Foreman v Lyle - Still The Greatest Ever Slugfest, 30 years On

06.12.05 - By James Slater: Big George Foreman was attempting to put back together the pieces that had been shattered in the African jungle by Muhammad Ali. Foreman had been devastated by his loss to The Greatest, hence the length of time he’d spent inactive between Zaire and hooking up with the equally big Ron Lyle. With fifteen months of inactivity under his belt and the ring rust one would expect to go with it, Foreman entered the ring at Caesars Palace for his first real fight since “The Rumble.”

I say real fight because, of course, George had taken part in a number of exhibitions since his loss to Ali. He actually beat five men on the same night in May 1975. But with Ali heckling him at ringside and Howard Cosell constantly telling viewers watching on TV what a farce the whole thing was, the idea George had of restoring his confidence and respect amongst the boxing crowd with such a unique exhibition of his fighting prowess was an embarrassing failure. A win over Ron Lyle, however, would be a definite boost to not only his confidence but also his continuing box office appeal, especially if he could win by spectacular KO.

Lyle had been in with Ali himself and though he had lost he’d arguably done better than George had, making The Greatest look anything but before being stopped, while ahead on points, in the eleventh round.

So now these two behemoths who had both fallen to the magic of Ali faced one another in an effort to earn the chance to get revenge over Muhammad Ali. What followed on the 24th of January 1976 would definitely qualify as being labelled spectacular.

After an intense stare down the fight started. Other than a huge amateurish right thrown by Lyle that missed by a mile, a normal pace ensued, with both men content to size each other up. There was no immediate sign of the incredible action to come. This wasn’t Hagler v Hearns with both guys landing quality punches on one another at the first opportunity, but this
bout, to many minds, tops even Marvin and Tommy’s epic war as the greatest slugfest ever.

Both guys really did look huge, not to mention fearless of one another. However, the first round was quiet with Foreman mostly flicking out his jab at Lyle’s head. Then all of a sudden a big right by Lyle slammed into Foreman’s head and George’s trunks dropped noticeably, such was the force of the blow. Big George was hurt, no doubt. He tried to hold and leant his bulk on Ron to survive, possibly being assisted somewhat by the bell, coming as it did mere seconds after the hurtful blow. It was clearly Lyle’s opener. Foreman looked composed as he took instructions from his new trainer, Gil Clancy, in the corner but inside he was surely anything but. Lyle’s corner looked the more excited and why not? If Ron could win this he would be right back in the title picture.

Round two started and, just as before, Lyle threw the wild, clumsy right and again it missed. Foreman tried to get his jab going in a more fluid manner. Big Ron was prepared to stand and trade but this gave George a chance and sure enough he took it. He hurt Lyle for the first time with a decent left and chased him to the ropes. Foreman was letting both hands go now and Lyle was in a bit of distress. The round ended, one minute short due to an error by the time keeper, with Lyle still stuck on the ropes. Round one to Ron, round two to George.

In the third the fight really started to heat up. Foreman was carrying his hands dangerously low and Lyle was throwing good over hand rights to capitalise. It just did not look like the George Foreman of fifteen months ago. Before Ali he really had looked invincible but here he was sluggish and his confidence seemed awfully low. It perhaps was going to be Ron Lyle’s night, even at this early stage that’s how it was shaping up. Some more rights caught a shockingly easy target in Big George. But then Lyle was forced to the ropes again as Foreman had a touch of success. At this time Gil Clancy was pleading with George to listen to his advise, he could be heard yelling for his fighter to hook to the body. There was definite desperation in his voice. Finally, after five or six pleas, George at last tried to take heed. It was the end of the round, a fairly close one to score.

Round four started and it was at this point that the fight entered its extraordinary stage. For the remainder of the bout the action would be utterly mesmerising! A good right by Lyle scored, then another, and then a monstrous left struck quickly and George was down. If some in the crowd were going crazy now they would soon reach the point of total insanity! George beat the count, again appearing remarkably composed, and Lyle went back after him. Foreman was so slow, both of hand and foot and things really did look bad for him. The two walked to ring centre where a wild exchange took place. Now Foreman was fighting back! Throwing powerful hooks he then cracked a massive right into his rival’s skull and Lyle toppled to the floor. Howard Cosell, once again doing commentary, was finding nothing farcical about this Foreman appearance; he was going as nuts as the crowd.

Lyle was flat on his back and looked totally gone for a second or two before he slowly rolled onto all fours and bravely beat the count. He seemed exhausted but the action continued. George flew at him in an effort to end things right then and there and still a full minute remained in the round. Lyle was ready to go, if only Foreman could land the finisher. He threw everything he had trying to find it. Lyle tried to cover up on the ropes as Foreman blazed away at him, throwing seven consecutive left hooks at one point! Then Lyle forced the action back to ring centre and came roaring back at George! This was pure slugging now and it was beautiful violence. These two heavyweights were taking turns at launching haymakers at each other in a dream of a rumble. An uppercut landed on a weary Foreman and then Ron let go with his left. Foreman crashed to the mat again, this time head first. Surely it was the end. George looked the very sight of a badly beaten fighter. Somehow he scraped himself off the canvas just as the bell rang, which definitely saved him this time. He staggered back to his corner on heavy legs and hit the stool. He listened to Clancy’s directions but defeat loomed. How could he be expected to come back from such punishment, not to mention fatigue?

Round five began and Foreman marched right out to meet Lyle at ring centre. No one could ever question his guts again after this performance, as some had after Zaire. Nor could anyone question the heart of Ron Lyle either. The action was almost in slow motion now, both men were nearly totally spent. They wrestled like dinosaurs before Lyle let loose with a sharp left. Foreman looked canvas bound once again but managed to remain upright. He was falling all over the ring now though with his hands completely down. Yet more punches landed from Lyle but George, from inside the depths of a fierce fighting heart, instinctively ordered his arms to work and almost blindly threw punches back. A right hurt Lyle who yet again was stuck on the ropes. With his back to the corner turnbuckle Ron finally caved in for good as something like twenty unanswered punches blasted into his head. He pitched forward and sagged to the floor, utterly beaten.

The most astonishingly two sided prize fight ever had ended. Who knows how but George Foreman prevailed. But oh, what a war! A never to be forgotten brawl that truly was the stuff of dreams. A fight that if written for a movie would have been considered too far fetched and unrealistic (perhaps even for a Rocky sequel). But there it was, in living colour, at Caesars

In the interview afterwards George stated how much the obvious ring rust had affected him. He also proudly referred to his fighting heart being comparable to that of a lion. He was right. A lot of self doubt and worry had been eradicated by this incredible win and, as George would say years later, he was able to sleep a lot better at night after his brave performance.

Although he would never actually reach the expected rematch with Ali, Big George would regain the world title- a full twenty years after losing it! He continued to shock and surprise us all well into the 1990’s. But it was the fight with Ron Lyle that made it all possible. This was the first real display of the incredibly strong will and refusal to quit that George would use to such good effect in his astonishing comeback. Complete redemption would not be his until 1994 but this win made the crucial inroads towards it.

Article posted on 06.12.2005

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