It was the closest heavyweight legends George Foreman and Mike Tyson ever came to fighting one another; in fact the plan was for the two big punchers to collide later that year.
It was June of 1990 and Tyson was on the comeback trail, attempting to put the pieces back together after his shattering February KO loss to enormous underdog James “Buster” Douglas.
Foreman was over twenty fights (all wins) into his unlikely ring return; one that had been launched in March of 1987 and was motivated, some said, by George’s desire to try, all these years later, to put back together the pieces the incomparable Muhammad Ali had smashed into oblivion all those moons ago in Africa.
Now the two former kings who had, briefly, ruled their respective era, were on the same path: one they hoped would take them all the way back to the very top. Tyson was 23 (he would turn 24 later that same month), Foreman was 41. Which great would be able to make it back?
“The Road Back,” a promotion that saw the two former rulers share top billing – Foreman against fringe contender Adilson Rodrigues, Tyson against amateur nemesis Henry Tillman – didn’t give us too many clues. Foreman clamoured into the ring at Caesars Palace first. Despatching the Angelo Dundee-trained Brazilian puncher in neat and tidy fashion in just two-rounds (Foreman’s precise handy-work catching the eye of current heavyweight boss Douglas: “I saw Foreman take out the guy from South America and I have to nip this in the bud,” Douglas said), the veteran was all smiles afterwards.
“What’s next in this great campaign?” Larry Merchant asked “Big George.” Foreman explained the sought end result of his campaign: that of regaining the crown Ali had ripped from him in 1974.
Next up in the same squared circle was Tyson. Taking on Tillman, a man who had, incredibly, twice bested him as an amateur, the one-time “Baddest Man On The Planet” got the job done even faster than Foreman had. Wiping a reluctant Tillman out inside three-minutes, Tyson was, in the opinion of the sycophants, BACK!
The next step for both former kings would be another shared doubleheader in September – Foreman against Italian Francesco Damiani, Tyson against young contender Alex Stewart – and then, in December, the two ex-champs would meet each other in what promised to be an explosion: The Irresistible Force Vs. The Immovable Object, as one publication put it at the time.
Which would win?
Unfortunately, though the fight seemed a dead-cert to take place, it didn’t. To this day the fan debate continues: did Tyson want no part of Foreman, or vice-versa? The money the fight fight would have generated would have been huge, of that there is no doubt, but this money-spinner proved to be one that got away.
Would Tyson’s remaining speed and power have been too much for Foreman, or would Foreman’s remaining power and seemingly everlasting ability to take a great shot (a really great shot!) have seen to it that Tyson would have grown discouraged, that he would have got frustrated, that he would have eventually been stopped himself? Or would this fight have shocked us all and gone the distance?
We’ll never know and it’s a shame. Foreman and Tyson shared a ring – just not at the same time.