Boxing: THE THRILLER OF THE GRILLA; AT 55 BIG GEORGE IS STILL RAKING IN THE DOUGH - BUT THE MAN WHO RUMBLED WITH ALI IS DESPERATE TO GLOVE UP AGAIN Foreman hungry for another fight.
ANYONE seen my hand? Nail-bitten, chubby-fingered, prone to the odd tremor and last spotted disappearing into the big brown mitt of the heaviest hitter in boxing history.
This is George Foreman, 55. Years not stone.
Seconds out from the 30th anniversary of his showdown with Muhammad Ali, Foreman is ready to rumble.
And not because he's hungry. And not because the chef at a posh Manchester hotel has told him it will take half an hour to cook the steak to his liking.
Foreman - parent to ten, a fistful of business dollars in his pocket and 28 Bentleys on his books - wants to fight again.
So what has the godfather of the griddle got in mind? A Grilla in Manila, perhaps?
No. "I want one more fight," says Foreman. "And if there is a young heavyweight out there who doesn't feel he's getting the recognition he deserves, I say to him, 'Here's George Foreman - let's get it on'. At least he'll be famous then if nothing else."
Foreman's family apparently have few qualms about their ageing pop taking another punch.
Eldest son George will be right behind him. As will George Junior. And George III. And George IV. And George V. And George VI.
"I figured I had taken so many punches I might lose my memory, so it is easier to remember just one name," chortles Foreman, who has one of his nephews amongst his entourage for a promotional trip around Europe.
"Pleased to meet you... and you are?"
Well, of course. George.
Unfortunately, we don't meet daughter Georgetta but we do meet the lovely Natalie, who seems serenely unconcerned about her father's plans.
But Foreman's wife is more sceptical.
George explains: "She is giving me trouble about it. But I said I won't get into the ring unless I get down to 225lbs, so I need to lose about 25lbs and she reckons I won't do it. So it's a double challenge - and I will do it."
Foreman denies it is a publicity stunt. Or even the latest manifestation of a nagging sense of injustice.
He should be remembered as an Olympic gold medallist, a double world heavyweight champion and the possessor of a punch which could fell trees.
Instead, Foreman will be for ever associated with October 30, 1974 - the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire and spectacular defeat.
"I have achieved great things as a boxer but the world chooses what it wants to remember," he adds. "Look at all those great plays Shakespeare wrote, but most people only ever remember Romeo and Juliet.
"The fight in Africa with Ali is what people want to remember and you shouldn't ride against that wave.
"I enjoy being part of that. You can't mention Ali without mentioning George Foreman. You can't mention The Greatest without also mentioning George Foreman. So that's fine.
"Of course, people remember that fight in Africa. I sure do. You know Ali used to say he was so quick he could hit the switch and be in bed before the light was off? He wasn't lying."
While Ali has been locked in a sad battle with ill-health, Foreman has been fortunate enough to capitalise on his fame and amass a fortune from his Lean, Mean, Grilling Machine.
At the last count, it had sold 55million in the States and seven million in the UK.
In fact, he has more than 70 endorsements to his name, including the George Foreman Knockout Cleanser, the George Foreman Cookbook and - no cheap gags about Georges I-VI, please - the George Foreman Sausage.
Throw his experience as a baptist minister, rancher and clothes designer into the mix and it's easy to forget that Foreman was a phenomenal fighter.
After winning a gold medal in 1968 after just 25 amateur fights, Foreman turned pro and won 76 out of his 81 bouts.
But the most astonishing statistic is that he won the world title in 1973 when he defeated Smokin' Joe Frazier... and regained it TWENTY-ONE years later when he beat Michael Moorer aged 46.
But he claims he has never been interested in greatness.
"That was for people like Ali and Joe Louis," he says. "They were just desperate to be GREAT boxers. They loved it.
"I wanted a fleet of Cadillacs, I wanted a nice suit of clothes, I wanted to buy my mom a house.
"And then when the grill idea was put to me, I wanted one. Then I wanted a garage-full. And now I've sold millions and millions. It's not necessarily about the money. You just have to keep going every day, meeting new challenges.
"That is why I travel around the world on business. It's not helping me lose weight for my comeback, but I just have to put my all into it."
A conservative estimate of his business earnings weighs in at around $250million (pounds 140m).
So at least we can assume that money is not the motivation for his return.
"Of course not," he confirms. "I'm coming back because I'm stupid! Crazy! No-one understands a boxer's mentality - it's just something you have to do.
"But you can't fight for the money. When you condescend to just fight for the money, there is only one outcome - you will get beat up. And that's what happened to Mike Tyson against your own Danny Williams.
"Williams was probably fighting for half the money Tyson was on but he was fighting for recognition. He deserved to win."
Foreman is equally complimentary about Audley Harrison, the man who has fought opponents that put the dope into rope-a-dope. But Foreman says: "People are giving him a hard time, saying he is being managed too slowly.
"But he is a big, big guy with a great talent. For sure, he could knock out the likes of Klitschko."
And on his fleeting visit to these shores, Foreman has some advice for Amir Khan.
"You must seize the moment," he says. "Strike while the iron is hot and turn professional. Othwerwise, another guy might come along and you'll be forgotten."
While Khan is one of the few who can add lustre to boxing's dubious future, Foreman is a big, chuckling reminder of its glorious past.
And still one of the most recognisable figures in sport.
Diners twist to catch a glimpse of the sharply-dressed hulk, ignoring the file of England footballers trooping past on their way back from training.
"I hear that guy who is always pictured with his pop star wife is staying here," says George, proving to David Beckham and his like that football can create heroes but heavyweight boxing can create legends.
And apparently, Foreman would have loved to have met Rooney.
He was a big fan of all his films.
...and with his daughter Natalie in Manchester last week; GLOVES ARE OFF: Our man Andy Dunn meets George; HE'S ACHIEVED A LOT, BY GEORGE: Foreman still enjoys sweating it out in the ring (above left) and on his way to defeat against Ali in 1974 (above)...
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|Publication:||The People (London, England)|
|Date:||Oct 10, 2004|
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