George Foreman: King of the Super-Heavyweights

By Monte D. Cox –

Imagine the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears lead by Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and company coming out of retirement to win the Super Bowl in 2005. Or imagine former Wimbledon tennis champion John McEnroe coming back and winning that tournament. Doesn’t seem possible? Couldn’t happen in a million years? But that is precisely what happened when an old George Foreman came back against the odds and regained the world heavyweight championship, the greatest prize in sports, when he regained the heavyweight championship in 1995 some 20 years after having lost it. On longevity alone George Foreman deserves to be considered among the all time great heavyweights, but he is often over-looked because he was over-shadowed by and lost to Muhammad Ali. However, this is no disgrace as Ali is often regarded as the greatest heavyweight champion ever by modern observers.

George Foreman at his awesome best was the most powerful heavyweight champion ever. At 6’3 ½” and 220-225 pounds, with an 82” reach he was the best of the “super-heavyweights.” Consider that George Foreman, in his prime had the highest knockout percentage in boxing history. After his destruction of Norton, he was 40-0 with 37 knockouts, for a knockout percentage of 92.50. In his career Foreman had 15 first round knockouts and 18 second round knockouts. That’s 33 knockouts inside of the first 2 rounds! He had 46 knockouts that were 3 rounds or less, which is more than any other heavyweight champion. George Foreman’s incredible two round destruction over Joe Frazier was the most one-sided beating ever delivered upon an undefeated heavyweight champion.

Foreman was a man of great physical strength and can be favorably compared to the legendary strongmen of the past. It was said that John L. Sullivan once single handedly lifted a derailed trolley car back onto the tracks. Jim Jeffries once ran 9 miles to camp carrying a deer on his shoulders ahead of his entourage. Likewise George Foreman once trained using a harness so he could pull a car uphill as he did his roadwork. Strength, size and power are the adjectives used to describe a true super heavyweight. George Foreman was as big and as bad as they come.

After destroying # 1 contender Ken Norton one boxing magazine wrote, “The pre-fight strategy, the planning, the training, the waiting…they were all ended in less than two rounds by the punishing fists of possibly the most powerful heavyweight champion ever.” Indeed such was the devastation that Foreman’s sledgehammer fists had laid on opponents that all time greats such as Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis both commented that Foreman was the strongest heavyweight hitter that they had ever seen.

At his peak Foreman had a true aura of invincibility. When he glared down opponents with his baleful stare it was not an act of false bravado as it was with some fighters, it was out of a belief that no man could stand up to his crushing power. George Foreman, in his prime, truly believed that he was unbeatable.

Just watching George train with a heavy bag was a terrifying experience. The rafters shook, the floor rumbled. His trainer Dick Sadler commented, “It’s hard to imagine anyone surviving those punches, much less staying on his feet.”

Tex Maule, a writer for Sports Illustrated, compared George’s punches to a baseball pitcher’s deliveries. “He does not throw wild swinging hooks. That is you’d say he throws sliders not curves. The punches reach their destination faster than a wider punch would and land more heavily.” George was a very heavy hitter, and he threw more correct punches than he is given credit for and he put the full weight of his super-heavyweight sized body into his punches. In his title winning performance against Joe Frazier Foreman used a hard left jab, shoved Joe’s shoulders back to create punching room against the swarming fighter and scored knockdowns with short right hands, uppercuts, hooks, and a long overhand right. Foreman was nothing short of devastating as he bounced Frazier like a basketball off the canvas six times.

As a fighter George brought to the ring not only his outstanding raw power and confidence but also a frightening arsenal of deadly punches. His uppercuts could lift a man off their feet, his hooks were paralyzing, his strong left jab was true, his right hand, although not often thrown straight was a decapitating blow thrown short or long. He used his massive arms to block punches and could parry punches with his rear hand. He would sometimes slap opponent’s guards down with his hands and then slam home massive power shots to the head and body. He also became very good at cutting down the ring on his opponents.

In Zaire Muhammad Ali defeated George and shattered his aura of invincibility. The mistake that many make when considering this fight is the misguided belief that Ali “out-boxed” George. Muhammad Ali did not defeat George Foreman by keeping the fight at ring center; he did not beat Foreman by keeping him off of him at all. George cut the ring down on Ali and forced him to fight off the ropes. In his autobiography The Greatest My Own Story Ali said, “All during training I had planned to stay off the ropes…but now I’ve got to change my plans. Sadler and Moore have drilled George too well. He does his job like a robot but he does it well…I’m famous for being hard to hit in the first rounds, but no fighter can last fifteen if he has to take six steps to his opponents three.”

The only reason Ali won that fight in Zaire was because Muhammad had a cast iron chin and could absorb tremendous punishment to the body. Only Ali’s incredible ability to take a beating and his enormous will allowed him to survive George’s punches that night. If Ali takes a punch a little less than what he did he would have been finished by his own admission. Ali said in his autobiography that Foreman had him out on his feet but didn’t know it.

How many people could take a body shot the way Ali could? He survived Zaire and Manila as well. Foreman landed some hellacious body shots on Ali. They were exceedingly violent. In Muhammad Ali His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser Foreman is quoted as saying, “I hit Muhammad with the hardest shot to the body that I ever delivered on any opponent. Anybody else in the world would have crumbled. Muhammad cringed; I could see it hurt. And then he looked at me; he had that look in his eyes, like he was saying I’m not going to let you hurt me.” Archie Moore also recalled, “George threw some rather lethal punches in the direction of Ali’s cranium.” Ali did not beat George with clever boxing that night in Africa. He beat him with physical and mental toughness.

Not too many fighters who ever lived, and possibly only Muhammad Ali, could defeat the George Foreman of that fight. Ali could box, move, was fast on his feet, had exceptional head movement and anticipation but George cut the ring on him very well in Zaire. Ali did not outbox Foreman. He outsmarted him yes, but mostly he toughed it out where most heavyweights would have wilted. Few men besides Ali could take the shots that he did. Few who slugged it out with a prime Foreman would have hopes to survive. After losing to Ali, George, who had thought himself unbeatable, began to doubt himself and changed his style.

George was devastated by his loss to Ali, after taking time off he changed trainers hiring Gil Clancy and began to fight at a more measured pace. Although George had some success even at an old age fighting in a more controlled manner, the comeback version was never as good as the original seek and destroy version.

In his first comeback fight George Foreman took the most dangerous opponent he could find. After 15 months of ring inactivity he took on Ron Lyle who just 10 months previous had knocked out highly regarded heavyweight hitter Earnie Shavers. Lyle had come off the deck to defeat Shavers in a match between two of the divisions all time biggest hitters. Lyle was himself a super-heavyweight who stood 6’3 ½” had an 80 inch reach and weighed 220 pounds of solid muscle. He could jab, hook off the jab and had a very powerful right hand. Foreman was now trying to pace himself and began to fight at a more relaxed pace. The result was that George was not quite as aggressive as he had been in his earlier fights. The first two rounds were tentative as George attempted to hold back and there was frequent jabbing by both men. Foreman proved his heart and chin in this fight when it exploded into a wild brawl reminiscent of Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo some 50 years previous with both men hitting the deck. Foreman demonstrated that he could win a war of attrition and come out on top by knocking Lyle out in a see saw battle that ended in a knockout victory for Foreman in the fifth round. Even a rusty and hesitant Foreman was nearly impossible to beat in a brawl.

Those who believe that any “clever boxer” type could beat George often give the Jimmy Young fight as an example. Foreman showed up for this fight in San Juan the day before the fight and didn’t give himself time to get acclimated to the heat. He paced himself, fighting in his newfound measured style and did not throw a significant punch for the first 5 rounds. This was all wrong for him. The Foreman of Zaire would have tracked down Young, forced him to the ropes, went to the body with power and belted him out inside of a few short rounds. The 1973-74 Foreman, the one who cut the ring and really went after his man was the best Foreman. The George who lost to Young never really went after him. The Foreman who fought at a measured pace just was not the real Foreman.

After losing the decision to Jimmy Young the former heavyweight champion became an ordained minister. Ten years later George needed money to support his youth center so he launched a comeback that was scoffed at by critics. George proved the nay Sayers wrong as he worked his way into title contention. His knockout of Gerry Cooney was an awesome display of both tremendous punching power and deadly accuracy. At age 42 he gave an undefeated Evander Holyfield an outstanding fight, stunning him and driving him to the ropes in the third round. Fighting at a slower pace and lacking the meanness and killer instinct of the young George, Foreman failed to go after him and ended up losing a decision. George proved the quality of his chin in this fight taking 25 unanswered punches in round nine from the champion without falter. One could not help but think that the Zaire Foreman would have beaten Holyfield.

George shocked the boxing world in 1995 when, at the age of 45, he regained the heavyweight championship by defeating an unbeaten 25 year old champion with a sensational ten round come from behind knockout of Michael Moorer. The victory must be considered one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports. Twenty years after having lost to Muhammad Ali, Foreman vindicated himself by regaining the linear heavyweight championship. The fight remains as a testimony to the extraordinary power that surged through the veins of George Foreman.

Foreman was a physical freak of nature in terms of sheer power and just because one could box cleverly doesn’t means that they would survive. In order to beat the prime George one is going to have to take some very, very hard punches along the way. George had the size, reach, power, chin and killer instinct to be a threat to any heavyweight who ever lived. The post Ali versions of Foreman who fought at a controlled pace would have all lost to Larry Holmes, but the Zaire version would have beaten him. Larry would not have been able to “rope-a-dope” Foreman the way Ali did. Although Holmes had an outstanding chin he did not absorb punishment at quite the same level as Ali. He did not have the ability to lean away from punches the way Ali did, nor would there be those loose ropes to aid him in pulling back and away from George’s punches. Foreman at his peak beats Larry Holmes. Cus D’Amato once said “no swarming heavyweight who ever lived would defeat George Foreman.” George beats any of the great swarmers including Dempsey, Marciano, and Tyson (see Frazier fights). It would take a supreme world-class chin and the ability to absorb bone crunching body shots as well as clever defense to survive George Foreman at his best. Lennox Lewis, who was twice knocked out in early rounds by lesser fighters, would fall in two rounds to Big George. Few fighters of history could make the requirement against the most powerful of the big men. George Foreman at his awesome best is the king of the super-heavyweights.

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