Now look who has emerged from the mothballs. The gloves are back on and George Foreman, fat and 40, has renounced his retirement of 11 years ago. The one-time champion of the world is lusting for one of those big paydays available for a brief encounter with Mike Tyson, the Crusher.
Like so many other heavyweights before him, a renascent Foreman is sniffing at the rewards of a short work-night with Tyson, who has been generating all of those gorgeous paydays for even nondescript opponents.
Unless he has been on another planet the last two years, Foreman is not unaware of the semijoy of being clobbered by Tyson. Tyrell Biggs, not much of a heavyweight, recently pulled down $740,000 for two rounds against the unbeaten Iron Mike, and others like Trevor Berbick (also two rounds) picked up hefty paychecks. Bonecrusher Smith walked away with $1 million for staying the limit with Tyson. Most recently, Larry Holmes picked up $3.1 million for lasting less than four rounds with Tyson Friday night.
It is now most proper to say that Foreman is, truthfully, a born-again fighter. Until he decided to rededicate himself to the prize ring, the old champ was for 10 years engaged in the Lord's work in Houston, as pastor and director of the George Foreman Youth Center.
When he retired in 1977, three years after being suckered into an eighth-round knockout by Muhammad Ali's memorable rope-a-dope strategy, Foreman told a Houston radio station he was quitting the ring because of his religious beliefs and love for his mother.
"I believe it is wrong to hit and beat up on another person even if it is a sport," said the fellow who has a career total of 48 knockouts to go with his 51-2 record. His brother Roy said at the time, "He's found God and he's fighting for God, and that is bigger than boxing."
Foreman seems to have adjusted his priorities. He has been busy working up a resume of six comeback fights, all by quick knockouts, of course. His most recent fight was Saturday night in Orlando, Fla., against the widely unfamed Tom Trimm, who lasted exactly one punch. Also less than epic were his five previous conquests.
Foreman, who will meet an unnamed opponent next month in Las Vegas, is scheduled to meet European heavyweight champion Anders Ecklund in March.
As for any direct challenge to Tyson at this point, all that Foreman is saying is that he has a "major fight" in mind. He need not be specific. Every heavyweight is aware of the handsome economics of a quarrel with Tyson, if it can be arranged. The emoluments are major.
For all of Foreman's nonsensical notions of a successful comeback, it was not easy to be disrespectful of him when he was the undisputed champion (1973-74). He was a legitimate national hero when he fought his way to the Olympic title in 1968. In an era when other American youths were faulting the system, Foreman proudly carried an American flag around the ring after winning the gold medal.
Four years later, after he turned pro, it was Foreman who came out smoking against Joe Frazier, who coined the phrase. Foreman was presumed to be Frazier's next victim that night in Jamaica. Frazier had convincingly licked Ali and was wearing the crown. But, a ha, it was Foreman who walked from his corner unafraid, walloped Frazier on the chin immediately, put him down twice in the first round and knocked him out in the second.
He was then a sculptured 6-foot-3, 220-pounder and his dispatch of the iron-chinned Frazier validated his punching power. But that was 1973. This is 1988, and in his comeback fights the old champ is not a pretty sight. In his comeback debut in which he brought off a three-round knockout of a certain Steve Zowski, he was a slow, blubbery 275-pounder with moves to match, a caricature of himself.
For his most recent bout, Foreman trimmed down to 243 1/4 pounds. He has said he would not fight "a major fight" until he whittled down to 225. Bill Caplan, his promoter, said, "George is like a low mileage, vintage car -- very little wear and tear, and still has plenty of power."
All of which is a most debatable statement. Foreman has had 15 more fights than the well-battered Frazier, who had 37. He had to get off the floor twice to beat Ron Lyle in 1976 and he was on the floor again in 1977 against journeyman Jimmy Young, and declared a unanimous loser. Some would say such things cause wear and tear.
Foreman became more famous for losing the title than winning it. It was on Oct. 30, 1974 in Zaire that Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali was staged at 4 a.m. African time to accommodate U.S television. Anywhere else in the world two guys fighting outside at 4 in the morning would be run in by the cops. For their predawn quarrel, Foreman and Ali pulled down $5 million each.
For seven rounds, Foreman won that fight, unaware that the canny Ali was permitting him to do so, allowing Foreman to tire himself to a frazzle while Ali took refuge on the ropes, unhurt as the master cover-up artist that he was. In the eighth, Ali correctly judged that Foreman was sufficiently tuckered, suckered and arm-weary, and went to work on him with both hands. Foreman wound up a knockout victim and Ali wound up with his title back.
So, for the ex-champ here it is now, a situation fraught with F's -- Foreman, fat, forty and fifteen years later saying he wants to fight some more. Seems here that his biological clock is resolutely against him, and that before abandoning the Lord's work he should have sought a second opinion.