by Gerald Eskenazi, from The New York Times
A right hand thrown from about 1973 tonight returned to 45-year-old George Foreman the heavyweight title he had lost 20 years ago.
With that heavy, short blow to the previously undefeated Michael Moorer in the 10th round, Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion in history.
He looked it, too, his baggy orange trunks — they were red when he wore them in Zaire against Muhammad Ali 20 years and a week ago — ill-fitting under his stomach.
At 250 pounds, he was 28 pounds heavier than the southpaw Moorer, who was 19 years younger.
Foreman had trailed on all three judges’ scorecards. But the stunning shot proved to be the only knockdown of the bout. Moorer fell flat on his back and took the entire 10-count from Referee Joe Cortez, the bout ending at 2 minutes 3 seconds of the 10th with Foreman becoming the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation champion.
Oliver McCall holds the World Boxing Council title. McCall will fight 45-year-old Larry Holmes, a former champion, in a title bout next February.
Moorer had thrown 641 punches, to only 369 by Foreman. Yet, Foreman had refused to sit in his stool between rounds against his younger opponent. He stood in his corner so calmly, it seemed like another attempt at a psych job.
The one shot made Foreman the first fighter in the division to appear in a title fight 20 years apart.
Ali had defeated him in Zaire in 1974. That ended the myth of the Invincible Foreman that had reached its peak when he knocked out Joe Frazier in 1973 to capture the title.
“These are the shorts that I fought in when I was heavyweight champion of the world,” said Foreman later. “They are short and make you look a little chubby, but I fought Muhammad Ali in these shorts.
“I exorcised the ghost, once and forever. Heavyweight champion of the world.”
Foreman had been hit with most of the bout’s punches, yet rarely faltered or staggered or changed his style. He moved forward.
The road to the knockout began with a right that sent a shudder through Moorer, who backed up. Then came a short left, and finally, the ultimate right.
“Anything you desire, you can make happen,” the once and future champion said afterward. “It’s like the song, ‘When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.’ Well, look at me tonight.”
And what better setting for this than a 15,000-seat indoor arena at the M-G-M Grand, the 5,005-seat hotel in which Dorothy and the Tin Man and the other “Wizard of Oz” characters cavort near the casinos.
“Bluebirds,” said Foreman, “fly over the rainbow. Why oh why can’t I?”
More gracious in defeat than he had been as champion, at least publicly, Moorer admitted afterward that he had been thinking of retiring if he won.
“But I’m not sure now,” he said. His record fell to 35-1, including 30 knockouts. For Foreman, who did not fight at all between 1977 and 1987, his impressive mark stands at 73-4. Moorer was his 68th knockout victim.
Why didn’t Moorer just coast the final rounds? Two judges had him ahead by 5 points, the third by 1 point. Moorer had to know he was leading.
I my mind, I knew I was winning,” he said. But apparently his trainer, Teddy Atlas, kept after him to keep circling to his right.
“I was doing it in the gym, but here it’s totally different,” Moorer explained.
Didn’t he consider backing off?
“No,” he replied, “I never considered backing off.”
Foreman claimed his strategy was to keep pounding until he could flatten Moorer. Foreman claimed that he would never get the benefit of a decision, and that the fact there was no three-knockdown rule would help Moorer. Thus, said Foreman, when he nailed Moorer, it was essential he stay down.
Foreman didn’t need to worry. Even while Moorer was down for a minute after being knocked out, Foreman was on his knees praying. In the excitement his brother, Roy, passed out in the ring, but a physician said later, “He’s O.K. “
And will Foreman continue?
“It’s too soon to say,” he said. “But I want to fight in the Astrodome. It’s my dream.” He is from Houston.
He entered the ring to a joyful sounds of “If I Had a Hammer,” looking all business in a gray hooded sweatshirt soaked with perspiration. He had on those baggy orange shorts.
Moorer, who won the championship only six months ago from Evander Holyfield, strode in to rap music, wearing a bright yellow robe over gold shorts. His handlers walked around holding his championship belts aloft.
Moorer got the first good blow, a left hook. that made the water bounce off the top of Foreman’s bald head.
Moorer connected with a few more right jabs against Foreman, who presented a stolid figure, as if waiting to unload a right. It was part of his strategy, he was to claim, to wait it out until the time was right, until Moorer could not get up again.
Foreman stood after the round, while Moorer was ministered to by Atlas, who had worked on preparing Moorer for George’s mind games as well as right uppercut.
Outwardly, the champion and the challenger represented a study in contrasts.
Snarling and intimidating, Foreman mowed down heavyweights and brushed aside friends in his rush to the title he captured from Frazier. But three years after losing it to Ali in Zaire, he dropped a decision to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico.
After showering, he stormed out, dripping wet and started screaming that he had to find God. He tried to get back into the arena. His trainer, Gil Clancy, had to hold him down. Foreman became a preacher and didn’t fight for 10 years.