Holyfield leans in as Foreman chews the fat BOXING


NEW YORK -- Who said vaudeville is dead?

Fat and jolly George Foreman, using heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield as his straight man, raised slapstick to an art form yesterday, as the ballyhoo began for their title fight in Atlantic City, N.J., April 19.

The championship match, which will have no fewer than three promoters beating the publicity drums -- Donald Trump, Main Events Inc. (Dan Duva) and Top Rank Inc. (Bob Arum) -- has been billed as "The Battle of the Ages."

The slogan more accurately reflects the discrepancy in the fighters' birth certificates than the promise of a memorable match. Foreman, who reigned as heavyweight king in 1974, will be 43 by the time of the fight -- 15 years older than Holyfield, who dethroned Buster Douglas in Las Vegas on Oct. 25.

In the style of a presidential candidate, Foreman walked into the Grand Hyatt ballroom with the tune, "Happy Days Are Here Again," playing. His entourage of senior citizens carried placards that read: "Life Begins at 40," "Respect Your Elders" and "Eat 'em Up George."

Then the fat jokes began tripping off Foreman's tongue, but not before a waiter delivered an overstuffed turkey and a platter of sandwiches to his place on the dais.

"I can eat the whole thing," said Foreman, who reportedly weighed 285 for a recent exhibition bout.

"When I get to Trump Plaza, I'll be eating the legs off turkeys, roasts off the rump, chickens from livers and porks from the chops," he said. "And if Holyfield gets smart, I'll put him between two slices of bread and eat him, too."

Holyfield's manager, Lou Duva, countered: "That is why I'm calling this fight, 'The Real Deal' vs. 'The Big Meal.' Some people say George is as fit as a fiddle. But I think he looks more like a cello."

No one was immune to the needle. Foreman, referring to Arum, who has helped promote his amazing ring comeback, said, "It's been written that a fool and his money are soon parted, but Arum and his money are never parted."

Arum, in turn, reminded everyone that Trump, who paid $12 million for the site fee, has fallen on hard financial times.

"But," said Arum, "Trump will overcome these pitfalls just as Holyfield overcame losing his chance at a gold medal in the [1984] Olympics and George Foreman overcame the devastating loss of his title to Muhammad Ali in Africa."

Foreman's shtick was reminiscent of the days when Ali turned his news conferences into a three-ring circus.

Promising that he will make short work of Holyfield, whom he dwarfed in size and voice, Foreman said, "The championship belt won't fit me. I'll have to tape it on my belly. Then, I'll go home and wait by the mailbox for my Social Security check."

Holyfield tried to lend a touch of sanity to the affair. He even refused to get ruffled by the World Boxing Council's threats to strip him of his title for not making his first defense against former champion Mike Tyson.

World Boxing Association legal counsel Jimmy Binns and International Boxing Federation president Bob Lee both gave their official approval yesterday to the Holyfield-Foreman match.

"The WBC is trying to take the title from me, but they don't follow their own stipulations," Holyfield said. "The rules say a champion is supposed to have a full year before he makes a mandatory fight against the No. 1 challenger. Mike Tyson will be next for me because he deserves it."

Holyfield, who will earn $20 million for this fight (Foreman is guaranteed $12 million) said he knows he is in a no-win situation.

"I'm fighting a man who, if I beat, people will say he was too old or too fat," Holyfield said. "But this is the fight the public wants to see, and I've agreed to take on all contenders."

Asked whether he might be lulled into a false sense of security by Foreman's happy talk and bloated silhouette, Holyfield said: "I take every fight seriously. I don't have to hate my opponent to be motivated.

"I'm not letting his age or weight be a factor. My first goal was to win the heavyweight championship. Now my goal is to retire undefeated."

Once in the ring, Holyfield says, Foreman will offer few surprises in terms of strategy.

"George is basically a puncher, and I'm sure he'll come right after me," he said. "I don't want to run into a wall, but I know if I can hit someone, I can beat him. He's a bigger target, and I'm a lot quicker and a better boxer. Ali and Jimmy Young weren't big punchers, and they both stopped him."

Foreman had little time for such chitchat. He was too busy gnawing on a giant turkey drumstick.

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