January 24, 1976 saw George Foreman and Ron Lyle bring in the New Year in electric fashion. Boxing fans were treated with the “fight of the year” right out of the gate with a back-and-forth, up-and-down, edge of your seat–if you weren’t standing–brawl.
Foreman (40-1, 37 KOs) was an Olympic gold medalist and former Heavyweight Champion who had only one loss on his professional record. In October of 1974, Foreman was stopped by Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” One of the more famous showdowns in boxing history, Foreman had run out of steam as Ali used his now famous rope-a-dope to wear down the seemingly invincible champion and reclaim the title.
It was a loss that would haunt Foreman for two decades.
Sandwiched in between the 15 month layoff, the loss to Ali and his fight with Lyle, Foreman put on an “exhibition” in Toronto, Canada, at the Maple Leaf Garden. This night, April 26, 1975, was quite unusual. Many fans and pundits alike including Howard Cosell called the event a “farce” as Foreman fought five contenders in the same night.
Dubbed by Cosell “the frightful five”, the opponents were viewed as journeyman at best. Still, fighting five men in the same night is a rarity in and of itself. Foreman looked slow and his weight, 14 pounds above his ideal fighting weight, was questioned and viewed unfavorably by the boxing public.
As Foreman beat each of his opponents, Ali, who sat ringside with Cosell, taunted Foreman throughout the night.
After the exhibition in Toronto, Foreman and Lyle agreed to lock horns. The fight was at the indoor Sports Pavilion at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Odds makers made Foreman a 5-1 favorite.
Lyle (31-3-1, 22 KOs) was not amused. He was not afraid of Foreman and had punching power of his own. The night of the fight, Cosell described Lyle, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear. You know the story. Seven and a half years in Colorado State prison. He learned to fight there.”
Indeed, Lyle was not a man to be taken lightly. After a 14 month amateur career, Lyle turned pro. He fought well-known and top-notch fighters like Ali, Jimmy Young, Earnie Shavers, Oscar Bonavena and Jimmy Ellis.
Lyle entered the ring wearing a blue robe trimmed in white. At 220 pounds, he looked to be in tremendous shape.
Foreman entered next wearing a red robe trimmed in white. At 226 pounds, Foreman looked strong and in much better shape than during his exhibition bouts in Toronto. He had hired corner man Gil Glancy to head his training after the loss to Ali.
Broadcast live on ABC Wide World of Sports, Cosell sat ringside to call the action with his partner and number one ranked heavyweight contender Ken Norton.
Ring announcer Chuck Hull first introduced the great Joe Louis sitting ringside. He then began the introductions of the evening’s combatants.
Referee Charley Roth brought the fighters to the center of the ring for instructions. The crowd at Caesars cheered as both men faced each other, nose to nose, chest to chest, in an epic stare down.
Cosell responded to the steely confrontation and the crowd reaction, “Just look at this! The face of George Foreman and for that of Ron Lyle each speaking for itself.”
The bell sounded to start the action and Lyle immediately launched a wild right hook that missed Foreman. The two then briefly settled in and a jabbing contest ensured.
With 20 seconds remaining in the opening round, Lyle landed a crunching right hand that thudded home on Foreman’s jaw. As Foreman staggered and the crowd erupted, Lyle attacked. Foreman was hurt badly as the round came to a close.
Round 2 began with Lyle pressuring Foreman, seemingly checking to see if he had regained his senses. It was a mistake as seconds into the round it was Foreman’s turn to land a crushing right hand. Cosell screamed, “I told you we’d have a slugfest! And that’s what we’ve got!”
As the action was hot, the bell sounded to end the round as Foreman was in an all-out assault of Lyle. Norton and Cosell seemed confused as the round seemed quick. In fact, the bell had sounded to end the round one minute early. The second round lasted only two minutes, but it was plenty long for Lyle.
The third round had less action than its two minute predecessor. Forman plodded forward, stalking Lyle. Lyle spent much of the round either in a corner or with his back against the ropes.
Norton summed up the third round action, “Howard, Foreman is pawing looking for the one big shot there and Lyle is looking to counter.”
As the fourth round got underway, it was Lyle who was now coming forward. As Foreman opened up, Lyle countered with a blistering right hand. It rocked Foreman backward as Cosell exclaimed, “A good right by Lyle!”
As Lyle attacked Foreman, a combination sent him sprawling to the canvas. Cosell was as energetic as the packed house now on its feet at Caesars. “Foreman is down! It started with a right, then a left! Lyle putting on a tremendous demonstration!”
Foreman rose, took the standing eight count and fought back. With just over a minute to go in the round, it was Foreman’s turn as he began pummeling Lyle. The two stood toe-to-toe exchanging unbelievable bombs.
Cosell described the action, Lyle crumbled to the canvas, “Now, George struck back! George fought back with a magnificent right! A minute to go in a wild fight!”
Lyle rose as it was his turn to take the standing eight count. As the action resumed, just as Foreman did earlier, Lyle attacked and fought back. As Foreman blasted away, Lyle countered with a picture perfect left hook that shook Foreman from head to toe.
Cosell found himself screaming over the raucous crowd, many dancing, jumping and pumping their fists in the air at ringside. “This isn’t artistic, but it is slugging. Now Foreman was staggered! Foreman goes down! Foreman goes down! Lyle fights back! What a fight Kenny!”
Foreman rose for a third time as the bell ended to save what many agree was one of the single greatest rounds in boxing history. Both men staggered back to their corners having been hurt and knocked down in the fourth round.
As the fifth got underway, both men again threw caution to the wind and continued launching bombs. Norton was as animated as Cosell as Lyle wobbled Foreman again and looked to be done. “Lyle has the mental edge right here. Here we go, here we go Howard! Foreman is in bad trouble now!”
As Foreman wobbled, he reached down, twisted his waist as far back as he could, and launched a left hook howitzer that shook Lyle. Lyle backed into a corner, seat of his drawers on the second rope as Foreman unleashed an avalanche of power punches. After 18 consecutive blows, many of which landed, Lyle crashed face first into a heap onto the mat.
Recognizing the intense drama, Cosell bellowed, “Now it’s Lyle! Now it’s Lyle. What an incredible fight! Now it’s Lyle down to the canvas! A knockout in the fifth round by George Foreman!”
Roth had reached the count of 10. Foreman had knocked out Lyle at 2:28 of the fifth round.
The ebb and flow was incredible. The action resulted in both the fight of the year and a round, the fourth, recognized by many as one of the very best of all time.
It was, in every sense of the word, a classic slugfest that will be remembered for many years to come.