Boxing: Foreman's great comeback set to conclude with a grand charade: Former champion fights again for world title and pay-day worth dollars 7m

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GEORGE FOREMAN'S 76-fight career stretching back to 1969 is almost certain to come to a close in the Thomas & Mack Centre here tonight, where Foreman fights Tommy Morrison - he of Rocky V fame - for the vacant and maligned World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title. It is a suitably grand charade to conclude the music-hall act of Foreman's remunerative comeback in 1987.

Yet again the public is expressing its enthusiasm for seeing a 44-year- old apparition from a previous era risk his mental capacities against a far younger, hungrier fighter. Bob Arum, the promoter of tonight's event, says that 11,000 of the 19,500 seats in the arena have already been sold, and that late sales should push that figure up to 15,000.

Foreman will receive at least dollars 7m ( pounds 4.6m) from a fight that will generate considerably more revenue than the Lennox Lewis-Tony Tucker bout did here last month. Only 300,000 households placed orders on pay-per-view television to see Lewis beat Tucker, whereas Foreman-Morrison is expected to draw in 1.5 million customers. With percentages, even Morrison's take could climb as high as dollars 5m.

Lewis and his manager, Frank Maloney, will be in attendance tonight to discover first-hand who Lewis, the World Boxing Council champion, will meet next. If Morrison wins, he is expected to fight Lewis in Atlantic City on 15 October. If Foreman is able to out-slog an opponent 20 years his junior, Frank Bruno will be given his chance to face Lewis.

Punters here are as confused by the Foreman-Morrison fight as boxing academics are in trying to explain how Foreman has been able to gross more than dollars 20m in the past six years. When betting started, Foreman opened the 6-4 favourite, then dropped to evens before taking a walk in the market and allowing Morrison to shorten to 7-5. The 'Star-Spangled Battle', as this fight is being ludicrously billed, is a tricky one to call.

Why the all-America theme? Because Morrison comes from Jay, Oklahoma, and can claim John Wayne as a great-uncle. 'Mom, apple pie and a nasty left hook all wrapped up in one sensational package', runs the blurb. Less than sensational, actually. Morrison, 24, has lost just one of his 37 fights, but has encountered nobody more formidable than Ray Mercer (who beat him) or Carl 'The Truth' Williams en route to the Thomas & Mack.

Morrison at least has the advantage of knowing that sitcoms and commercials are occupying Foreman's thoughts these days as much as hauling his distended and ageing body into boxing rings is.

'What I wanted to prove is that reaching 40 isn't a death sentence. I've done that,' Foreman said over the weekend, but Morrison is taking a less romantic view of the former champion's intentions. 'Conditioning-wise, I don't think he's there,' Morrison said. 'His idea of getting in shape is going to the West Indies and walking in the heat. George is basically through with boxing.'

It looks a rather cruel epitaph for the man who beat Joe Frazier twice (in 1973 and 1976) and who encountered a resurgent Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974. But then nobody should weep for Foreman, provided he evades emasculation one last time in Las Vegas tonight. Paying to see it may be the boxing public's folly, but it is most definitely Foreman's gain.