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FOREMAN'S FIGHT OF A LIFETIME

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Foreman walked back to his corner. He stood there talking with Archie Moore, one of his advisers. Moore, now in his seventies, looks like Othello's grandfather.

Moore fought professionally for close to thirty years. He was so skilled and wily a fighter that, out of respect, he was called "The Mongoose." Moore was considered so dangerous that reigning champions kept dodging him. It wasn't until his last days as a pugilist that he finally got a title shot against Rocky Marciano. Moore's share of the purse, his largest ever, was $240,000--minuscule by today's standards.

Budd Schulberg, the author of On The Waterfront, who covered the Marciano-Moore fight for Esquire magazine, wrote: "There was tragedy in the way he [Moore] sprawled there with the fight and the will beaten out of him, a very old man of 42, who, some 30 minutes earlier, had been such an astonishing young man of 42."

Despite the severe pounding, Moore greeted reporters cheerfully in the dressing room. "Welcome, gentlemen," Moore said. "I found this evening most enjoyable. I trust you did likewise. Now, if you have any questions, I shall be happy to answer them."

Moore has remained loquacious to the present. At one point he even gave a critically acclaimed performance as "Jim" in a film version of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. His influence on Foreman's personal loquacity is apparent.

This point can't be exaggerated. Without Foreman's remarkable personality, this fight could never have taken place.

Earlier in the week, Moore had been asked to predict the outcome of Foreman's quest to regain the heavyweight crown after such a lengthy hiatus.

Archie replied without hesitation: "I'm stickin' with the Old Man. There is no doubt in my mind. Experience will carry George Foreman on to a most magnificent triumph."

A.J. Liebling, the most stylish boxing writer of this century, once explained his fascination with boxing.

It stemmed, he wrote, from the fact that all that separates all the heavyweight champions in history "is a series of punches in the nose."

Each champion from the days of John L. Sullivan, Liebling pointed out, was actually connected to the present champion by a long series of cut lips and right crosses to the jaw delivered while the title changed hands.

Perhaps that's why all the past champs keep showing up for every new heavyweight title fight. They are there to cast an aura of legitimacy over the present ceremony.

When Moore fought Rocky Marciano, among those present were former champions Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Max Baer, and Jim Braddock.

On this night of the Foreman-Holyfield fight, they brought out Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier to be introduced in the ring. For some undetermined reason, Larry Holmes, another ex-champion, was consigned to a seat in the audience. His presence was barely mentioned.

As they introduced Frazier, he began to jog furiously in place with a fierce look on his face as though he were going to take part in the fight. Ali stood without showing emotion, his jaw slackened.

Foreman, once feared as the hardest puncher in boxing history, had won the title from Frazier. Ali, who actually held the title three separate times, took it away from Foreman a year later in the eighth round in Zaire, Africa, in what was called "The Rumble in the Jungle."

The night before that fight, Ali invited Jack Griffin, a near-poet who wrote a sports column for the Chicago Sun-Times, to his suite to watch films of Foreman.

Ali ran the films of Foreman winning the Olympic heavyweight title against the Soviet Union's Ionas Chepulis. Foreman was all raw power then.

Ali sneered at Foreman's clumsiness as he watched the films. "He ain't got no class, no class at all," Ali kept saying.

The film of the Frazier fight ran. At one point, Foreman actually lifted Frazier off his feet with a blow to the ribs.

Griffin told Ali he thought that showed Foreman had real power.
"You don't see what I see," Ali said. "Look, Frazier is down but he gets right up again. What kind of power is that? I knock a man down and he don't get up. Foreman don't lay a man out the way I do."

Sure, Ali was the best of them all. But he took so many punches to the head from Foreman in Zaire and from Frazier in their three great fights that he was sent on the road to his current destination, a debilitated state which boxing people call "queer street."

The great Red Smith was there in Manila in 1971 when Frazier had pulverized Ali for fifteen rounds before winning the decision.

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Tom Fitzpatrick