By Tony Calcara
Posted: November 6, 2015
“He had the points, but I made the point. If you can live, you can dream.”
A 42-year-old George Foreman was holding court after having gone 12 rounds with the undisputed Heavyweight champion. Wearing sunglasses to partially disguise his swollen face, the former 1968 Olympic gold medalist and former Heavyweight champion had been around this block before.
In the days and months leading up to the mega showdown between Foreman and undefeated Heavyweight czar Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, history was being charted outside the boxing ring.
On January 15, a United Nations deadline passed that required Saddam Hussein to withdraw his forces from Kuwait. His failure to do so resulted in the full-scale launch of Operation Desert Storm, just two days later, on January 17.
In the midst of Desert Storm, Super Bowl XXV was played under the backdrop of war. On January 27, the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in one of the most exciting Super Bowl’s ever played.
On February 24, the ground campaign began. It ended not long after it started with coalition forces overrunning the Iraqi’s. Finally, on March 6, President George H.W. Bush announced, “Aggression is defeated. The war is over.”
The year was 1991.
In the spring, Holyfield and Foreman would meet in a bout billed as “The Battle of the Ages.” Foreman would face a man 14 years younger at Donald Trump’s Convention Center in Atlantic City.
At 28, Holyfield was still fighting for legitimacy and respect. Still maligned by many as nothing more than “a blown up Cruiserweight,” Holyfield had made a successful jump to the Heavyweight division after winning an Olympic Bronze Medal in 1984 and then dominating the Cruiserweight division.
Holyfield was viewed as the best trained and best conditioned athlete in the sport. Since entering the Heavyweight ranks, “The Real Deal” had done away with fighters like Michael Dokes, Pinklon Thomas and Alex Stewart.
Not one Heavyweight had made it to the final bell as Holyfield had knocked out every opponent he had faced over the previous five years.
The long anticipated showdown with Mike Tyson was postponed after Tyson lost the unified crown in Tokyo to James “Buster” Douglas. An overweight and out of shape Douglas all but handed the titles to Holyfield in October and was knocked out inside of three rounds.
Holyfield (25-0, 21 KOs) was now the undisputed kingpin of the division. With Tyson lurking, his first defense would be against “Big” George.
Meanwhile, as Sugar Ray Leonard put it, Foreman was “establishing credibility and marketability.” Foreman, who retired after losing to Jimmy Young in March of 1977, returned to the ring nearly 10 years later, to the day, in March of 1987.
Not everyone was thrilled with the comeback. The “fight doctor” Ferdie Pacheco weighed in. “This is pathetic. It shouldn’t be allowed. He’s overage, inept. This whole thing is a fraudulent second career to build a big money fight with Mike Tyson.”
Foreman disagreed. “I didn’t come back for the Cadillac in the window, a big payday. I came back to be Heavyweight champ of the world.”
After 45 wins in his first career, Foreman had only two losses on his record, the first to Muhammad Ali in the iconic “Rumble in the Jungle” and the second to Young in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Since launching his comeback, Foreman had pumped out 24 straight wins, 23 by knockout, in less than four years. He had hammered men like Everett Martin, Bert Cooper and Gerry Cooney.
Foreman (69-2, 65 KOs) was the epitome in proving that the last thing that goes is ones power. He owned the highest KO percentage in Heavyweight history and, as Holyfield’s co-trainer George Benton so colorfully put it, “If he catches you clean you’ll be the deadest SOB in the cemetery.”
On Friday night, April 19, over 17,000 fans poured into the Convention Center to see Holyfield and Foreman lock horns. The bout was televised live on TVKO and then rebroadcast on HBO. At the time, the fight became the highest-grossing boxing match of all time.
The question on everyone’s mind was whether or not Big George could really pull this off. Odds makers answered with Holyfield as a firm 3-1 favorite at fight time. Still, many believed Foreman had a real shot.
As the challenger, Foreman entered first. At 6’4” and 257 pounds, he would look to muscle, bully and push around the smaller champion.
Holyfield entered next. At 6’2” and 208 pounds, he clearly gave up both height and weight to Foreman. Holyfield’s gameplan was to out speed and out hustle the bigger, slower man.
Ring announcer Michael Buffer first introduced two legends in the ring as both Ali and Joe Frazier were in attendance. After several minutes of cheering, Buffer then introduced the fighters.
With announcers Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant in place, Merchant described the matchup. “I see this as a fight between George Foreman’s 70’s Cadillac and Evander Holyfield 90’s Corvette. If they collide, maybe the Cadillac will smash him up. But if it’s a contest of quickness and youth, the Corvette has all the advantages.”
After referee Rudy Battle provided final instructions, Round 1 got underway.
Foreman, wearing white trunks, immediately looked to punish Holyfield with his long, powerful, telephone jab. With arms crossed in front him in a crisscross style defense, Foreman pushed forward looking to dictate the action.
Holyfield, also wearing white trunks, looked to pop his own left jab and to then fire quick combinations. Weary of the Foreman power, he moved in and out and left to right.
After Round 1, as was now tradition in his second career, Foreman stood in his corner in between rounds. He listened to instructions from a corner that included Angelo Dundee, Charlie Shipes and Archie Moore.
In Round 2, the crowd rose as the two men stood in close. Clearly, Holyfield had the faster hands leaving Merchant to describe Foreman’s punches as “second class mail.”
In an instant, a jab by Foreman snapped the head of Holyfield back. With his back now against the ropes, Foreman launched and landed a hammering left hook that landed on Holyfield’s head. Sensing he might have a chance, the challenger moved in as the crowd rose to its feet.
Lampley hollered over the roar, “Thudding left hand from Foreman and Holyfield backs onto the ropes! Crowd gets excited!”
In close, Foreman used his shoulder to nudge the champion backward to create room to punch. He then brutally blasted rights and lefts to the champion’s midsection. Lampley’s voice rose, “Power to the body from Foreman!”
Everyone in the Convention Center was on their feet. Big George had the champion’s attention and the imagination of everyone watching.
As Foreman pounded away, Merchant concluded, “I guess second class mail sometimes gets delivered.”
With just seconds remaining in the round, the challenger pulled the trigger on an overhand right that belted Holyfield high on the head. Lampley continued, “Right hand on the surface of Holyfield’s head, and he’s momentarily stunned!”
After the bell sounded, the crowd refused to sit down and cheered as one while the fighters were in their corners. The champion’s trainers, Benton and Lou Duva, pled with him to jab, move, and box.
Round 3 began with Holyfield, now anxious to speed up the pace and regain tactical control, step in and rip a combination to Foreman’s head and body. While Holyfield beat Foreman to the punch, Foreman answered and remained dangerous, launching powerful bombs to the head and body of the champion.
With just seconds remaining in the third, Holyfield blitzed Big George with a sizzling combination, rocking and hurting the challenger as the bell sounded to end the round.
Merchant observed, “George Foreman wobbles back to his corner.”
The bout progressed into the middle rounds with Foreman still pursuing the champion with a passion and fervor while looking to land heavy artillery. Holyfield, sticking to his plan, moved, boxed and fired quick, scorching combinations.
A determined Foreman would not relent.
Now in Round 7, Foreman jumped the champion just seconds into the round. Lampley cried, “Holyfield stops punching and Foreman wails away again! When Evander stops punching George gets a chance! Foreman landed a right!”
As the crowd again rose to its feet, cheering, screaming and stomping, Holyfield reloaded. After catching his breath, Lampley resumed as did the fireworks. “And Holyfield lands a vicious left to the ribs and a left to the jaw! Another left hook! And a right! Will George go down!?”
Foreman, now swelling over his right eye, hung in and weathered a ferocious storm as the champion pounded him with a barrage of power punches. Still plodding forward, he desperately tried to answer as the tide again swung in the champion’s favor.
The Ring Magazine would later name Round 7 the “Round of the Year” for 1991. Both men, dramatically, had and took their chances, each landing 30 plus blows and over 50 percent of their punches in the round.
While Foreman continued to club away at the champion, Holyfield continued to move and box. He continued to sting Foreman with blistering rights and lefts and was now firmly in command.
The bout now entered the final round. Foreman continued to pursue, to no avail, as the champion out boxed him with speed and youth. Both men hugged as the final bell sounded while the crowd stood and again applauded the fighters.
Buffer then announced the decision of the judges. Evander Holyfield had retained the undisputed crown winning a unanimous decision, 116–111, 117–110 and 115–112.
The champion would then ink a deal to fight Tyson outdoors at Caesars Palace in September. The fight would be postponed due to a Tyson injury then cancelled altogether later that fall. In November, Holyfield would stop last minute replacement Bert Cooper in a thrilling seven-round war in Atlanta.
Foreman would also fight again in 1991 meeting Jimmy Ellis in Reno. Foreman would demolish his foe inside of three rounds.
Talks of a rematch persisted, however, the two would never meet in the ring again.