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FOREMAN'S FIGHT OF A LIFETIME

The white Acura pulled into my driveway and slammed to a halt. David Ramras, the lawyer, leaped from behind the wheel.

"Here's the tape," Ramras said. "You're going to be surprised how good this fight turned out to be." Ramras, an extremely knowledgeable sports fan, was talking about the championship boxing bout between George Foreman and Evander Holyfield.

I had planned to see it on the night of the fight but things didn't work out. So, an hour later, I was sitting in front of the television set reading and waiting for the fight's preliminaries to end. Ramras had warned me they took a long time and suggested I fast-forward directly to the fight. I decided, however, to let the whole scene play itself out.

The announcers were filling airtime with interviews while waiting for the two fighters to appear.

"This will be the end of George Foreman's comeback," an editor from Ring magazine was saying. "He's finished after tonight."

At this moment, a roar from the crowd announced that George Foreman was approaching the ring.

I had been passing time reading David McCullough's The Great Bridge, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I had just learned that Steve Brodie, the only man to become famous for jumping off the bridge, probably never actually did make his famous dive. According to McCullough's research, a dummy had been thrown from the bridge by friends and Brodie himself had swum out to a rescue barge from shore. Since July 23, 1886, it has been one of America's great hoaxes. Perhaps, now I was about to see still another.

I looked up at the screen and caught sight of George Foreman and his entourage advancing with slow dignity toward the ring. It was eerily reminiscent of the famous night procession scene in Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, when the Indian slaves drag provisions down a mountain path in a South American jungle lighted only by torches.

Foreman stood out. He was immense, at once menacing and yet somehow comforting in his enormous bulk. He wore a red hooded robe from which his huge shaven head protruded. Foreman might have been an aging king being led to execution. His head was down. His chin was on his chest and his eyes were closed in contemplation.

Foreman held both arms outstretched in front of him and his big hands were on the shoulders of the man walking directly in front of him. He moved in lock step at a pace set by his motley crew of supporters.

Cameras from pay television stayed with this march from the moment Foreman left his dressing room until he climbed through the ropes and stepped into the ring and began dancing lightly in his corner.

The hood fell back and that enormous head, glistening with perspiration, became so dominant it was impossible to avert my eyes from it. Then I realized something about this new George Foreman that had not occurred to me previously.

That shaved head is his secret. It gives him a presence, the way it did for Yul Brynner, the actor, and does for Michael Jordan, the basketball player. It not only renders Foreman as larger than life but also softens every aspect of his character.

"People are showing up in droves," said Khambrell Marshall, one of the announcers.

Len Berman, the ring announcer, took over. He spoke like a man who had just walked into St. Mark's in Venice for the first time.

"I've been to a lot of Super Bowls, big college basketball games," Berman said. "But this . . . this is really big."

I have grown so accustomed to sports announcers as jaded celebrities that I was shocked by Berman's naivete. He actually appeared overwhelmed to be in the presence of the celebrities he now began introducing.

Berman spoke reverently of each one as the camera panned over them.
They weren't hard to find. No doubt, they had all received complimentary tickets. All were seated in the same section, close to the ring.

"There's Kevin Costner with Donald Trump and Marla Maples," Berman said, excitedly. "And there's Gene Hackman, Jesse Jackson, and Merv Griffin as well as Billy Crystal and Joe Piscopo."

From the sports world, Berman spotted--and the camera noted--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles, Phil Simms of the New York Giants, Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A's, and Glenn "Doc" Rivers of the Atlanta Hawks.

Once inside the ring, Foreman strode back and forth purposefully, demonstrating that this was a place in which he planned to do serious work. Foreman measured the ring from corner to corner, checking to see how the canvas surface would be for his footing.

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Tom Fitzpatrick