Let’s go way way way back for Sunday Punch for the first time in this series. I believe every fight I’ve featured is from the 1980s to present day, but one of the greatest heavyweight swangin’ and bangin’ fights ever occurred on January 24th, 1976.
George Foreman returned to the ring for the first time since his Rumble in the Jungle loss to Muhammad Ali in Zaire. His opponent at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was ex-convict turned contender Ron Lyle, who’d been somewhat controversially stopped by Ali as well but followed that up with a TKO win over the legendary hitter Earnie Shavers.
Back when ABC had Wide World of Sports, Howard Cosell would do the blow-by-blow commentary either solo or with a special guest, in this instance Ken Norton. Cosell promised a slugfest and we got that and then some.
Lyle hurt Foreman in the opening round, and Foreman returned the favor in round two. There were bombs exchanged and jabs were seldom seen. Then round four happened and all hell broke loose. A right uppercut and a series of follow-up punches by Lyle put Foreman on the canvas. It looked as if Lyle would pull off the upset, but back came Foreman with two big rights of his own and Lyle was down. A little over a minute later, a counter-right decked Foreman and I cannot believe he got up.
In the fifth round, Foreman took over as Lyle exhausted himself and Ron could barely stand up. As some in the stands can be heard clamoring for the fight to be stopped as Foreman wailed on Lyle, Ron collapsed to the canvas and was counted out by the referee. I know we trash refs today but boxing reffing back then (along with health and safety standards) was even worse.
Watch the highlights in the video above.
Foreman (76-5, 68 KOs) rematched Joe Frazier after this and knocked him down many more times to go 2-0 in their rivalry.You surely know the story of him becoming a born-again Christian and leaving boxing until his comeback in 1987. Seven years later at 45 he became a heavyweight champ by KOing Michael Moorer, then retired for good in 1997. He’s obviously in the boxing HOF and his grills are really good.
Lyle (43-7-1, 31 KOs) didn’t have too many more relevant fights after the Foreman classic. Longtime fans may remember Gerry Cooney clobbering him in a round, after which Lyle retired before coming back for a handful of fights in 1995 at the age of 54. He died in 2011 of a stomach ailment at the age of 70.