August 18, 1969 – Madison Square Garden, New York.
A young, raw and extremely powerful George Foreman met an already battle-hardened (and cut-prone) Chuck Wepner in a fight that saw the 1968 Olympic gold medal winner take his first serious test since going pro earlier that year. At the time of climbing through the ring in New York that night 52 years ago, neither Foreman nor Wepner were the fighters, the men, the heroes they would one day become.
Today, Foreman is universally celebrated as a living legend; a two-time world heavyweight king who defied the odds both times he won the crown. Foreman has very much lived two lives, the first as the bad, scary and intimidating ring destroyer, the second as the jovial, make-us-all-feel-good “Punching Preacher.” The young Foreman looked unbeatable, while the older Foreman was laughed at until he made good on his promise to rule the world again.
As for Wepner, he too has lived quite a life. Famous today for being “The Real-Life Rocky,” and also as an underdog slugger who once put down Muhammad Ali and almost went 15 long rounds with “The Greatest,” Wepner is every much a walking miracle as Foreman. Both Chuck and George are fit and healthy, are showing zero signs of the bad stuff that can befall a former fighter who took a lot of punches for a living (Wepner especially took a ton of leather during his career), and both legends are enjoying their later years (George being 72, Chuck now 82).
But back on August 18, 1969, all of this was a million years away.
20-year-old Foreman was 3-0(3) when meeting Wepner, who was 18-4-2(9). As was his style back then, Foreman came out looking to take his 30-year-old foe’s head off. Foreman was so wild he missed with a punch and went down in the opener. Soon enough, though, Foreman’s excellent jab began blasting into Wepner’s cut-prone face. The blood poured and the short fight was over.
Here, Wepner recalls the fight for ESB:
“The George Foreman fight was a big deal at the time,” Wepner says. “I kind of thought he’d go on to be something [special] later on. The funny thing was, I practiced slipping the hook in the gym. I did manage to slip inside his big hook in the fight, the only time in my career I ever managed that! But he pulled back and he hit me with a punch that just sliced my eye wide open. He was raw then, yeah, but he was also very physically strong. Most of the guys I fought, I could push them around, but not Foreman. He was a lot like [Sonny] Liston in that sense.”
Wepner was stopped after :54 seconds of the third round, his left eye pumping blood. Wepner’s career was in doubt and no one could have imagined that he would go on to fight for the world title six years later. After his win over Wepner, some media people were already asking Foreman how they felt he would do against current champ Joe Frazier.
As we all know, when he did get his shot, “Big George” took out Frazier even quicker than he took out Wepner. The George Foreman of 1973 really did look untouchable.