LAS VEGAS -- George Foreman, the 46-year-old heavyweight champion and grandfather, has promised to retire after 1995. But he may hasten that decision after barely surviving a surprisingly strong showing from obscure German challenger Axel Schulz at the MGM Grand Garden last night.
Foreman, who electrified the boxing world by regaining his title last November with a 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer, needed some charitable judging to retain his crown.
Judge Chuck Giampa called it even, 114-114, but both Jerry Roth and Keith Macdonald favored the American folk hero, 115-113.
Foreman (74-4), his left eye closed and his body showing his weariness, said, "I knew this guy would be tough, so it didn't surprise me. Germans have a lot of pride."
But while admitting he looked "like a junkyard dog," Foreman defended the decision.
"He ran," Foreman said. "That 26-year-old kid ran away from a grandpappy. You don't give fighters the championship for running."
The MGM Grand switchboard reportedly was swamped with calls of protests from fans who witnessed the bout on HBO, claiming Schulz, a 6 1/2 -to-1 underdog, was robbed.
The youthful German's promoter and manager, Wilfrid Sauerland, issued a more mild protest.
"I thought Axel won by one or two points," Sauerland said. "Fighting in a foreign country, Axel deserved no less than a draw. George himself thought he lost."
Added Schulz (21-2-1), who earned $350,000 compared to Foreman's lion's share of $10 million, "I'm too upset now to say anything."
Later he added: "I think George is a big champion. If he really is the big champion I think he is, he'll give me a rematch in Germany."
The German left the ring to the loud cheers of his appreciative fans, who had hoped Schultz would duplicate countryman Max Schmeling's feat of coming to America to win a title 65 years ago. He appeared to have won the lively brawl with a strong finish after surviving Foreman's clubbing punches in the first six rounds.
The 26-year-old challenger even attacked Foreman in the last three rounds, but lost the 11th on two scorecards and the 12th on Macdonald's sheet.
Foreman's narrow escape could discourage talk of a multimillion-dollar showdown with former champion Mike Tyson.
But Foreman still seemed eager.
"That fellow ran and Mike Tyson would stand toe to toe and fight it out," Foreman said. "There would be two punches. He would hit me and I would hit the ground or I would hit him and he would hit the ground."
Schulz, who, at 221, was giving away 35 pounds, was sent flying backward after catching Foreman's first right hand.
But he quickly regrouped and landed a short right cross to Foreman's head.
Schulz tried to attack in the second round, but was kept at a distance by Foreman's hard jab.
Schulz began the third round aggressively, but his punches failed to stall Foreman's relentless pursuit. The Houston preacher jarred his rival with an uppercut and landed a hard right to the midsection.
Now every time Foreman attacked, Schulz quickly went into a defensive shell.
Foreman chose to stand in his corner between rounds while veteran cornermen worked on a slight swelling over his left eye.
In the fourth round, Foreman began throwing crunching blows to the German's rib cage. But Schulz, a product of the former East German sports factory, showed he was in good shape.
Near the end of the round, Schulz began bleeding high on his right forehead. His corner did a quick repair job.
Schulz stood toe-to-toe with Foreman in the fifth round and managed to win several heated exchanges. He got the champion's attention with a three-punch combination while Foreman continued to attack the German's body.
Foreman used his jab to better advantage in round six, finding room between Schulz's peakaboo defense. The action slowed, but Schulz closed the round with an effective flurry.
Schulz employed his elusive tactics to frustrate Foreman early in round seven and landed two overhand rights. But blood was again spouting from his hairline.
The fight was momentarily halted when Foreman hit Schulz low and referee Joe Cortez allowed the German a brief respite. But Schulz again closed the round with a strong combination, showing he had made the trip to America for more than a payday.
Foreman became more purposeful in round eight, catching Schulz with two lefts and an uppercut. Schulz swarmed inside to score with a three-punch flurry and ended the eighth with a chopping right as Foreman began to show concern.
Foreman used all of his 246 pounds in the ninth round to club Schulz inside. But the German continued to show great courage and stamina, rallying in the last 20 seconds with several sneak rights.
Schulz took heart by carrying the fight to the American folk hero in the 10th round. He made the sweat fly from Foreman's broad face with an overhand right. He was repeatedly beating the champion to the punch, all but closing Foreman's left eye.
Foreman got the crowd roaring in the 11th round when he tried to deliver a knockout punch, keeping constant pressure on his surprisingly stubborn foe. Schulz weathered the attack, proving he had a durable chin to match his fortitude.
The two fighters fought in mid-ring in the 12th and final round, with Schulz scoring with a solid right cross. In the closing 30 seconds, Schulz swarmed to the attack and landed three crunching rights. It was Foreman who looked much the loser as he walked wearily to his corner at the final bell.