By Lenny Moon
During the year of 1991, one could purchase a gallon of gasoline for $1.12, George H.W. Bush occupied the White House, and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls would win the first of their six world championships within an eight year span. A Super Bowl XXV 30-second ad could be purchased for a mere $800K (about $5 million these days). R&B group Color Me Badd was enjoying chart success with hit single “I Adore Mi Amour”. Also occurring that year during the century’s final decade was a titanic heavyweight championship bout on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The bout was entitled “Battle of the Ages” and the combatants were two warriors with ties to the city of Houston, Tx. The champion was Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, who was making his first defense of his title since knocking out James “Buster” Douglas (a one-hit wonder having stopped Mike Tyson in Japan to capture the crown). His challenger would be George Foreman, a former champion that was widely known to “turn out lights” with potent power in both hands. At 28 years of age, Holyfield had garnered acclaim in the lighter divisions, procuring titles in the light heavyweight and cruiserweight categories prior to arriving in the heavies in 1988 vs trial horse James “Quick” Tillis. Although his resume included disposing of the likes of Pinklon Thomas and Michael Dokes, there were still questions about whether the Atlanta, Ga native would be a true heavyweight champion that could stave off all comers.
“Big George” was 42 years of age
heading into the showdown with the “Real Deal”. Foreman was born in Marshall, Tx (about 220 miles north of H-Town) but was raised in Houston’s rugged Fifth Ward. Natives would refer to that north of downtown neighborhood as the “Bloody Fifth”. George had won his title some 19 years earlier in a classic demolition of Joe Frazier, lost it to Muhammad Ali in Zaire Africa (“Rumble in the Jungle”), was away from the sport for a decade while dedicating himself to his ministry and youth development. His return to boxing was received with mixed reviews, coming back with a much larger waistline and even bigger personality. The image of the former champ (on infomercials) with an apron and big smile convincing us that cooking meat on his specialized grill would make us all healthier and made him likeable and mainstream.
Holyfield had adopted Houston as his second home. He began training here shortly following his Olympic stint in 1984 and became quite visible in the community. His training facility in the Heights area of town was a “hotbox” with the huge corner fans blowing and loud gospel music playing in the background. Weight training would transpire in the plush Galleria area, while road training usually took place in the fashionable and popular Memorial Park area. Foreman of course was embedded in Houston’s north side, where his gym, youth center, church and vast real estate holdings lie. Reporters of boxing (such as yours truly) would commonly leave one camp and travel to the other during the same day. “Big George’s” comeback had begun four years earlier and 20 fights into his return, blew away respectable slugger Gerry Cooney less than a year prior to the showdown, also in New Jersey.
That takes us to the April 19 1991 confrontation for the undisputed heavyweight championship. The promoters of the event were Holyfield’s team of Main Events and the Duvas in conjunction with Foreman’s group Top Rank and Bob Arum. The host of the event was Trump Plaza, yes the same Trump that would become the 45th President of the U.S. twenty five years later. Having witnessed both training camps in H-Town and now reporting on the event in New Jersey was amongst the most intense environments I’ve had the experience of covering. This bout would answer a lot of questions the boxing world had leading up to this epic matchup. Would George have the stamina to maintain if he did not get the early knockout and could Holyfield withstand the straight ahead pursuit of this hulking destroyer that could take out any fighter with one punch?
The fight itself had some interesting moments and did answer some questions. Holyfield proved that he was a bonafide heavyweight champion, able to offset a bigger, stronger and determined opponent that pressured him the entire contest. “The Real Deal” utilized his speed advantage and explosive power shots to maintain control for the majority of the bout. While speaking from the post fight podium, the defending champion offered “ I hit George with everything that I had and for five previous (professional) years, if I hit guys with those same punches they were out. Big George was somehow able to take them”.
On the other hand, the 42-year old challenger proved that his comeback following his ten year hiatus was no fluke. Three years later, he would go on to capture his second world heavyweight championship vs Michael Moorer in Las Vegas. But the cheeseburger eating pugilist put the rest of the division on notice with his gritty performance against the champion 14 years his junior. “I caught him with some good shots, but when I moved in to attempt to finish him, he fired back and tried to finish me. The man is a great champion” retorted Big George.
- R&B stars Salt-N-Pepa sung the national anthem for the “Battle of the Ages” world heavyweight championship bout.
- Houston artist Jai Jamel was the producer and singer of the song (“Here Comes George”) that Foreman chose for his walk into the arena. Jamel was an associate of yours truly and asked a favor of me to at least deliver a copy to the hard-hitting challenger. Not making any promises, the selection was passed on to brother/ business manager Roy Foreman perhaps 48 hours prior to the event. To my surprise (and Jai’s back home in H-Town), the tune was booming over the arena’s loudspeakers and shared with an international audience over the HBO network…Way to go Roy.
- The Foreman contingent from Houston utilized the limousine services of Philadelphia -based former heavyweight champion “Smokin Joe” Frazier (January 12 1944- November 7 2011). During those days, most passengers headed to the resort area of Atlantic City flew to Philly and commuted across the border into New Jersey. Ironically, Big George won his first title from Frazier and crushed him a second time in their rematch…Was delighted to see that their friendship overshadowed the brutal confrontations in the ring and thanks again for the comfortable ride Mr Frazier.