45 years ago a raw, crude even, yet immensely powerful Texan ruled the heavyweight division. George Foreman, a man capable of lifting an opponent clean off the canvas, but at the same time prone to falling out of position and becoming off balance, was far from polished but his frightening punching power made up for it.
Sound familiar? A number of good judges are reminded of the young Foreman, the wild and impatient version of the future heavyweight legend, when they watch current WBC heavyweight ruler Deontay Wilder fight. Jerry Izenberg is one of these experts – telling this writer recently how “Wilder kind of reminds me of the young Foreman, who basically clubbed people over the head and hadn’t learned to fight yet. Foreman learned – Wilder better hope he can learn.”
Foreman back then, in the early and mid-1970s, was throwing punches as recklessly as Wilder is today. Eventually, in running into the one and only Muhammad Ali, Foreman was found out, outthought and out-fought by a man who was way too clever for him. One day this might happen to Wilder, but for now he, like the young Foreman before him, is getting by almost exclusively on power, strength and courage; that and a nice left jab which he sometimes decides to use.
Foreman despatched Joe Frazier in seemingly effortless fashion, while 45 years ago today in his first title defence, George made even swifter work of Joe Roman. Yet during his run up to winning the title, Foreman had a tough time of things with guys like Gregorio Peralta, who made him work, hit him and stung him with shots and forced the still-learning former Olympian to dig deep as his lungs burned with fatigue. Today, former Olympian Wilder is looking mighty impressive in blasting out the likes of Bermane Stiverne, yet this modern day heavyweight champion who is learning on the job has also had tough tussles with the likes of Johan Duhaupas and Eric Molina.
Foreman and Wilder are indeed quite similar, the young Foreman and Wilder anyway. In time, in learning plenty from defeat, Foreman was able to shorten up his punches, pace himself better and relax in there. Maybe Wilder will get there himself. But for all the critics who say Wilder is nothing but a wild-swinging amateur who is reliant on his big right hand and his sometimes effective jab, it must be remembered how pretty much the same thing was once said of the man who is today revered as a true great.
The Foreman who clubbed poor Joe Roman would today be as heavily criticised as the Wilder who clubbed poor Bermane Stiverne. Let’s see if Wilder can grow the way Foreman did. Of course, Foreman had the big fights and he was able to learn from the best. Will Wilder ever have such a luxury on his side?
Foreman got to 40-0 before he tasted the sting of a pro loss. Wilder is currently 40-0 – how far can this “raw, crude, amateurish and over-rated” (the words of the critical army) puncher go before he too gets taught a lesson?