On this day back in 1991, a fight that fit in real well with all the other classic heavyweight battles we fans were treated to during that decade took place, as Evander Holyfield and George Foreman met in Atlantic City. But going into the fight, the critics, the naysayers who said Foreman had no business being in the ring at age 42, came out with their trepidation. The fight would be no fight, instead a farce, these folks said forcefully.
The late Ferdie Pachecho, one of the most esteemed boxing commentators of the day at the time, declared how, if Foreman won, he, the esteemed ‘Fight Doctor’ himself, would emigrate (later, in light of the fine effort Foreman gave in pushing the defending heavyweight champ all the way, one magazine article suggest how Pacheco should do the decent thing and take an extended vacation!)
Going into the April, 1991 fight, 28 year old Holyfield was perfect at 25-0(21) and “The Real Deal” was making the first defence of the crown he had won by blasting an out of shape Buster Douglas the previous October. Old man Foreman, the former heavyweight champ, was 69-2(65) overall and he was 24-0 in his comeback; the one he launched in 1987 at age 37, to much derision from the experts, but with Foreman’s campaign soon seeing him achieve nothing short of folk hero status with the fans.
However, despite Foreman’s enormous popularity and sheer appeal, hardly anyone who was using their head and not their heart was picking “Big George” to win. Indeed, most people felt Holyfield, who had stopped every single heavyweight foe he had faced since moving up from cruiserweight, would get Foreman out of there by the middle rounds. “George is 40 and some change, and he never had stamina as a young guy. How is he going to have it now?” demanded Holyfield’s trainer, the great George Benton.
But Foreman found the stamina to go all 12 rounds from some place. The fight, a massive pay-per-view success, lived up to all the hype. Holyfield, at 208 pounds, was way faster than the 257 pound, often lumbering Foreman, but George got home with some heavy leather all the same. And, most surprisingly aside from Foreman’s full gas tank, was the way George was able to soak up the biggest and best shots that Holyfield cracked him with. It was a truly inspirational effort from Foreman, and though Holyfield won the fight, Evander himself was willing to accept the fact that Foreman’s triumph in going all the way was the story the press would run with.
Round seven was special, with Holyfield taking some hurt from Foreman, only to roar back with a massive series of shots that the reigning heavyweight champ was sure would get rid of his challenger. Instead, in a round Ring Magazine later said ranked up there with Hagler-Hearns round one (an exaggeration perhaps, perhaps not), Foreman took around 15 unanswered blows and he went nowhere.
In the later rounds, with both men battling fatigue, Holyfield was the man initiating the clinches. But Holyfield had done enough. He had won the points (“Yes, but I made a point,” Foreman said later, this just one of his many memorable quotes). Holyfield won via unanimous decision, this in the toughest fight of his career since his savage 15-rounder with common opponent Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
There was talk of a rematch, but it never happened. Instead, Holyfield went on to twice thrash Mike Tyson (the man Foreman really wanted to get his hands on), while Foreman made history by beating Holyfield’s conqueror Michael Moorer to make boxing history by becoming the oldest heavyweight champion ever.
But back in the spring of 1991, all of this was some moons away. On the night of April 19, 1991, there were four winners: Holyfield, Foreman, the fans, and the sport itself.