Red Badge of Courage: Foreman vs. Lyle

By Gordon Marino on January 24, 2018
Red Badge of Courage: Foreman vs. Lyle
The Buddha-like master of punch said that facing Lyle was a lot like facing himself. (Getty)

Forty-two years ago today, George Foreman and Ron Lyle met for what was to be one of the most thrilling, albeit unscientific heavyweight brawls in boxing history…

Forty-two years ago today, George Foreman and Ron Lyle met for what was to be one of the most thrilling, albeit unscientific heavyweight brawls in boxing history. Then 27, Foreman had not fought since his loss to Ali in the October 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. Lyle, who was 35, was coming off a knockout victory over Earnie Shavers. Before that, in May of 1975, he was beating the champion Ali on points when Lyle ended up on incoming end of a fusillade of head shots that convinced the ref to stop the contest and award GOAT a TKO victory.

Both men came into the ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with their fistic futures at stake. George told me, “Before the fight I was thinking that this guy was nothing to worry about. His record was built up on easy fights.” Foreman is a wise man but how wrong he was that night. He recalled, “My plan was to show everyone that I could box. For once, I wasn’t going in there for the knockout.”

From the opening gong, Lyle blasted Foreman with right hands and body shots and easily won the first frame, Foreman said, “He hit me and hurt me but I still thought it was a fluke.” In the second stanza, Foreman nearly put Lyle to bed. But in the fourth round, a round that Ring Magazine registers as the sixth most exciting round in boxing history, Lyle put Foreman on the canvas, then Foreman returned the favor, and then near the three-minute mark,  Lyle drilled Foreman to the canvas again!

Foreman remembers, “When I hit the canvas in the Ali fight, Sadler was motioning me to stay down and clear my head. But I waited too long to get up. When Lyle nailed me, I was thinking, I can’t let myself be counted out again, so I jumped up as fast as I could.” Foreman was no longer thinking that Lyle was an imposter and in a thunderous fifth round Big George prevailed with a dramatic knockout.

Foreman was no Mayweather but his offensive technique was deft. Often in this fight and others, Foreman would attack with a double jab right hand combination, slide right to get an angle, and explode with either a left hook or right hand or both. If his opponent started to break the perimeter, Foreman would push him back into his preferred slugging range.

Asked how Lyle ranked in terms on the seismic scale, Foreman did not hesitate, “No one hurt me as much as Lyle did. Liston was powerful but we were always sparring and had head gear on. Lyle was the hardest puncher I ever faced.”

The first ballot Hall of Famer added, “Lyle was about my size and so unlike Frazier, I soon found out that he could reach me with his straight right.”

Asked what he learned from the encounter Foreman responded, “I took a lot of lessons from that fight, which I still can’t watch without getting worked up. I learned never to underestimate an opponent again. I learned that I should forget being a boxer. That I was a puncher and that I should stick with that.”

Foreman was trained by Gil Glancy for this fray and also the man who coached Jose Napoles. Chuckling, George remarked that in the heat of the battle, his trainer told him to bend. Foreman said, “And for once I listened and bent my knees. I never bent before but I did that night, as a result I was able to land some great left hooks and uppercuts.” After a pause, Foreman confessed, “Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever bent my knees again.”

George, who had nothing but praise for his brave and bruiser of a foe, remembered, “I was pretty groggy after that fight and so sore that I needed to rest for about two months.” Looking in the rearview mirror the two-time heavyweight champ added, “Ron and I met at the airport. He was very friendly and said ‘that was the kind of fight people love to see.’ I said, ‘not me.’” Ron pressed, “We should do it again.” George countered with an emphatic, “Never.”

Among other things, it was a bout in which Foreman earned his red badge of courage, he was hurt badly and got up to win. The Buddha-like master of punch agreed that facing Lyle was a lot like facing himself. After Lyle, he noted, “I understood what it was like to be hit by big punches. Always the wit, he went on, “I also understood that in life and in punching, it’s better to give than receive.”

A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. His The Quotable Kierkegaard was recently published by Princeton University Press. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Existentialist’s Survival Guide: How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age.” You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

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George Foreman vs Ron Lyle (Full 1976 fight broadcast)

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  1. gordon marino 01:15pm, 01/25/2018

    Many thanks Pete. It was a hoot listening to George talk about it. Ron - lets do it again. George- Never!

  2. Pete The Sneak 12:51pm, 01/25/2018

    Wow! I remember this fight ever so vividly. It was one of those where you stood up watching it the whole time. Thanks for bringing it back Gordon. Great write up on a great action packed heavyweight fight…Peace.

  3. gordon marino 09:04am, 01/25/2018

    You’re right. He was quite the pusher—like a defensive end or something.

  4. Bruce Kielty 09:02am, 01/25/2018

    Fine article about a memorable bout.  George was surely a thunderous puncher but he benefited greatly by refs never calling him for constant pushing/shoving of his opponents to keep them within his punching range.

  5. gordon 05:59pm, 01/24/2018

    Thanks my friend. Love to hear some of your stories about Ron. Man, he had a rough road.. and as a boxer, you have to wonder how good he would have been if he started earlier.

    Hope your year is off to a good start.

  6. Dennis Taylor 03:21pm, 01/24/2018

    Speaking from the perspective of a Denver-area sportswriter who covered Ron Lyle, this was one of the most exciting heavyweight fights of my lifetime. Wow! Thanks Gordon!

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