FOREMAN-HOLMES WOULD HAVE BEEN `OLD FOLKS HOME AT THE DOME’

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On Jan. 15, 1990, heavyweights George Foreman and Gerry Cooney squared off in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Some clever punster had dubbed it “the Geezers as Caesars,” a backhanded swipe at an event which, to some people’s way of thinking, paired a couple of over-the-hill, used-up fighters who should have been content to sit on their rocking chairs and sip their Geritol.

Cooney was 33 at the time and was fighting for just the third time in six years; Foreman, was 41, having celebrated his birthday just five days earlier.

Geezers? In retrospect, it now seems obvious that Cooney and that reasonably fresh version of Big George, who won on a second-round stoppage, were just a couple of kids going at it in the schoolyard.

Last week, the boxing world celebrated the 50th birthday of an actual geezer, Bernard Hopkins, who took the occasion to tell everyone he believed he had one more fight in him, and that it would come against a younger (of course), highly credible opponent. But even “The Alien” against anyone might not seem so age-defying when stacked against a matchup of Jurassic Park heavyweights that had been scheduled to take place on Jan. 23, 1999, in Houston’s Astrodome.

Had that pay-per-view bout (suggested purchase price: $39.95) gone off as scheduled, the combatants would have been a 50-year-old Foreman (then 76-5, 58 KOs) and 49-year-old Larry Holmes (66-6, 42 KOs). Oh, sure, smarmy critics would have sneered at it and someone surely would have come up with a derogatory phrase, maybe “Old Folks Home at the Dome.” But here’s the truth: Hundreds of thousands of fight fans would have bought it, maybe because it would have finally pitted two of the better big men in boxing history, even if they were grandfathers, or maybe because it came with an element of morbid curiosity.

“There was interest, a whole lot of interest,” Foreman said when I asked about his recollections of a bout that would have been a real-life enactment of “Grudge Match,” a bad 2013 movie whose premise was a 30-years-in-the-making rematch between sixty-something antagonists played by Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro. But the notion of a “Rocky Balboa” and “Raging Bull” somehow getting together to make box-office magic fizzled.

Might the same thing have happened with Foreman-Holmes?

“Larry and I were really in the mood to do it,” Foreman recalled. “When we met at the press conference in New York, we started selling woof tickets, the whole deal. And it would have sold; I’m sure of that. There was so much name recognition there. That’s what made it more important on the latter end.

“I left boxing in 1977 (the start of Foreman’s 10-year retirement from the ring). At that time, it wouldn’t have meant much for me to box Larry Holmes; he was just making a name for himself at that point. Then, by me going off the scene, Don King went all-in on promoting Larry. When I made my comeback, can you believe that Larry was retired then? So the timing never was quite right for us to fight, for one reason or another.”

For his part, Holmes was just as anxious to throw down with Foreman, and not just because, had the bout come off, Big George would have been paid $10 million and Holmes $4 million.

“When it didn’t happen, I was very disappointed,” the “Easton Assassin” said. “That was my dream, man, to fight George Foreman. I got tired of people saying, `What about George Foreman? Why don’t you fight George Foreman?’ All I could say was, `It ain’t me that won’t fight George, it’s George that won’t fight me. I’m ready when he’s ready.’ But he was never ready.

“But you know what? Looking back at it now, I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t have fought me either. I could still fight then, man, and George did not want to lose. But winning or losing didn’t matter as much to me. I wasn’t fighting for a championship. I was fighting to pay the rent, and I would give my all to do that.”

Debate if you must the possible outcome of the fight-that-never-was – and Teddy Atlas and esteemed journalist Jerry Izenberg will do just that, a little later in this piece – but know this: Foreman-Holmes wasn’t just a fantasy. The legendary figures had collected a non-refundable 10 percent of their contracted purses ($1 million to George, $400,000 to Larry), the Astrodome was booked and a press conference held. All that remained was for the promoter, an Englishman named Roger Levitt, to produce letters of credit that would have ensured that the fighters receive their full purses.

“On the date that letters of credit were supposed to be posted, the guy missed it,” Foreman, who pulled the plug on the fight, said in early January 1999. “My instincts were to say, `That’s it.’ My attorneys were a little lenient with him. They gave him a week’s extension. He just couldn’t come up with a letter of credit. A fight just couldn’t be made without a letter of credit.”

Sixteen years later, Foreman stands by that statement. He was a fighter, to be sure, and a proud one, but he also is a businessman and he wasn’t about to give himself away at a discounted rate.

“I think (Levitt) thought that since he put that first million dollars up, I would blindly follow him along,” Foreman said. “But I’d dealt with Don King and all those guys. I knew you must have the money in the bank to proceed. I wasn’t going down that trail, not knowing where it would lead, as some guys have done.

“It probably was one of those situations that was just not mean to be. Larry and I kept missing each other.”

At the time, Levitt insisted he had arranged for a $9 million insurance bond, which he said was “almost as good” as a letter of credit. But additional financing dried up when a younger heavyweight, and a superstar one at that, scheduled a pay-per-view fight just one week before Foreman-Holmes was to take place. If a financial knockout blow was dealt to George and Larry, it came in the form of the Jan. 16, 1999, PPV scrap between Mike Tyson and Frans Botha at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Tyson, as expected, battered Botha into submission in five rounds.

It was Levitt’s contention that a key financial backer for Foreman-Holmes got cold feet in fear of going against Tyson for fans’ PPV dollars.

“We had an Arab businessman who I’ve known for some time, who was putting up $12.6 million,” Levitt said at the time of the cancellation. “He pulled out because of the timing of the Tyson fight. His advisers told him we were going to get killed on the pay-per-view.” Tyson-Botha, by the way, came with a PPV tariff of $49.95.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time that Tyson torpedoed a possible Foreman-Holmes scrap.

“When I fought Evander Holyfield in Atlantic City (Holyfield defended his WBC, WBA and IBF titles on a unanimous decision on April 19, 1991), we did real well,” Foreman recalled. “Holmes had come back and (promoter Bob) Arum had a lot to do with Larry’s fight with Holyfield (which Holyfield also won, on a unanimous decision, on June 19, 1992). Arum was thinking about doing something with Larry and me, and he even printed up a poster that had us fighting for the heavyweight championship. He wanted to promote that fight if Larry beat Holyfield. But Larry didn’t win.”

Perhaps Foreman is right. Can there really be something to astrology? Could it be that the stars never properly aligned themselves to make Foreman-Holmes doable?

Atlas and Izenberg each is of the opinion that had they fought in the late 1970s, boxing master Holmes, with that laser-accurate jab, ability to pace himself and superior boxing skills, might have been too savvy for the young George, whose stock in trade then was to throw as many loaded-up haymakers as he could, and as quickly as he could, until he flattened his opponent or ran out of gas.

But the 1999 version of George vs. the 1999 version of Larry? That likely would have been another matter. That George fought more under control and had – gasp! – learned some of the finer points of boxing. Atlas and Izenberg each see him as being too much for Holmes to have handled.

“The old George Foreman, the reincarnated George Foreman that came back after a 10-year hiatus, was tougher than the young George Foreman,” Atlas offered. “He was smarter. In a lot of ways, he was just better. He wasn’t better physically, having gotten older and fatter, but he was better in the most important areas. He understood the difference between truth and lies.

“He bought into a lie in Zaire (against Muhammad Ali). He was a bigger, stronger guy than Ali, but Ali made him feel that that didn’t matter. George couldn’t make the decisions he needed to make. He couldn’t endure what he needed to endure. He wasn’t tough enough to handle the things that Ali represented that night. But of course he could have; thinking he couldn’t was the lie he bought into. He didn’t have to cave in.

“George had to live with that for 10 years, and living with it was a helluva lot harder than the punches he would have had to take for a few more rounds. So when he came back, he came back tougher. I think the older George Foreman would have beat the crap out of the younger George Foreman, and I think the older George would have beat the older Larry. But I would have taken the young Larry over the young George. That George didn’t have as many dimensions as Larry. When his power didn’t work, like it didn’t work in Zaire, he didn’t have anything else to back it up with.”

Izenberg pretty much sees it the same way as Atlas.

“The Foreman who fought Ali in Zaire would not have beaten Larry, I don’t think,” said Izenberg, the columnist emeritus for the Newark Star-Ledger. “George became a far, far better fighter, a far, far smarter fighter, in the second phase of his career.

“When Big George first came back, I laughed. We all did. But the more he fought, the more he got into a groove. I think he proved to everyone how much he had learned as a fighter when he was doing television (commentary).”

Which is not to say Izenberg is convinced Foreman-Holmes would have been PPV gold in 1999.

“Forget about Tyson (fighting Botha the week before),” he said. “Who would have put up 40 bucks to see those guys fight at that stage, 15 years past their prime? I personally believe that it should not have been allowed to take place.”

Holmes, of course, sees himself as the winner over the young George and the old George.

“The way I would have fought George (in the late 1970s) is the way I would have fought him in 1999, or now,” Holmes said. “I’d move side-to-side, use the jab, sneak in the right hand, put some combinations together, get in there a little bit and box him inside. Just tire him out. That’s it.

“George was good for four or five rounds. If you hurt George, he’d fight you harder. But when he did that, he’d either take you out or empty his gas tank. He didn’t have good stamina. Take him into the sixth and seventh rounds or later and he couldn’t go.”

You’d think Foreman would offer a stern rebuttal, but it isn’t necessarily so. He thinks some of the points Holmes makes are valid.

“I was smarter the second time around,” he agreed. “I learned how to pace myself. I’d wait around for a few rounds, then try for a seventh- or eighth-round knockout. I didn’t want to burn myself out like I did in the early part of my career. But that would have played into Larry’s box of tricks because he was a guy who always knew how to pace himself.

“If I was a betting man, I’d give the edge to Larry in a 12-round fight. I’m just being honest. Larry always made sure he had something left in the tank in the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds. But if a fight between me and him ended early, I’d have to go with myself.”

Foreman said he understands why Holmes always seems to carry a chip on his shoulder, and why he wanted a fight with him so badly.

“Larry became heavyweight champion after Muhammad Ali, and he might have thought, `Now I’ll be as big as Ali.’ But what’s that old saying? Beating The Man or succeeding The Man doesn’t make you The Man. Nobody could supplant Ali in terms of recognition. Realizing that probably kept Larry angry for a while. A lot of us went through that, but I think Larry struggled with that more than anyone.”

So what do you think TSS Nation? Who would you go with, young Larry vs. young George, and old Larry vs. Old George?

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Comment on this article

COMMENTS

-brownsugar :

for the record, Holmes was better than Foreman, in my humble opinion.


-Froggy :

B.F. got it right, a young Foreman loses to a young Holmes, an old[er] Foreman beats an old[er] Holmes! How good could Foreman have been if he had the old Foreman's ring smarts with the young Foremans physicality! Excuse my spelling!


-gibola :

Holmes in both. The older Holmes could still manage what Alex Stewart, Axel Schulz and Holyfield did and outbox Big George and win a decision. The younger George is a huge KO threat but I think Larry finds a way to bust him up and stop him late in a helluva fight.


-Radam G :

Larry Holmes did not move his head. And Rev. George's jab was just good as Holmes. So eventually Rev. George would have blinded Holmes with the jab and blasted him out with a right cross and that uppercut, which the Rev. also had. Holla!


-John Ipsen :

Foreman was always much stronger than Holmes, and without any doubt by far the strongest fighter of all time. No way Holmes would have stood any chance whatsoever, had the pair of them met when in their prime. Holmes would have been knocked clean out of the ring, as were Norton, Frazier (twice) and Ron Lyle. The older Foreman against the older Holmes, on the other hand, would be a completely different fight, one which might very well might have gone the distance, and where Holmes most certainly would have been able to cause George some trouble. I can?t see him winning the fight though, as Foreman?s superior punching power, and most likely higher workrate as well, would be the deciding factor. Foreman again, but this time just maybe by decision.


-brownsugar :

Foreman was always much stronger than Holmes, and without any doubt by far the strongest fighter of all time. No way Holmes would have stood any chance whatsoever, had the pair of them met when in their prime. Holmes would have been knocked clean out of the ring, as were Norton, Frazier (twice) and Ron Lyle. The older Foreman against the older Holmes, on the other hand, would be a completely different fight, one which might very well might have gone the distance, and where Holmes most certainly would have been able to cause George some trouble. I can?t see him winning the fight though, as Foreman?s superior punching power, and most likely higher workrate as well, would be the deciding factor. Foreman again, but this time just maybe by decision.
John Ipsen, I appreciate what you are saying,..... I think a lot of people would have favored Big George, In fact if the subject was put to a poll, I'm positive Foreman would have received at least 65% of the votes. The young George Foreman was a sullen, lethal puncher of few words who was utterly in love with his power. Interestingly this was not always the case. You can find old footage of Foreman (during his early professional) career using the jab, circling the ring, blocking punches and searching for openings. Except for his size (225lbs which was huge back then), there was not much else to distinguish him from a hundred other hopefuls. Foreman says he had an epiphany after his shocking and humbling loss to Jimmy Young which led him to follow the path of inspiration in order to spread the "Good News". I suspect that Foreman had another epiphany at some point during his career where he learned that he could lead with his power shots. Or maybe being the former sparring partner of Sonny Liston imparted something into his psycke. But Foreman was always more than just a mindless slugger, there was a distinct protocol Foreman used to indoctrinate his opponents regarding the virtues of respect and self preservation. Once his opponents became compliant, which Big George instantly recognized (through their submissive body language), ... he was in full control, that's when Big George proceeded to unleash a brand of violence in the ring that very few fighters have ever been able to duplicate. And as the world knows, Foreman began to rely on his destructive capabilities to the exclusion of everything else. In the book "Beauty and the Beast", the Beast's rage was soothed through music. and what is boxing?.... at it's highest level?.... if it isn't music? In 1977 Jimmy Young played a concert dedicated to Foreman, the theme of the music was called how to use finesse, and skill against a much larger and stronger opponent, Young eventually concluded the show by stopping Sonny Liston's prot?g?' in the late rounds. When Foreman made his comeback, he was indeed an enlightened man, he now pumped the jab, and picked his spots. He even smiled. but he lost to the luminaries of the 90's ERA such as the legendary: Tommy "The Duke" Morrison and the ernstwhile Alex Stuart. Big George also had be reminded of this limitations by a prime Evander Holyfield, But Foreman eventually struck gold by being patient, and presevered in a fight in which he was actually losing to overcome a 27 year old Michael Moore. Foreman eventually retired after being robbed by the scandalous decision he received in the Shannon Briggs title defence. it's interesting that Foreman only defended his title successfully twice (Norton and Frazier) but went on to lose to a fighter (Ali) who had his most competitive fights against the two fighers whom Foreman totally destroyed. Such is the nature of boxing, not everything is as it seems. but when push comes to shove, finesse beats brawn every time. Trust me, Foreman deserves all his accolades, but he didn't have a thing on Holmes. The unsung Holmes was in an entirely different galaxy. I'll explain later, the Rios fight just came on. thanks for your comments. and enjoy the fights.


-John Ipsen :

First of all, thanks to brownsugar for his quite analytic and very good post here. Your analysis of Foreman?s personality and mental prowess, and his underestimated shrewdness, is very interesting and, in my opinion, absolutely correct. It is true that he was always about much more than just power and true indeed that he evolved massively in his comeback years, in terms of mindpower and willpower. Much as I then agree with many of your points about George and the nature of boxing, and indeed appreciate your sentiment about finesse beating brawn, I do have to point out a few errors: First of all, Foreman wasn?t stopped by Jimmy Young. He dominated the fight early on and then got tired, was eventually floored in the final round, and went on to lose by a controversial decision. A fight, which, by George?s own account, he could easily have won, had he not specfically been asked to "carry" Jimmy Young in order to give the television viewers a bit more value for money. And a fight in which he admits to have been astonished afterwards when the decision was awarded to Young. Also, in his comeback, he did not lose to Alex Stewart. He won. He knocked Stewart down twice in the second round and had the opportunity to probably finish him off. By his own account, and on account of there being no three-knockdown rule, he did not, in light of his new, good-hearted nature and his religious beliefs, want to hurt him further. Instead he was again drawn into a long, tough encounter, which he this time won by decision. Be that as it may; regarding the Holyfield fight, it is fair to accept the fact that the decision was rightly given to Evander. Foreman, however, was clearly the stronger man, only, due to his lack of speed and precision, unable to land the decisive blow. I still believe to this day that had the fight gone fifteen rounds, Foreman would have knocked him out. In the twelfth, Evander was holding and hanging on for grim death with the shout from Roy Foreman at ringside: "He is ready to go, Big George, he is ready to go!", ringing clear thorugh the hall. And indeed loud and clear on my telly all the way over here in Denmark! The loss to Tommy Morrison was so weird. Teddy Atlas, Michael Moorer?s trainer, said in the build-up to the Moorer fight, in a sort of warning to his own man against Foreman: "That fight smelled so bad, they?re still cleaning the hall after that." As to my statement of "No way whatsoever Holmes would have stood a chance", I might have to back down just a bit on this. We saw against Lyle the limitations of George on a truly bad day, being staggered and floored, before eventually destroying Lyle in the fifth. Had we indeed seen this unprepared, and quite clumsy, version of George, displaying absolutely no parades, against Holmes, we might actually have had a fight on our hands. But I really don?t see it happening. Remember the Holmes-Norton bout, in which the decision just as easliy could have been given to Kenny. And then think about what happened to Norton in Caracas. I still have to maintain that at least nine times out of ten, Holmes would have done like Norton and would have had to have been carried out. The only fight, apart from the Holyfield bout, which Foreman truly and decisively lost in his entire career was the one in Zaire. And this one, to this very day, remains a mystery. It is quite easy to point out, that Ali?s performance on the night was out of this world. So tough, so brave and so strong, to be able withstand that amount of punishment and still keep standing and hitting back. But there was also always something fishy about that fight. Foreman maintains that his water had been tampered with and that he did not feel himself, right from the opening bell. True, or just a figment of nerves and imagination? One thing about Foreman, he never struck me as a bad loser so I don?t think he would have made this up, and furthermore stuck with it for his entire life and put it in his autobiography. But is there any explanation? It is one of those mysteries, the truth about which we will never know for certain. And one of the many incidents that have made the sport so intriguing to follow for more than a century. The one thing that sets George Foreman, young and old, apart from all other fighters, is his punching power. In the words of Ali: "Take the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time and multiply by two, then you have George Foreman." That is why I would always favour George against anyone. Even against Ali in a fictional rematch.


-John Ipsen :

First of all, thanks for your analytic and very good post. Your analysis of Foreman?s personality and mental prowess is very interesting and, in my opinion, absolutely correct. It is true that he was always about much more than just power and true indeed that he evolved massively in his comeback years, in terms of mindpower and willpower. Much as I then agree with many of the points made about George and about the nature of boxing, and indeed appreciate your sentiment about finesse beating brawn, I do have to point out a few errors: First of all, Foreman wasn?t stopped by Jimmy Young. He dominated the fight early on and then got tired, was eventually floored in the final round, and went on to lose by a controversial decision. A fight, which, by George?s own account, he could easily have won, had he not specfically been asked to "carry" Jimmy Young in order to give the television viewers a bit more value for money. And a fight in which he admits to have been astonished afterwards when the decision was awarded to Young. Also, in his comeback, he did not lose to Alex Stewart. He won. He knocked Stewart down twice in the second round and had the opportunity to probably finish him off. By his own account, and on account of there being no three-knockdown rule, he did not, in light of his new, good-hearted nature and his religious beliefs, want to hurt him further. Instead he was again drawn into a long, tough encounter, which he this time won by decision. Be that as it may; regarding the Holyfield fight, it is fair to accept the fact that the decision was rightly given to Evander. Foreman, however, was clearly the stronger man, only, due to his lack of speed and precision, unable to land the decisive blow. I still believe to this day that had the fight gone fifteen rounds, Foreman would have knocked him out. In the twelfth, Evander was holding and hanging on for grim death with the shout from Roy Foreman at ringside: "He is ready to go, Big George, he is ready to go!", ringing clear thorugh the hall. And indeed loud and clear on my telly all the way over here in Denmark! The loss to Tommy Morrison was so weird. Teddy Atlas, Michael Moorer?s trainer, said in the build-up to the Moorer fight, in a sort of warning to his own man against Foreman: "That fight smelled so bad, they?re still cleaning the hall after that." As to my statement of "No way whatsoever Holmes would have stood a chance", I might have to back down just a bit on this. We saw against Lyle the limitations of George on a truly bad day, being staggered and floored, before eventually destroying Lyle in the fifth. Had we indeed seen this unprepared, and quite clumsy, version of George, displaying absolutely no parades, against Holmes, we might actually have had a fight on our hands. But I really don?t see it happening. Remember the Holmes-Norton bout, in which the decision just as easliy could have been given to Kenny. And then think about what happened to Norton in Caracas. I still have to maintain that at least nine times out of ten, Holmes would have done like Norton and would have had to have been carried out. The only fight, apart from the Holyfield bout, which Foreman truly and decisively lost in his entire career was the one in Zaire. And this one, to this very day, remains a mystery. It is quite easy to point out, that Ali?s performance on the night was out of this world. So tough, so brave and so strong, to be able withstand that amount of punishment and still keep standing and hitting back. But there was also always something fishy about that fight. Foreman maintains that his water had been tampered with and that he did not feel himself, right from the opening bell. True, or just a figment of nerves and imagination? One thing about Foreman, he never struck me as a bad loser so I don?t think he would have made this up, and furthermore stuck with it for his entire life and put it in his autobiography. But is there any explanation? It is one of those mysteries, the truth about which we will never know for certain. And one of the many incidents that have made the sport so intriguing to follow for more than a century. The one thing that sets George Foreman, young and old, apart from all other fighters, is his punching power. In the words of Ali: "Take the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time and multiply by two, then you have George Foreman." That is why I would always favour George against anyone. Even against Ali in a fictional rematch.