This is an entry in an occasional series of posts looking back at the Ring Magazine Fights of the Year from 1970 to 2009.
In 1976 George Foreman fought Ron Lyle for the fringe NABF title in his first real bout since the 1974 loss to Muhammad Ali. The match turned into a terrific slugfest: Lyle was knocked down once and Foreman twice in the 4th round. Foreman ultimately won by 5th round KO.
Both Foreman and Lyle were skillful power punchers, and each was looking from the opening bell to dispatch his opponent decisively. The fight’s storyline at first progressed as had so many in Foreman’s career: an initial feeling-out period was followed by thunderous power once Foreman figured out how to land on his opponent.
The usual plot might have been changed when Lyle was rescued by an early bell in the second round. That mistake gave him a reprieve, and that rest might have been what allowed him first to adjust his defense to survive Foreman’s onslaught, and then to mount a counterattack in the fourth round.
Once Lyle counterattacked and stunned Foreman, the fight became a wild contest of will and power, ultimately (but barely) won by Foreman.
This is the first “minor” FOTY that we’ve seen; it wasn’t selected for its significance, but for its spectacle — and it is, indeed, spectacular. This wasn’t a hard fight to score, but its outcome was in the balance for almost every second of the 4th and 5th rounds, as both fighters sought to win the bout with pure power, and as both were capable of doing so.
It’s almost a side note, but the officiating could have cost Foreman dearly. Most significantly, he was robbed of the last minute of the 2nd round, when he had Lyle in trouble on the ropes. Less seriously, a knockdown perhaps should have been called late in the 5th round when Lyle went into, and seemed held up by, the ropes.
1: Lyle charges out and swings wildly; Foreman dances away. The fighters circle one another. They trade jabs, apparently more to find openings than inflict damage. Lyle’s look a little better. Lyle commits to and executes a decent body attack. Foreman gets in a good left hook. With 20s to go in the round, Lyle lands a solid right that rocks Foreman, who retreats and holds on. Lyle lands some more punches to close (and win) the round.
2: The fighters are again circling and jabbing, but with more serious intent, and following up with combinations. The exchanges begin favoring Lyle, then tilt in Foreman’s favor as he begins to land hard overhand rights. Foreman lands an uppercut that stuns Lyle; Foreman chases him to a corner, keeps his distance, and methodically targets his head with combinations. The bell rings one minute early; this arguably saves Lyle from a 2nd round knockout as he looks quite vulnerable, even if not out on his feet.
3: Lyle seems to want to close the distance and slug with Foreman. Both fighters land good power shots. After about a minute, Lyle ends up against the ropes defending himself from Foreman’s attack. Lyle still looks dazed from the 2nd round, but launches suspiciously sharp counterattacks. (Norton opines that he’s playing possum, and is probably right.) Foreman wins the round, but more narrowly than you might think.
4: Back to circling, jabbing, and looking for openings. Lyle lands a solid right that seems to hurt Foreman. A few seconds later, Lyle puts Foreman down with a flurry of combinations. (He is lucky to avoid a DQ on an uppercut thrown after Foreman is down — it missed.) Foreman is up quickly, and the fighters trade in mid-ring. Their exchange grows wild, as each seeks to land power shots with little thought for defense. Foreman’s punches prove more effective, as he levels Lyle. Lyle gets up, but looks wobbly. Lyle goes to the ropes and turtles, but Foreman breaks through his guard, at one point landing 6 unanswered left hooks to the head. Lyle somehow backs Foreman off, and they again trade wild power shots in the middle of the ring. Lyle knocks Foreman down with a short right with 3s left in the round. Foreman beats the count.
5: The fighters trade power shots. Lyle seems to get the better of the exchange, and, indeed, Foreman seems out on his feet. Foreman somehow continues to stand and throw, dazing Lyle and chasing him to the ropes. (A quick series of left jabs might have turned the tide.) The ropes arguably hold Lyle up; a knockdown should perhaps have been called here. Foreman throws at a nearly (but not quite) defenseless Lyle, eventually arm-punching his head as it falls towards the canvas. Lyle is counted out.