“Rarely do two pure punchers get matched together,” George Foreman speaking to Ring Magazine about his epic battle with Ron Lyle.
Yes, the fight that has been called THE greatest heavyweight slugfest of the 1970s, indeed of all-time, celebrates its birthday today; its 48th birthday. Foreman Vs. Lyle – five rounds of astonishing violence, of relentless, devil-may-care slugging that seemingly contained not one thought of defence or a fear of being hurt. You know all about this fight.
The scene as we know was Las Vegas, the beautiful Caesars Palace, and Foreman and Lyle entered their crossroads fight with fire in their hearts and hunger in their bellies. For Foreman, it was redemption time, his life having been a tortured, quite miserable one since his shock defeat (a shock to himself mostly) to Muhammad Ali. It’s been written many times over the years how Foreman chastised himself for failing to give his all in the Ali fight – “why didn’t you die if you did all you could to win!” Foreman demanded of himself.
Against Lyle, or in any fight from here on in, Foreman was so utterly determined to never again be counted out.
Former prison inmate Lyle, who had also been in with Ali, the now 34 year old being stopped in the tenth round, this while he was ahead on two cards, wanted what Foreman once had: the world title. Lyle was as motivated to win as Foreman was. Lyle was coming off an up-from-the-floor KO win over perhaps the second most lethal heavyweight on the planet at the time in Earnie Shavers, this in September of 1975. Foreman had not fought a real fight since the Ali fight of 15 months ago (“Big George” had boxed five guys in one night in that infamous exhibition of April 1975).
Both Foreman and Lyle would hit the canvas on the evening of January 24, 1976. And how Foreman and Lyle would hit each other, how they would tear into each other. How these two pure and fearless punchers would take each other to the darkest of places as the world watched with a collective open mouth.
You know the fight, you’ve watched it many, many times on YouTube. While if you were actually there in person 48 years ago, well, how envious are the rest of us of you! The fight got underway with a huge swing by Lyle and the war was on. The action was red-hot from the get-go, while in round four – this voted one of the greatest, most sensational rounds in all of boxing – things went up to almost supernatural level.
Trading vicious knockdowns, each of the three knockdowns ones that would have ended any ‘normal’ fight, Foreman and Lyle each showed the heart of a lion, the chin of a rhino, and the raw power of a grizzly bear. Foreman hit down first, before he got up and smashed Lyle to the floor, with Lyle getting up himself and then going on to send Foreman south a second time. The bell, which had saved a hurt Lyle by coming a full minute early in a botched round two, now saved Foreman, who lurched back to his corner where he was met by a no-nonsense Gil Clancy.
Jabbing his finger into Foreman’s chest, Clancy told Foreman the winner of the fight/war/slugfest would be the guy who “wanted it more.”
“Do YOU want it more!” Gil demanded of his hurt and fatigued fighter.
It turned out that Foreman did want it more, his sheer desire to win or to die trying placed inside of him as a result of the torment he had gone through since the knockout loss to Ali. Round five saw two dazed and tired heavyweights continue to look for the finish, with 27 year old Foreman finding it courtesy of a, for-God’s-sake-stop-the-fight, 20-punch salvo that crashed into Lyle’s skull as he was stuck in a corner.
Lyle fell in slow-motion, all of the fight knocked out of him. Foreman was led away by referee Charley Roth.
Both men came back down to earth, the magnitude of the fight no doubt escaping them for some time. Indeed, the legend of this fight has grown and grown over the years, over the decades, and rightly so. Has there been another heavyweight battle like this one, between two top contenders, each with so much on the line, either before or since?
Let’s now all head to YouTube so as to once again get shivers and an upped heart-rate due to being intoxicated by this street fight that masqueraded as a boxing match.