George Foreman waits to fight the heavyweight champion and fights with temptation instead.

"I used to eat two fried chickens for dinner. Now I eat them baked. I used to eat a dozen eggs for breakfast. Now I eat 11 - boiled."There are times," Foreman sighed, "when you have to give to get."

And this, he made clear in a telephone call Tuesday, is one of those times. Nearly two dozen other times over the past three years, Foreman left Humble, Texas, and returned home victorious, yet hardly closer to his dusted-off dream of a title shot.

Little more than 10 years ago, Foreman walked away from boxing, and now he is certain the comeback trail has come full circle and that the heavyweight champion will come calling any day. At 42 years old and 260 pounds, George will be neither impatient nor hard to find.

"How soon could I be ready?" Foreman rolled the question over once gently. "Hmmmm. If it's Evander Holyfield, I'd fight him today. Buster Douglas? I was ready yesterday. Mike Tyson? How about tomorrow?

"Look," he said,"I was the heavyweight champion once, I know the drill. When I started, the people in charge treated me like any another guy chasing a buck. So I set out to make myself a bona fide contender.

"The first step was to make the public believe; the next to prove I still had the punch. The last was to show there'd be a crowd any time and everytime I fight. Now the only thing left is to have the fight.

On Thursday in Las Vegas, Holyfield will have that fight with heavyweight champion Douglas. From there on out it is anybody's guess where the holder of the belt turns next, though it will almost certainly be in Tyson's direction first and Foreman's after that.

As of Tuesday, Buster was still bound by an out-of-court settlement to give Tyson the nod and promoter Don King was waving separate letters from boxing's governing bodies - in alphabetical order, the IBF, WBA and WBC - mandating that Tyson is first on the list.

But Lou Duva, Holyfield's co-trainer, said a deal already has been struck that if his fighter wins, Foreman gets the first crack. George has seen disappearing ink on contracts before; his comfort is in knowing that other people's greed guarantees his place in line.

"They're going to have to get around to me," he said, "and now it's sooner than later.

"Honestly, the contract has no bearing on who I think will win the fight. It's a tossup. Holyfield's got more talent, but Douglas is bigger. And he could be on a real high after beating Tyson.

"The nice thing about Holyfield winning is that I'd get to Vegas for a little press do. I like that. It's a wonderful thing to see yourself on TV and see yourself in the newspapers. Some guys got used to that, but I never did.

"Besides," he chuckled, "I like the spreads they set out."

This fascination with food has become a fixture of George redux.

The comeback story starts with him trying to squeeze all 315 pounds of him back into a pair of his old boxing trunks, trimming back all the way to 229 for cosmetic, then realizing his strength was maximized at about 260.

One of his most vocal critics, the physician-turned boxing commentator Ferdie Pacheco, contends Foreman is at least 50 pounds overweight and that this comeback is life-threatening. George is not listening.