Sixteen Years Ago Today - “The Battle Of The Ages,” Foreman-Holyfield

george foreman19.4.07 - By James Slater: Sixteen years ago today, the comeback dream of Big George Foreman was given its first chance to be realised. Following a ten year retirement, George, as we know, set foot back in the ring aged almost forty in 1987. The sneers and general disapproval were heard from almost everyone in boxing, but Foreman, who had been heavyweight king in 1973 and’74, was now being rewarded for his persistence with a shot at regaining his old crown. Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield was the new kid on the block and it was the bulked up former cruiserweight that the forty-two year old folk hero would face.

The fight, dubbed “The Battle of The Ages,” took place at The Convention Centre in Atlantic City on April 19th 1991. A sell out crowd was in attendance. And, despite the predictions of nearly every expert agreeing that the twenty-eight year old would have a relatively easy defence against the veteran, this was not the case. Expected by people like Ferdie Pacheco, for one, to fall at the hands of the much younger and fitter man, Foreman gave a most incredible showing.

Having trained extremely hard, harder perhaps than he had done back when he was seen as an invincible heavyweight puncher in the 1970’s, George hung tough right until the very last bell.

Holyfield, weighing only 208 pounds, compared to 257 for Foreman, fought a well disciplined fight. Following a game-plan set out by his handlers, George Benton and Lou Duva, Evander boxed smartly and moved around the old man in the hope of making him get tired. Not wanting to walk into anything big from the heavy handed “Punching Preacher,” Evander was cautious and showed the man who had won twenty-four consecutive comeback fights in a row, all but one by KO, much respect. He was content to let the bigger man burn energy as he tried to crank out his ponderous blows. George did land with some attention getters in round two. At one point his left jab blasted the champion’s head back and a follow-up right hand just missed. In fact, George’s jab was so powerful it actually hindered his chances of following up. So hard was the sledgehammer of a left jab, it knocked Evander too far out of range for him to land with anything else. It was lucky for the twenty-eight year old that nothing else did test his jaw.

In the third round, Holyfield landed some fast and accurate punches on George. His resolve tested like never before in his return, Foreman was badly wobbling at the bell, a bell that more than probably saved him from being stopped. The old slugger came back well in the fifth, however, and won his second round of the contest so far. His right hands and left uppercuts clipped Holyfield’s jaw and head and the unbeaten champ knew he’d been hit. As amazing as it seems now, back in the early 90’s the jury was still out on Evander’s ability to take a big heavyweight’s shot. We know now, of course, that his chin is absolutely rock-solid. It’s no wonder then, that he was able to take anything old George was able to get to him with. The champ also had to take some hefty wallops to his midsection. His superb conditioning saw to it that he didn’t fold.

The seventh was the best round of the fight. George began the session by cracking the side of Holyfield’s head with a big roundhouse right. Stunned, Evander had to withstand a barrage from his challenger as Big George went for it. “Can Foreman do it?,” asked commentator Ian Darke, excitedly. Then Holyfield came back. Firing out something like twenty unanswered shots, most of which landed flush on the forty-two year old’s chin, the finish to the action looked imminent. Somehow, George held on and refused to fall. The bell rang, signalling the end to one of the great heavyweight rounds of the early ‘90‘s. Ring magazine later said this seventh round brought to mind the incredible action of Hagler-Hearns round one. Not bad going for a fight that had been ridiculed by more than a few beforehand.

Through rounds eight to ten, George, though tired, continued to press forward. While for his part, Evander kept up his high work rate and mostly out landed George by something like two or three to one. Big George was particularly hurt at the end of the ninth. Given a fearful shellacking, the old man looked a dead-cert for the mat. Somehow he remained upright once again. He had been beaten like a drum in this session, however. Still, Foreman was doing himself, and all the other over-forties of the world, proud. He had enjoyed saying in the build up how such an age was no death sentence. Now he was proving it. Evander had some good lines to his credit in the hyping of the fight, too. “There’s something big going down, and his name is George Foreman.” He had quipped memorably. Despite this wittily made prediction, George never did taste the canvas.

Marked up and swollen George may have been in the last two rounds, but it was the younger man who was guilty of holding on now. They fought to the bell, whereupon ring announcer Michael Buffer bellowed out how they had reached the bell for home. They had indeed and now the fans wanted to hear the reading of the scorecards. Holyfield had won, they knew it and George knew it. But George’s ability to have reached the finish line meant a lot to all concerned.

The winner and still champion, by unanimous decision, was Evander Holyfield. But, as George later proudly stated, Evander had won the points, but he had MADE a point. This being that despite his age he remained a formidable and respectable heavyweight contender. Never again would forty be considered a foolish age for a man to fight at. We may not have known it then, but boxing had been changed forever. Just look at all the late thirties/early forties aged fighters doing well today - Evander Holyfield, somewhat ironically, included. George had set up a piece of boxing history, as his brother Roy had always said he would.

George had also given his fans, whatever their age, something to smile about. “The Battle of The Ages” had been a fine battle indeed.

Article posted on 20.04.2007

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