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 1977 Jimmy Young fought George Foreman for 12 rounds in San Juan, Puerto Rico. No title was at stake. Foreman’s career was: after being outboxed by and losing a unanimous decision to Young, Foreman would retire from the ring for the next 10 years.
The pattern of this fight was simple: Foreman came forward, attempting to corner and land power shots on Young. Young looked to score points while maneuvering away from Foreman. The ebb and flow of the fight was even through the first 6 rounds. The tide turned for the last time in the 7th, after Foreman wobbled Young and battered him around the ring for the better part of 90 seconds. Once Young steadied himself, he began to win the fight against Foreman. His counterpunching grew more and more dominant, ultimately leading to a 12th round knockdown.
The major subtext of the fight was Foreman’s roughhousing, and Young’s incessant griping about it. Both fighters gave the appearance of feeling hard done by, but the dynamic seemed to favor Young. In the first place, Foreman lost a point for tactics which the referee saw as illegal. Potentially more seriously, his frustration might have caused him to become reckless in his attack, leaving himself more open to Young’s counters. (Foreman’s failure to get the KO in the 7th might have exacerbated this phenomenon.)
This fight is a great demonstration of how a better boxer can defeat a stronger man — it’s a particularly good demonstration because Foreman was himself an excellent boxer. I agreed with the judges’ verdict, scoring it 115-112 for Young, but was more impressed with how completely Young controlled the last part of the fight; I believe that he would have gotten a knockout over 15 rounds. On this night, Foreman couldn’t come to grips with Young: He couldn’t corner him, couldn’t land consistently, and couldn’t avoid his counterattacks. Young was one of those rare fighters who could win a bout backing up, and it’s great to see him at his best.
In the 8th round, Cosell said this as the crowd chanted Young’s name:
That’s one of the things that’s so emotionally disturbed Foreman his whole career. “What”, he kept saying to himself, “do I have to do to be a crowd-pleaser? Why won’t they give me their cheers?”
Foreman ultimately answered these questions. When he returned to the ring 10 years later, he was a crowd-pleaser. And when he won a unified championship by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994, everyone cheered.
For his part, Jimmy Young did not go on to enjoy much success. Although undoubtedly one of the best 34-19-2 boxers to ever fight, this bout might have represented his finest hour. Young fought many of the top men of his era, but always seemed to come up a little short: A disputed UD loss to Ali, a draw with Earnie Shavers, an SD loss to Ken Norton. But on this night, he was masterful.
1: The fighters circle one another for a while. Young charges in and clinches, getting an uppercut in on the inside. Foreman hits him on the back of the head in the clinch, and Young complains to the referee. Both fighters look aggrieved. They settle into a pattern in which Young circles away from the pursuing Foreman, while both throw jabs; when Foreman is able to close the distance, Young leaps in and clinches. Young’s jabs show good variety to the body and head, and seem both more numerous and more effective. Foreman looks frustrated at the end of the round, hitting on the break. Young wins a round in which not much happened.
2: Basically the same pattern as the first round: Young circling back, Foreman coming forward, jabs traded, Young clinching when Foreman gets close, and Foreman looking frustrated. The action heats up a little, as Foreman steps up his attack and Young takes the opportunity to counterpunch. A tough round to score; I call it even.
3: The same basic pattern, but with very little decisive action. I award this round to Foreman largely on the basis of aggression, and a handful of good punches. However, Foreman loses a point, apparently for pushing Young’s head down in a clinch. That’s always a big deal, doubly so in a fight that’s shaping up to be a close contest. 9-9 even.
4: The tempo picks up, as the fighters begin to trade power shots; Foreman looks able to better close the distance and avoid Young’s earlier, immediate attempts to clinch. Foreman is repeatedly warned for roughhousing, but doesn’t lose any more points. Foreman’s round, on punching and aggression.
5: In the first half of the round Young is able to control the pace so that nothing happens, but in the second half Foreman is able to close and land some decent power shots. Foreman’s round.
6: Young gets the whole round on his terms, and lands some good counterpunches, winning the round. Side note: Cosell calls the fight “dull … for the average viewer”.
7: Foreman comes out with perhaps the most aggressive posture seen in this fight, and staggers Young with a power shot. Young looks out on his feet as Foreman chases him around the ring, swinging wildly but landing heavy blows. Young is able to steady himself, and to begin to land effective counterpunches with 1:00 left in the round. He is able to turn the tide of what could have led to a KO (or at least a 10-8 round), but Foreman still wins this one.
8: Foreman continues with his aggressive posture, but it now seems to play into Young’s hands; Young lands sharp counterpunches throughout this round. Foreman lands as well, but still loses the round.
9: The pace slows again, making this a tough round to score. Both fighters have their moments, but I score the round for Foreman on the basis of his aggression.
10: A slightly faster pace, but another very close round. This one I felt Young won with some hard counterpunches that overshadowed Foreman’s work.
11: Young increases the tempo of his counterattack, and seems to stagger Foreman on several occasions. He takes control of, and wins, this round.
12: Young continues pressing his counters. He backs Foreman off, staggers Foreman, and knocks Foreman down. He easily wins this round.