Doubleheader II began to come apart on Saturday night.

But as the promoters stayed behind in Las Vegas to hash out these matters, the fighters were dispersing for Father's Day appearances. Foreman, who has eight children—three of them named George, with a possible fourth George on the way ("I hope it's a girl, I'm tired of all these Georges," he said)—had a lot in store for him. But Tyson was also anticipating a celebration. At the prefight press conference, and again after the fight, he made repeated mention of his six-week-old son. "He's gorgeous," Tyson said. Tyson, who has no plans to many the child's mother, Natalie Fears, is obviously much taken by fatherhood and has bragged of his competence with diapers and formula.

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