comedy act closed in Atlantic City last Friday night, and at the end no one was
laughing at the 42-year-old fat man in short white pants. Following months of
one-liners about senior citizens and junk food, Foreman got into a serious
fistfight with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. After 12 rounds, an
exhausted Holyfield was still champion; Foreman, the middle-aged Texas
preacher, his face swollen, had to settle for folk hero.
It wasn't supposed
to happen that way. It was not supposed to be a fight but a spectacle: an F-15
versus a Goodyear blimp. Before the bout, even Foreman had to laugh, and he
did—often. Even while eating, which he did—often.
Because of his age
and immense girth, the heavy-punching Foreman was expected only to tease the
hopes of his faithful, and then depart quietly in about the fifth or sixth
round. The audience at the Atlantic City Convention Center expected an
execution; Foreman gave them a war. The fight was a classic battle of two big
men taking turns pushing each other to the brink of disaster, only to be saved
by their tremendous courage and strong chins.
The event was
notable for reasons that went beyond the fight, indeed beyond the sport of
boxing. Early reports from TVKO, Time Warner's new boxing pay-per-view venture,
indicated that the bout drew well in excess of the record 1.2 million homes
that had paid to see the Holy-field-Buster Douglas title fight in October (page
15). As an estimated 10 million fans watched on TV, Foreman seriously hurt
Holyfield in the second and seventh rounds, and in other rounds appeared to be
but one blow away from recapturing the title he had held from January 1973
until October 1974. After nine rounds, the marvelous old man, battered but
unyielding, still had a chance of winning by decision. Foreman came out of
Houston, Texas, with a dream. For 36 minutes he was Holyfield's nightmare.
on his comeback in 1987, Foreman had not boxed for 10 years. In the first fight
of his second career, he beat up a pug named Steve Zouski in Sacramento. He
made $22,005, weighed 267 pounds, and you could time his punches with a
sundial. For four years Foreman fought nobodies, sharpened his comedy routine
and talked about fighting Mike Tyson. He was the scourge of tomato cans,
knocking out 23 of 24 opponents.
Then last year
promoter Don King said to Tyson, "We can fight George Foreman." Tyson
looked at him and replied, "You like him so much, you fight him. No!"
Instead, Tyson fought Douglas, who knocked him out and took away his
"We can fight
Foreman," promoter Dan Duva told Holyfield. "Why not?" said
Holyfield, a few months before he knocked out Douglas.
So it was set:
Holyfield, 28, the body beautiful, would defend his title against Foreman, the
Pied Piper of the aged and overweight. Holyfield was the champion of the WBA,
the IBF and the WBC; Foreman was the champion of the AARP.
Two days before
the fight Foreman weighed in at 257 pounds. He was guaranteed $12.5 million, or
nearly $50,000 a pound, on Friday night. Holyfield, at 208 pounds, was
guaranteed $20 million, or slightly more than $96,000 a pound.
fighting for money," said Foreman, who had lost his title to Muhammad Ali
by an eighth-round knockout in Kinshasa, Zaire. "You've got to have a
focus. You just fight for money, you get hurt. You focus on the title, you'll
just naturally make money doing it."