20.12.04 – By Don Caputo: There is no question George Foreman was a phenomenal puncher, his raw power and killer instinct were devastating which made him arguably the most feared fighter who ever lived. He cemented his standing as an all time great heavyweight by regaining his title at the age of 45, becoming the oldest man to win the heavyweight crown..
So where does Big George rank as a heavyweight? Most of the lists I’ve seen over the years have him in the top 5, almost always behind Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis, but very often above the likes of Larry Holmes, Rocky Marciano & Jack Johnson who were all dominant champions in their respective era’s. Was he greater than Jim Jeffries, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield or Lennox Lewis? I’m going to look back over his career and you can make up your own mind.
Foreman was relatively unknown when he challenged Joe Frazier for his heavyweight crown in 1973. The only names on his record that stood out were Chuck Wepner and George Chuvalo, but he had stopped almost all of his opponents early, including the iron chinned Chuvalo. So even though he was 3-1 underdog going in, everyone must have known he was a big puncher. Foreman destroyed Frazier inside 2 rounds. This was without a shadow of a doubt the best win of Foreman’s career.
Joe Frazier had already achieved greatness by becoming the first man to defeat Muhammad Ali a couple of years earlier. In that epic encounter and against the likes of Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis, Frazier had looked like an unstoppable force and one of the strongest heavyweights who ever lived which makes Foreman’s destruction of him an all time great win. Even though it does not make any difference as Joe had entirely the wrong style for Foreman, I believe Frazier had slipped a bit since beating Ali in 1971. That fight had taken a lot out of him and he was about 10 pounds heavier when he got into the ring with Foreman, which is an indication that he had lost some of his desire. But I would still pick George by knockout over any version of Frazier, as styles make fights. The fact that Frazier wasn’t at his peak takes nothing away from his victory, in my opinion. After knocking out the overmatched Jose Roman in the 1st, Foreman scored his second best career win against Ken Norton. Norton had just spilt two fights with the great Muhammad Ali and was expected to give Foreman a very hard fight. However, George destroyed him, again in under 2 rounds.
This was the high point of his career. Many believed he was invincible, and when he agreed to fight Ali, many feared he would seriously hurt or even kill the aging former champion. We all know what happened, Ali outsmarted and knocked out the younger, stronger Foreman in one of the great upsets. Although Foreman went on to beat Frazier for a second time after his loss to Ali, it was clear he was not the same fighter. He was knocked down twice and looked very vulnerable against Ron Lyle in an all time great slugfest, and a few fights later, he was out pointed by Jimmy Young. After that, he retired from boxing.
Foreman returned almost exactly 10 years later to embark on his famous comeback and wins over Dwight Quawi, Bert Cooper & Gerry Cooney landed him a title shot against Evander Holyfield in 1991. The much younger and faster Holyfield outworked him over 12 rounds to win a clear decision. Foreman came back with a close decision win over Alex Stewart, but it looked like the end when Tommy Morrison decisioned him in 1993. He landed another title shot in his next fight against Micheal Moorer, the man who dethroned Evander Holyfield. After being out boxed for the better part of 10 rounds Foreman produced a stunning one punch KO to win back his title, 20 years after losing it to Muhammad Ali in 1974. He made 3 successful defenses against Alex Schulz, Crawford Grimsley & Lou Saverese before losing for the final time against Shannon Briggs.
Winning back his crown 20 years after losing it at the age of 45 was an unbelievable achievement, and knockout wins over Frazier(twice), Norton, Lyle & Moorer, all look very good on his record. Yet, he never truely dominated the heavyweight division for a long period of time, which I think should count against him. Foreman was 7-3 in title fights, which isn’t that impressive compared to Joe Louis (26-1), Muhammad Ali(21-3), Larry Holmes(21-5) and Lennox Lewis(15-2-1), who were all far more dominant champions.
It’s hard for me to pick at his amazing comeback but I think I have to. Who did he beat? He won part of the title, yet he never proved he was the best in the division. There were a lot of good fighters around in the early-mid 90’s, and I have to criticize him for defending against the likes of Schultz, Grimsley, Saverese & Briggs, regardless of Foreman’s age. His defenses were a joke. He deserved a couple of easy fights, however, he should have fought at least won legitimate contender or attempted to unify the titles after beating Moorer. Even if Foreman lost, which I’m pretty sure he would have considering his advanced age. He would have been far greater in defeat in my eyes. Why not lose to Riddick Bowe or Lennox Lewis rather than Shannon Briggs?
George Foreman was a great fighter and I don’t want to take anything away from him, but looking back over his career, I believe he is slightly overrated as a heavyweight champion based on his achievements.