George Foreman, to TSS, when asked for a comment on Lyle's passing: “Another big oak has fallen. I'll miss him!”
He was an ace baseball player, a force on the basketball court and he could throw a tight spiral 70 yards. But Ron Lyle will forever be remembered as a hard punching sonafagun.
The ex heavyweight contender died Saturday in Denver, at age 70, from septic shock, according to Reuters.
Lyle retired from the ring in 1980, and returned for four bouts in 1995; he finished with a 43-7-1 mark, with 31 KOs.
He was born in Ohio and grew up in a Denver housing project, one of 19 children born to a minister and a missionary mom. He went off the rails as a teen when someone chased him with a pipe, and he upped the ante, and borrowed a pistol, and shot the man dead. Lyle did 7 1/2 years for second degree murder, but he made the time work for him, for the most part. He got the worst of it in a knife fight, and very nearly died in a Colorado Penitentiary, but when he healed up, he began boxing. He had the same success at the sweet science as he did most any other sport he tried his hand at.
In 1969, he got out prison, and by 1973 he was on everybody's radar as a possible foe for Ali, Frazier or Foreman. Frazier was impressed, he said Lyle looked like he was “poured out of concrete.” Jerry Quarry got the best of Lyle when they tangled in February of that year, but Lyle soldiered on, and beat the guys you have to beat to get to the big stage. He downed Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis and Boone Kirkman, and a February 1975 loss to Jimmy Young didn't queer his Ali lottery ticket. They tangled in May 1975, and Lyle was ahead after ten. But Ali could and did turn it on when he had to, and he had to in round 11. A left-right-left, after he'd buzzed Lyle bad with a left and then a smashing right, made the ref call it a night for the challenger.
Lyle beat another bomber-type, Earnie Shavers, in his next scrap, and was rewarded with a tango with George Foreman. They met–that's an inappropriate term–they took turns whaling away at each other at Caesars, and in five rounds, they hit the deck five times. In the fourth round of their January 24, 1976 confrontation, Foreman went down about a minute in, and evened the score with a right hand with a minute left. With two second remaining, Lyle sent George to the floor again, off a right hand. In the fifth, Foreman was nearly out of it, but summoned some wind, and he took a turn pummeling Lyle. Lyle fell face first to the floor, and could not beat the count. The fight will remain as an all-time great example of a heavyweight slobberknocker, the epitome of two muscled brutes taking turns throwing anvils at each other.
“I should have relaxed when I had him in trouble, but I got tense and then I got tired,” the loser told the Denver Post later. He spoke of his love for the savage science. “I loved it. I loved it. I loved luring a guy into throwing a punch, then landing my own right hand and hurting him and dropping him. I loved it. It was the only way I was ever able to express myself. I loved the fight crowd. They're the most exciting crowd I know – the high rollers. The night life. The politicians and movie stars. Business people. Street people. Ladies of the night. And they all come for one reason – to see you knocked down and pull yourself up. They want to see you put it on the line. And when you do, that's like you telling them, 'This is what I have to give you tonight.”'
Lyle had another brush with the law, as a pal from the joint, posse-member Vernon “Rip” Clark, ended up shot dead in the boxer's house on New Year's Eve night 1976/1977. Did Lyle shoot him during an argument about money or did the men struggle for Clark's gun, causing it to go off and fire a fatal bullet? Lyle, now 35, was acquitted of charges, but a bout with young gun Larry Holmes went out the window. His chances dwindled, and while he beat some second tier fighters after (Joe Bugner, Scott Ledoux), by 1980, he was in the steppingstone category. Gerry Cooney, age 24, stopped him in round one of their Nassau Coliseum bout.
He missed the buzz, the money, the magnetic aura you enjoy when you're the man who drops and stops other men, and sought a rematch with Foreman around 1995, but he didn't have fast hands or feet the first time around, and at 53, this was even more apparent. He walked away for good after a win.
Excuse please the too-candid summation: Ron Lyle lost his three signature bouts, against Quarry, Ali and Foreman. But his legacy isn't stained and to be short-lived. Boxing served the man well, providing him a focus and reason for being, and probably kept him from one of two ends, neither pretty. And he did boxing well, showing skill, character and perseverance. Rest in peace, and tell Mr. Frazier we said hello.