No Apologies : Michael Moorer Realizes He's Not the People's Choice Against Foreman, But It Seems to Matter Little to Champion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael Moorer, the cautious champion, blends into crowds, keeps his smiles private and stares at the world with suspicious eyes.

Call him the heavyweight champion of the Slacker Generation: cynical, world weary beyond his 27 years, winning despite his own unspoken doubts, and determined to answer only to himself.

If that means that he is not embraced by the public at large, Moorer says, if that means that even those in his sport view him with at best tepid respect, despite his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. titles, then that is the way life goes.

Beating Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight title hasn't changed Moorer. In fact, it probably has made him seek to dive deeper into the shadows.

"A lot of people think I'm such a bad person," Moorer said this week during final preparations for his title defense Saturday against 45-year-old George Foreman.

"I'm relaxed and quiet, so they think that. I'll say what I want. I wouldn't bite my tongue. But because I don't rant and rave and call people names, they think I'm not the heavyweight champion."

Publicly, Moorer, the first left-handed champion in the heavyweight division, is passionate about his 2-year-old son, Michael, and about his desire, once he sheds his boxing career, to work in law enforcement.

And he obviously has flourished under the tutelage of trainer Teddy Atlas, who acts as drill sergeant, confessor and emotional harbor for the moody champion.

But on other issues more closely related to the sport that is making him millions--$7 million, to be precise, for this fight--Moorer is distant, often diffident. Boxing, even the heavyweight title, he says, is a means to an end.

Asked if his son understands how important his father is, Moorer shakes his head and laughs softly.

"I have a friend taking a lot of pictures," Moorer said. "I'm going to keep everything together so he can see, once he gets older, and understand the pictures of him and I, the things I was going through and the videotapes and all that. I'm looking forward to it, actually. I want him to see what I went through."

And what will Moorer tell his son about this time in his life?

"That it was a good feeling," Moorer said. "It was something I worked so hard for and continued to work hard after I won it. I would probably tell him that everything was behind him. I want him to see what Dad did and try to make a better life for himself."

The current hurdle is Foreman, a much older, much larger and much more popular man. Moorer's camp acknowledges that Moorer probably won't win any more respect unless he demolishes Foreman, and recognizes that losing the fight would be a mortal blow to his career.

That Moorer is only a 3-1 betting favorite is testament to his cautious fighting style and Foreman's standing with the mass audience.

Moorer was inactive for much of the summer after undergoing surgery on his right hand last summer and gained about 20 extra pounds. So when he steps on the scale today and weighs about 10 pounds more than the 214 he weighed against Holyfield, the odds might go lower, although Atlas is unconcerned about the extra pounds.

Moorer was irritated by some of the stunts Foreman pulled during a press tour, and clearly views Foreman as all show-biz hype.

Tuesday, Foreman charged that Moorer was taking this fight only for the money, and chortled that he would be glad to rid Moorer of the "burden" of being champion.

"He psychs other people out," Moorer said of Foreman. "All the games that he's going to try to play, all the tactics and everything like that, he's going to say what he wants to say to try to lure people into believing in him.

"He's going to try to intimidate. I'm the wrong person to intimidate. I'm not going to lose my mental thought and my ability to go out there and do what I have to do by listening to his nonsense. I know what it's all about.

"He's probably going to be the sentimental favorite in this fight because of the way he is and the following that he has, the older generation. That's all well and good. I'm not worried about what he has to say. That doesn't win the fight. What happens in the ring does."

Moorer's manager, John Davimos, who has traveled with Moorer through all the bumps and crises of his early and recent career, argues that it is precisely Moorer's less-than-flamboyant ways that probably will keep him on top as long as he cares to be champion.

Moorer, 35-0 with 30 knockouts, may fight Riddick Bowe in February, assuming he defeats Foreman. Mike Tyson will be out of jail soon. And both fighters are far more appreciated by the boxing community than the title-holder.

"He's the first guy in the world to tell you he's a beatable champion, and that anybody's beatable and that anybody can lose," Davimos said. "When you're aware of that, you do everything you can to prevent that from happening.

"I think Bowe got the feeling that he was an unbeatable champion, that if he just did the minimum he'd be just fine. I think Tyson with (Buster) Douglas, the same thing.

"As far as the public perception of him? I don't think he cares. If he does, he shouldn't. The fact is, Evander didn't get any respect until he lost to Bowe.

"Sooner or later something happens in your career that defines it. And it's not going to be this fight and it's probably not going to be the next fight and it probably won't be until the end of his career, like it is with most guys. And then it'll be defined. And I think he has that perspective."

Atlas, for one, is more than willing to take on anybody who wants to proclaim Bowe, Tyson or anybody else the real heavyweight champion of the world.

"The same Bowe who's 300 pounds? The same Bowe who lost to Holyfield, the guy that we beat?" Atlas challenged. "The same Tyson who lost to Buster Douglas and who really deteriorated before he went into jail? And the same Tyson who now after deteriorating before he went into jail is going to be suddenly better three years later after sitting idle?

"Anyone John makes the fight with is a fight we're prepared for. Right now, Michael has more credibility than ever, especially with (Oliver) McCall having won (the World Boxing Council title). Michael's the heavyweight champ of the world right now.

"He hasn't had the household name of Tyson because he hasn't had that kind of exposure, but this fight will broaden Michael's visibility tremendously. And I also believe for Michael, possibly, the best is in front of him."

Atlas, Davimos and Moorer emphasize how much smoother this training camp has gone, compared to previous ones, suggesting that his previous quiet worries and self-destructive mood swings have gradually dissipated.

"He's become a stronger person to rely on," Atlas said. "I think last camp he submitted to me in the last two weeks before the fight and he kind of trusted . . . He believed if he faced everything and did all the things I had told him that everything would be OK.

"Fortunately, we won the fight, and I think we're reaping some of the benefits of that happening. Now he has trust in me and there's less need to test.

"There's a certain bond there. I care about Michael. John cares about him. He asked us to be there for something that was important for him, his hometown. We were there.

"Michael did something special for me. He gave me a heavyweight champion. I'll never forget that. Without getting mushy or stupid about it, Michael will always have a special place with me."

Talking about the parade that Moorer's hometown of Monessen, Pa., threw for him in the weeks after he beat Holyfield brought out Moorer's warmest words and unguarded emotions.

Moorer had previously been involved in a few ugly incidents in the town, including an alcohol-induced brawl with several local policemen that resulted in the town's suing him for damages.

If his own hometown didn't love him, who would?

But, after the parade, Moorer believes that the wounds have been healed.

"All the bad news is gone," Moorer said. "I came back; they gave me a hell of a parade. It was one of the best days of my life. All the bad stuff, that's all put behind me. The parade was a good thing.

"At times, (the problems in Monessen) probably got to me, when I was less mature than I am now. But I can handle it. I was there. I apologized to the people for all the things that happened between them and I and the city. . . . I just bought guns for the police department. It's not that I felt I had to do it, it's that I want to be in some type of law enforcement."

Did he think that the town, also, was apologizing to him?

"They were happy for me," Moorer said. "So if you want to take it as an apology, then that's what we'll do."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°