44 Years On And The Foreman-Lyle War Is Still The Heavyweight Slugfest All Others Are Measured Against

By James Slater - 01/24/2020 - Comments


Late British boxing commentator Harry Carpenter once faced quite heavy criticism for having got too carried away, too excited, during his calling of a fight. It was the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno fight of 1989 and Carpenter, a good friend of Bruno’s, as all U.K fight fans surely know was the case, bellowed into the microphone, “Get in there, Frank!” as massive underdog Bruno briefly staggered Tyson early on in the world title showdown.

Now, maybe British boxing commentators are expected to be more gentlemanly *and unbiased* in behavior when calling a fight, but getting so into the action can often be a good thing. Case in point, Howard Cosell’s calling of the epic heavyweight rumble that took place 44 years ago today: the George Foreman-Ron Lyle slugfest in Las Vegas (scene of Tyson-Bruno, a fight that, like Foreman-Lyle, went five rounds; here the comparisons end).

If Carpenter was guilty of getting carried away in February of ’89, then what accusations could have been be hurled at Cosell for the way he shouted, screamed and rasped his way through the absolute war Foreman and Lyle engaged in in January of ’76! Cosell, though, certainly added something to this special fight, his thoroughly into it commentary serving to pump up viewers even further than the four-knockdown, ‘I-hit-you, you-hit-me,’ brawl between the two murderous punchers already had.

Cosell could be quite bored when calling a fight, his easily recognizable voice droning as he was unafraid to lambaste a prizefight that was lacking in action. But fans knew they were watching something out of the ordinary when they heard Cosell loose his cool. During one spell of mesmerizing violence in a fight crammed with the stuff, Cosell almost lost his voice along with his composure. It was after Foreman had been especially hurt by Lyle, and appeared out of it in the fourth-round, when Cosell went into crazy mode. “Now George struck back!,” Cosell roared in almost disbelief. “George fought back!”

So how awesome was this fight? It was crude, raw, savage slugging. As Cosell said, it was “An incredible fight. Utterly without boxing skill.” It was two men going at it as though they knew they would have absolutely nowhere to go if they lost. Neither man seemed to care about using a defense any more than they were capable of slipping a punch on this night. Both men paid the price for letting it all hang out, the two giants splitting four hard and heavy knockdowns.

Either man might have won, yet in the end, Foreman, somehow, with more to prove, more to fear in defeat than Lyle, dug as deep as any fatigued, hurt and out of it fighter can, getting the win by way of an avalanche of shots, a good deal of them landing clean on a defenseless Lyle, in the fifth. Lyle fell almost in slow-motion, utterly and totally gone.

It was wild. It was a fight fan’s dream. It was Foreman, Lyle and Cosell at their most memorable.