What took place inside the erected boxing ring at Caesars Palace on the 24th of January 1976 rocked, thrilled, shocked and stunned fight fans the world over. To this day, fans and experts point to the battle heavyweight contenders George Foreman and Ron Lyle put on as THE heavyweight slugfest to end all heavyweight slugfests. Both hunting another shot at the coveted world title, these two tough guys went at it in simply crazy fashion; the pair caring nothing for defence as they traded leather – and knockdowns.
Could we, just maybe, see a similar war if and when unbeaten punchers Deontay Wilder, 39-0(38) and Anthony Joshua, 20-0(20) get in the ring? We can hope.
After an intense stare-down, Foreman and Lyle got on with it. Initially, a normal pace ensued, with both men content to size each other up. 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 Lyle to survive, possibly being assisted somewhat by the bell, coming as it did mere seconds after the hurtful blow. The war was on.
Round two started and Foreman tried to get his jab going in a more fluid manner. Lyle, the older man by almost ten years, was prepared to stand and trade and this gave Foreman 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, when he had shockingly lost his crown and unbeaten record to the incomparable Muhammad Ali (who also stopped Lyle in a title defence). Before Ali, Foreman 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, his right hand again scoring.
Round four started and it was at this point that the fight entered its extraordinary stage. For the remainder of the bout the action of 42 years ago would be utterly mesmerising. A good right by Lyle scored, then another, and then a monstrous left struck quickly and Foreman was down. If some in the crowd were going crazy now they would soon reach the point of total insanity. The former champ beat the count, 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 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 Foreman.
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 former prison inmate Lyle 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.
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, but Lyle let loose with a sharp left. Foreman looked canvas-bound once again but he 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, Lyle 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 had prevailed.
Over to you, Wilder and Joshua.