45-year-old becomes oldest heavyweight champ

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LAS VEGAS -- Forget Zaire, rope-a-dope and the humiliation George Foreman experienced against Muhammad Ali 20 years ago.

Foreman gained ring immortality last night, becoming, at age 45, the oldest heavyweight champion in history. The balding, punching preacher from Houston fulfilled the impossible dream of every middle-aged man when a crunching right hand knocked out previously unbeaten Michael Moorer at 2:03 of the 10th round.

"I exorcised the ghost [of Ali] once and forever," said Foreman.

"It's like the song 'When You Wish Upon a Star,' " he said. "Your dreams come true.

"I had the power. No one can take punches like that. I had to punish, punish, punish. I had to continue to beat him and punch him, beat him and punch him.

"I knew my right hand would do it. He took two right hands on the tip of his nose. He never should have stood in front of me. I'm a straight right-hand puncher and he moved right into it. I knew it was just a matter of time."

Before being knocked out, Moorer, 26, had dominated the fight. But Foreman (73-4, 68 knockouts) put Moorer flat on his back with the right hand. Moorer rolled over, but showed no sign of regaining his feet as referee Joe Cortez counted him out.

"I just got lackadaisical. I just got caught," Moorer (35-1) said. "It's a part of boxing. I'm going to have to live with it.

"I tried to stay with the game plan we were doing. I was stunned too quickly. He came back, he's a quick man. I don't know if my punches affected him."

Moorer's trainer, Teddy Atlas, said, "He didn't see the punch. It was the best punch George threw all night. That was what we were afraid of."

All three judges had Moorer leading going into the 10th round. Jerry Roth and Chuck Giampa both had it 88-83, and Duane Ford had it 86-85.

Foreman, wearing a gray sweat shirt, was the first to enter the ring at the MGM Grand Garden, with the crowd of 12,127 roaring in support of him.

A somber Moorer, attired in a gold robe, followed moments later, his introduction met by a chorus of boos.

Moorer got a last-minute pep talk from Atlas. He attacked Foreman in the opening seconds of the fight, landing a hard right.

Moorer, who is left-handed, scored with a flicking jab. Foreman seemed content to parry the blows. When he countered, his hands were slow.

Foreman began to punch with more authority in the second round, catching Moorer atop the head with a hard right. Moorer scored with a hard right, but Foreman did not retreat. Moorer got inside to land a jarring combination in the final seconds of the round.

Moorer continued to fight at close quarters in the third round, ignoring Foreman's knockout reputation. Foreman scored with a clubbing right, but Moorer answered with four jarring blows. In the final 10 seconds, Moorer shook Foreman with a rippling combination.

Foreman, showing some flab around his midsection, was more aggressive in the fourth round, scoring with several blows to the ribs. But Moorer remained calm, effectively countering with effective punches.

The two fighters stood toe-to-toe at the start of the fifth round, exchanging potshots like battling robots. Moorer scored with a short uppercut. Foreman roused the crowd by landing three hard combinations, and Moorer closed the lively round with a pair of hard rights.

The crowd began chanting, "George, George, George" to begin the sixth round, but Moorer was unperturbed. He raised a welt on Foreman's right cheek. Foreman landed two brutal rights that caused Moorer to retreat for an instant. Moorer missed with a roundhouse right. In Moorer's corner, he was treated for a slight mouse under his right eye.

Moorer used his jab effectively to start the sixth round. Foreman worked Moorer's body with sweeping punches. He seemed intent on drawing Moorer inside for a big right hand, but Moorer scored with a right of his own.

A booming right hand by Foreman shook Moorer momentarily in the opening seconds of the eighth round. Moorer quickly rallied with a combination. A right uppercut by Moorer in the closing seconds sent Foreman back to his corner on wobbly legs.

The crowd sentiment was definitely with Foreman, who has become a cult figure since embarking on his ring comeback in 1987 after a 10-year layoff. Since beginning his comeback his record is 28-2 with 26 knockouts.

Most of the late betting was on Foreman. In the final 24 hours, the odds favoring Moorer dropped from 7-to-2 to 5-to-2.

The gamblers remembered how Moorer had been floored by Bert Cooper and journeyman Everett "Big Foot" Martin, neither close to matching Foreman's potential power.

This marked Foreman's first fight since he resembled a tired, old man in losing a 12-round decision to a backpedaling Tommy Morrison 17 months ago.

But after Foreman was unimpressed by Moorer's narrow victory over Evander Holyfield last April, he pressured promoter Bob Arum to arrange a title match with the new champion.

Foreman, at 45 years and 9 months, was the oldest challenger for the heavyweight crown in history. Archie Moore was a month shy of 43 when he was stopped by then-heavyweight king Rocky Marciano.

Moorer, who has talked of retiring from the ring before he turns 30, received the lion's share of the purse. The Detroit boxer was guaranteed an estimated $7 million, and Foreman received $1 million from the HBO event co-promoted by Dan Duva's Main Events Inc. and Arum's Top Rank organization.

Moorer underwent surgery on his right hand after the Holyfield fight. He was under doctor's orders not to do anything strenuous for several months, and his weight ballooned to 240. He weighed 222 at the official weigh-in Thursday afternoon.

In the post-fight excitement, Roy Foreman, the new champion's younger brother, passed out in the ring and was removed on a stretcher.

* Unbeaten Cuban heavyweight contender Jorge Luis Gonzalez (21-0, 20 KOs) did little to enhance his chance at a title shot as he clowned his way to a seventh-round TKO over Olian Alexander (24-5) of Kansas City, Mo. The crowd booed the inaction, but cheered when Alexander quit on his stool.

YOUNG AT HEART

The oldest participants in heavyweight championship fights:

* George Foreman, 45 -- knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round to win the WBA and IBF titles, last night-x.

* Archie Moore, 42 years, 11 months -- stopped in fifth round by Floyd Patterson for vacant title, Nov. 30, 1956.

* Larry Holmes, 42 years, 7 months -- outpointed by champion Evander Holyfield, June 19, 1992.

* Foreman, 42 years, 3 months -- outpointed by champion Holyfield, April 19, 1991.

* Moore, 41 -- knocked out in ninth round by champion Rocky Marciano, Sept. 21, 1955.

* Jersey Joe Walcott, 39 years, 3 months -- knocked out in first round by champion Marciano, May 15, 1953.

* James J. Jeffries, 39 years, 1 month -- knocked out in 15th round by champion Jack Johnson, July 4, 1910.

* Walcott, 38 years, 7 months -- knocked out in the 13th round by challenger Marciano, Sept. 23, 1952.

* Walcott, 38 years, 5 months -- outpointed challenger Ezzard Charles, June 5, 1952.

* Holmes, 38 years, 2 months -- stopped in fourth round by champion Mike Tyson, Jan. 22, 1988.

x - Before Foreman, Walcott had been the oldest man to win the heavyweight title when, at 37 years, 5 months, he knocked out Charles in the seventh round on July 18, 1951.

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