Can George do it?
An admittingly unscientific TV Times survey of boxing announcers gives former heavyweight champion George Foreman a far better chance of defeating heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield Friday than the 4 1/2-1 Las Vegas odds.
"He has a good shot," said KABC-TV's Jim Hill, who has been the television host for several world heavyweight title fights. "Any time anyone can hit as hard as he can, it doesn't make a difference what age you are."
Joe Goosen, who will be the expert analyst on the pay-per-view telecast, concurs.
"On paper, Holyfield looks like a sure bet," said Goosen, the former trainer for International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Michael Nunn. "He's young, he's knocked out seven heavyweights and is going against a 42-year-old Foreman, who hasn't looked anything great, but has looked terribly strong and did look very accurate against (Gerry) Cooney and looked like he handled Adilson Rodrigues with much, much, much more ease than Holyfield did.
"But it's funny. I have a gut feeling Foreman is going to knock out Evander Holyfield. I say that not because he really should, but I really base my opinion on that Holyfield has shown us one thing: He gets hit, and gets hit a lot. He was hit by Seamus McDonaugh, hit a lot and stunned by Alex Stewart, hit an abundance of times by Michael Dokes, rocked by Adilson Rodrigues. If George Foreman hits you just a little bit, you're gone."
HBO's Jim Lampley and ESPN's Al Bernstein take a more guarded view.
"The conventional wisdom is that Holyfield gets a middle-round TKO over an exhausted George Foreman, but I leave in there a 40% to 45% possibility that Holyfield has a momentary lapse in concentration and George Foreman beats him," said Lampley, who called the Foreman-Rodrigues fight. "Along with Sonny Liston, George Foreman is the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division in my lifetime and maybe longer than that."
"I subscribe to the general notion that George Foreman's best chance is early in the bout," Bernstein said. "If he can get to Holyfield in the first three or four rounds, he definitely has a chance, but if the bout goes beyond four or five rounds, Holyfield will be a winner."
Hugh Malay, who called four of Foreman's fights for FNN: SPORTS, picks Foreman to knock out Holyfield (25-0, with 21 knockouts, the last 13 in a row) in five or six rounds.
"If you asked me this question two years ago, I'd say no way," Malay said. "But he surprised me with what kind of punch he can take. I knew he could hit, but he's a huge guy that can take a big punch."
Malay is most impressed by Foreman's punching power, which has seen him knock out 23 of the 24 fighters he has faced since returning to the ring in 1987. For his career, Foreman has recorded 65 knockouts in 71 fights, winning 69 times, losing only to Muhammad Ali in 1974 and Jimmy Young in 1977.
"He's not a quick puncher, he's a heavy puncher," Malay said. "When he hits you, he's punching through you. Although these punches are not as crisp or sharp as a Mike Tyson punch, they're thuds--like hitting a wall. That accumulates after a while.
"I don't think Holyfield has been hit as hard as he will be hit here. Even if it's a body shot, it'll be a body shot that can break him in half."
Holyfield's penchant to trade punches with opponents will prove to be his downfall, Malay believes.
"Holyfield is in such great shape he'll put up a great fight, but the instinct of a fighter when they're hit is to punch back and he's going to get hit," Malay said. "Even in the Douglas fight, the punches were opened to get hit, but Douglas didn't have the quickness or sharpness to do it.
"If Holyfield gets hit, he's going down. I think he'll get up, but George is a surprising good finisher. The Gerry Cooney fight is a good example of that."
Early in the second round of their Jan. 15, 1990, fight, Foreman stunned Cooney with a left-right combination followed by a left hook that knocked Cooney down. When a dazed Cooney got up, Foreman battered him with a series of combinations and a right cross which ended the fight, 1 minute, 57 seconds into the second round.
But detractors put little stock in Foreman's win over Cooney, or any of his other comeback fights because of the quality (or more accurately the lack of same) of Foreman's opponents.
Cooney had fought fewer than 12 rounds since 1982 and none since June 15, 1987, and again announced his retirement after losing to Foreman. Rodrigues, who was knocked out in two rounds June 16, 1990, was the only one of Foreman's 24 opponents during his comeback to have been ranked in the top 10 by any of boxing's major sanctioning bodies.
"These guys are supposedly tomato cans, but he takes care of them, exactly the way he's supposed to," Goosen said. "If he was going the distance with guys like Bert Cooper, J.B. Williamson, Dave Jacko and Gerry Cooney, (then it would be a concern.)
"But he takes care of these stepping stone fighters, just like Mike Tyson did when he was coming up, in one or two rounds. Maybe he's fought a lot of cruiserweights (the relatively new weight class with a 195-pound limit), some light-heavyweights (175-194 pounds), some guys over the hill, but the thing is, when they get in there with him, they're gone in three to six minutes."
Offering a dissenting view is Jim Healy. The KMPC radio sportscaster has called between 3,500 and 4,000 fights for various television outlets.
"George Foreman doesn't have a chance, because of his age and reflexes," said Healy, who broadcast Foreman's 10th-round knockout of Gregorio Peralta on May 10, 1971. "He's in slow-motion. He punches in slow-motion. He won't have the reflexes to get his head out of the way, to get his hands up to block and avoid punches.
"Even 10 years ago when he was 33, Foreman wouldn't have been able to beat Holyfield. It's a joke."
The Evander Holyfield-George Foreman heavyweight championship fight telecast begins at 6 p.m. Friday. Check with your local cable system for price and availability.