Questions of race again preoccupy the deal-makers and go-betweens in the heavyweight division. Throughout the build-up to the Morrison- Foreman bout, both boxers refused to discuss issues of skin colour - but they were present, just as Morrison's role in Rocky V illustrated the political differences between America and the old Soviet Union. When Morrison finally left the ring after outwitting the ancient and mountainous Foreman, not a single black American was to be found among those who had stayed behind to applaud the victory.
Only out of the corners of mouths was it acknowledged that Morrison will be supremely bankable as a white (nominal) world champion. Dan Duva, the promoter working with Lewis and Frank Maloney, recalled the days when another 'great white hope', Gerry Cooney, was able to command purses far higher than opponents of the calibre of Larry Holmes, purely on the basis of pigmentation. The
50-50 offer from the Lewis camp to Morrison presents the starkest possible picture of racial schisms in the United States.
Normally a win for a fighter like Morrison in such a backwater of the heavyweight league would entitle him to nothing like half the takings from a fight with Lewis. 'We're competing with Riddick Bowe for the services of Tommy Morrison,' Duva said as he attempted to explain the generosity of Lewis's offer. Given that Bowe's cornermen are unlikely to match this munificence, the probability is that Lewis will fight Morrison in Las Vegas - not Atlantic City, as previously suggested - this autumn for a purse of dollars 25-30m ( pounds 16.9-20.2m).
Morrison is in this position because his plan to defeat Foreman worked almost perfectly before a raucous crowd at the Thomas & Mack arena. The pattern of the fight was the same throughout the 12 rounds. Foreman's only assets at the age of 44 are his experience and bulk (he was 30lb heavier than Morrison), but the slowness of his punches and his inabliity to throw combinations enabled Morrison to land swift attacks that were followed invariably by tactical retreats.
By the 10th, Morrison was far enough ahead for him to be able to skip round the ring, often with his back turned to Foreman. For that he was loudly booed. 'I know the crowd would rather see two people standing face to face knocking hell out of each other, but I showed here I could be a more disciplined fighter,' Morrison said before retiring to the Elvis Presley suite at the Hilton. His constant references to 'discipline' were a reminder that, by his own admission, the fame that Rocky V brought him was not always compatible with the need to enter boxing gyms.
Had Foreman won, then Lewis would almost certainly have faced Frank Bruno. Assuming Morrison accepts the Lewis deal - which he should - then Lewis will at least be tested in his first fight back after surgery on his injured right hand. Duva reported that Lewis had an operation in New York on 20 May for damage to two tendons in his little finger, and that he would not be able to resume training until the middle of July.
Whatever the sceptics said about Foreman-Morrison, it was an immensely popular fight in Las Vegas and with cable television subscribers. When Morrison was landing his biggest punches - and Foreman was absorbing the impact through his 256lb (18st 4lb) body - it evoked the thought that not since he fought Muhammad Ali in 1974 has Foreman crashed to the canvas.
Nor will he again. 'I don't think I'm going to box any more,' Foreman said from behind the sunglasses he uses to conceal his flattened middle- aged face. 'I've fought for the world title twice (since his comeback in 1987) and I have no more goals left in boxing. I told my wife earlier that we're going to take a year off and just ride around.'
There were times when Foreman's presence brought great pleasure to those with a predilection for such savage pursuits. His departure here, after 76 fights and 24 years, deserved one response only. Relief.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content