January 1976: Foreman Vs. Lyle – What A Way To Start A Year!

Happy birthday “Big George” Foreman. The living legend turns 72 today. Here is a look back at one of his most epic fights.

All these years later, and it’s still for many people, THE heavyweight slugfest of heavyweight slugfests. And what a way to start the boxing calendar. This is the epic fistic treat George Foreman and Ron Lyle gave the world’s boxing fans 45 years ago this month (Jan. 24). The five round up-and-down battle Foreman and Lyle engaged in has been called all manner of things: “barroom brawl,” “one of the most brutal slugfests in heavyweight history,” “almost cartoonish savagery,” and, “the daddy of all heavyweight wars.”

It was indeed all that and more. And to think, Foreman-Lyle almost never happened; the former heavyweight king initially set to face Pedro Lovell (think “Spider” Rico in ‘Rocky’) in his comeback bout. Foreman was of course coming off a huge upset loss to the incomparable Muhammad Ali, and though he had been in action of sorts, fighting five guys in an April 1975 exhibition in Canada, the Lyle fight was the real deal for “Big George.”

Lyle, who had also fallen to Ali (but had done better than Foreman had managed, Lyle ahead on points on two cards before being somewhat controversially stopped via TKO in round 11 in May of 1975), was coming off an up-from-the-floor KO win over the dangerous Earnie Shavers. This was some risky fight for Foreman to take, the former champ’s confidence having taken an enormous hit with the Ali loss. And, as Foreman stated after the fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was over, he was rusty.

Lyle jumped right on Foreman in a violent attempt to capitalise on this rust. Lyle missed with his “wild, almost amateurish right,” as Howard Cosell called it on air, but Lyle’s heavy hands would be connecting on Foreman’s head and jaw soon enough. The war was on and famously, as everyone who cherishes this fight knows all too well, both men were staggered on numerous occasions, while both giants hit the canvas twice each. Foreman was stunned by a big right hand in the opening round, while Lyle was hurt in a second round that only lasted two minutes. The fourth was all-out jaw-dropping, with Foreman going down twice, Lyle once.

Even Cosell was screaming his lungs out. “This isn’t artistic,” Cosell bellowed, “but it is slugging.” It was a fight that was, as Cosell later added, “utterly without boxing skill.” It was a battle of heart and guts, between two monster punchers. It remains at the top of many a list of greatest fights, regardless of weight class, all these years later. The final, brutal salvo Foreman belted Lyle with to end matters in the fifth round – with George unloading something like 20 punches, all of them unanswered – is simply incredible to watch, excruciating almost.

But this was, as Cosell said during one of his finest stints behind the microphone, “the way the public wants it.”

45 years on, and the public is still waiting for a heavyweight brawl to match the thrill factor of Foreman KO5 Lyle.