Over the course of his stellar heavyweight career, how many times can it be said that former two-time champion George Foreman was ever hurt by another fighter to the point that he was stumbling all over the ring? The answer to that question is once, and that occurred on January 24, 1976. And that was courtesy of a big right hand landed by former contender and title challenger Ron Lyle 43-7-1 (31). Sadly, November 2011 has claimed another pillar heavyweight from the seventies as former title challenger Ron Lyle has joined former champ Joe Frazier at his final resting place.
Ron Lyle is best remembered for his title bout with heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and his five round slug-fest with George Foreman nine months later. Lyle is also remembered for his two-handed power, especially in his right hand. However, what’s often missed when Lyle’s career is discussed is the fact that his boxing style was unique and rare, that is until Lennox Lewis and the arrival of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. Throughout the modern era circa 1880 to the present there haven’t been many outstanding heavyweights who fought as a boxer-puncher.
There’s been some great boxers, swarmers, punchers and sluggers, but the only great boxer-punchers prior to 1970 were former champs Joe Louis and Sonny Liston. If you continue on chronologically, Lyle’s name would bridge the gap between Louis and Liston and Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos as far as outstanding/great boxer-punchers. Ron Lyle was an outstanding boxer-puncher. He had a blunting left jab, threw tight upper-cuts and hooks as counters to the head and body, and he also had a very powerful conventional right cross to the head. Ron applied subtle pressure and was very measured in his attack. He never rushed his shots or got wild.
Lyle got a late start as a pro. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 21-year-old gang rival Douglas Byrd at age 19. He served 7 1/2 years in a Cañon City prison where he began to box. After his release from prison he had a brief amateur career. In 1971 he knocked out 1972 Olympian Duane Bobick in the first round with one punch. Bobick was reportedly down for over five minutes. But due to the fact that Lyle needed money he bypassed the 1972 Olympic Trials and turned pro, thus opening the door for Bobick to represent the US at the Olympic Games in Munich.
As a pro Lyle was put in tough fights early because of his late start. He scored wins over Vincente Rondon, Buster Mathis, Larry Middleton, Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Earnie Shavers, Joe Bugner, Scott LeDoux and was avoided by Ken Norton between 1974-77. He also had the misfortune of running into Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Young on one of their better nights. He was leading Muhammad Ali after 10 rounds during their title bout before Ali landed one of the best right hands of his title tenure and then followed it up with a barrage of rights and lefts leading to the referee stopping the fight in the 11th round. After losing to Ali, Lyle knocked out Earnie Shavers and put himself in line to fight George Foreman on ABC. Foreman was making his return to the ring after his 15 month retirement after losing his undisputed title to Ali in late 1974.
When Foreman agreed to meet Lyle in his comeback fight, he and new trainer Gil Clancy probably thought Lyle would be an easy fight and early round knockout for George. They knew Lyle was fearless and wouldn’t be intimidated and would oblige Foreman and trade with him. For three rounds Foreman and Lyle traded measured bombs pretty evenly. In the fourth round the flood gates opened and Lyle and Foreman traded knockdowns of each other. Then Lyle dropped Foreman a second time and had him badly hurt. Foreman hadn’t fully recovered until the fifth round when he trapped Lyle in a corner and unloaded with non-stop hay-makers that overwhelmed Lyle and dropped him for the count.
Yes, Muhammad Ali may have stopped Foreman, but he didn’t really hurt him or have him falling all over the ring. George went down from exhaustion more than from being hurt. This wasn’t the case when Lyle dropped him. When Lyle dropped Foreman with a right hook/uppercut at the end of the fourth round, Foreman crashed to the canvas and struggled to get up and stumbled back to his corner. George was never more hurt or in trouble in any fight of his career prior to or after fighting Lyle.
Ron Lyle was an outstanding/borderline great heavyweight fighter. He was fearless and had a good chin along with being a much better and well rounded fighter than some remember him as being. He like many other heavyweights who fought during the Ali, Frazier, Foreman era circa 1965-75 had the bad luck of their birth certificate. Had Lyle fought during the eras of Marciano, Holmes, Tyson and today’s era of heavyweights, he surely would’ve won the title or at the least a version of it.
If Lyle was fighting in his prime today, Vitali Klitschko is the only heavyweight he’d have to worry about. Aside from Vitali he’d have his way with the rest of the division. He traded bombs with Earnie Shavers and won, and if he just stayed away from Foreman a little more he may have defeated him by knockout just the same. No, Ron Lyle never won the heavyweight title, but he’s the only fighter who ever hurt George Foreman and had him stumbling around the ring, ever. Nobody but Foreman would have had the character and physical attributes to have gotten up in the Lyle fight. He was badly hurt and dead the second time he was dropped. In some ways, Foreman getting up was his finest hour.