Foreman's outrageous fortune

Harry Mullan weighs the heavy penalty suffered by a German champion
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The Independent Online
LAS VEGAS has waved goodbye to a host of losers over the years, but few have lost on such a monumental scale as Axel Schulz. Had the German been given a well-deserved decision over George Foreman in their heavyweight title fight last Saturday, the victory would have been worth a conservative $10m. The $375,000 he collected instead will probably make him the richest man in Bad Saarow, his former East German home town, but that is scant consolation when he should now be negotiating multi-million dollar defences of a championship he had earned with a skilful, brave and methodical performance in a fight he began as a long-priced outsider.

One of the three judges at least had the decency to give him a draw, but the other two favoured Foreman and returned one of the worst verdicts in history since Schulz's compatriot Max Schmeling was denied justice against Jack Sharkey in 1932, provoking his Jewish manager Joe Jacobs to coin the immortal lament of losers everywhere: "We wuz robbed! We shoulda stood in bed!"

Scoring from ringside, I had Foreman losing by 116-113, but that was to ignore the outside factors which may well have persuaded the officials - all American - to defy the evidence of their own eyes. The champion works exclusively on HBO, the giant pay-per-view network, and according to HBO spokesman Seth Abraham the preliminary figures indicated that an astonishing 30m viewers had tuned in, making Foreman easily the network's most valuable asset. "Those are better figures than Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand or Madonna achieved," Abraham told the post-fight press conference. The unspoken sub-text was that his defeat would be a commercial catastrophe for the company, which could afford to pay him around $10m to fight a nonentity like Schulz and still turn a handsome profit.

The other factor had less to do with cash than with national pride and emotion. Americans regard the heavyweight championship as their personal property, and (as the unfortunate Schmeling could have told Schulz) are notably reluctant to relinquish it to a European. When the going got rough for Foreman last Saturday, as it frequently did, he was rallied not by chants of "George, George", but "USA, USA". Sunday was also a formal day of mourning for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the country's pain would not have been eased by the loss of a championship whose symbolic value transcends sport.

The American press, who had dismissed Schulz's chances with typically insular arrogance beforehand, came down overwhelmingly on his side. Of 16 major writers polled by the Las Vegas paper next day, only four agreed with the verdict. But at least there is some hope for Schulz. The International Boxing Federation, who along with the fledgling World Boxing Union are now the only organisation to recognise Foreman as champion, plan to have their championships committee review the video tape. If they agree there was a miscarriage of justice, they will order an immediate rematch and strip Foreman of the title if he refuses.

He has made it plain that he wants no part of Schulz again ("Tell that boy to go back where he came from and stay there"), but his problem is that, at 46, his decline is so pronounced that there may not be anybody out there he can actually beat. It's time for the old boy to go, while he can still find the door.