Boxing


George Foreman versus Lennox Lewis

george foreman11.01.07 - By Hunter Breckenridge: Boxing fans love hypothetical matchups. What might have been is often just as interesting to boxing fans as some of the fights themselves. Boxing fans are like any sports fans in that they thrive on debate. For me, one of the most interesting ''what if'' scenarios is a very recent one. Less than ten years ago, George Foreman versus Lennox Lewis was a possibility.

September 22, 1997. On that date, then-48-year-old George Foreman fought Shannon Briggs for the linear heavyweight championship of the world. On that night, Foreman dominated Briggs. Foreman consistently backed Briggs up, landed harder and more frequent punches, and had Briggs hurt on more than one occasion. Shannon Briggs was known for his trademark ''swarm,'' a barrage of punches early on that was designed to obliterate the opposition in the 1st round. This rather reckless tactic was completely absent, however, as George set the pace for the fight. Briggs seemed to have a great deal of respect for Foreman's power, and he never pressed matters.

Despite the fact that Shannon was 23 years younger than George, he didn't take advantage of the physical advantages that his youth provided him. George's only physical edge - his enormous power - was the deciding factor in the fight. Not because he crushed Briggs with it, but because Briggs seemed in awe of what George could do.

After the fight, Briggs was more surprised than anyone when the verdict was announced in his favor. The decision seemed inexcusable, not just because Briggs received the nod, but because he won by such absurdly lopsided margins on two of the scorecards. Regardless, Foreman was gracious in defeat. He didn't make excuses or point fingers, and gave Briggs credit for not quitting. As the ''winner'' of the fight, Shannon was given a shot at the reigning WBC champion, Lennox Lewis.

Nobody expected Shannon Briggs to last long against Lennox, but to his credit, he treated the fight against Lewis seriously. Shannon rocked Lennox in the first and second rounds, and seemed to have Lennox on the verge of a shocking early KO. However, Lewis regrouped and administered a sound beating to his game but outmatched challenger. After the fight, the general consensus was that Briggs could have been on Lewis's level had he spent the past few years concentrating more on training than on the economic aspects of the sport. Lewis's fifth-round knockout of Briggs highlighted Briggs’ talent and potential, as well as a few weaknesses of Lewis'. Lennox's chin was still a question mark to many, as he had been defeated by second-round knockout four years earlier. His struggles in the first two rounds of his fight with Briggs seemed to confirm the shakiness of his chin. The fact that Lewis had such a difficult time with Briggs suggested to many that the champion was vulnerable to a strong puncher. And who was a stronger puncher than George Foreman?

This brings us to the big ''what if.'' What if justice had been served on November 22nd, and George had received the veridict? It is possible that George Foreman would have been given the shot at Lennox
Lewis. Lennox was coming off an impressive one-round demolition of Andrew Golota, and was thought by many to be the best heavyweight in the world at the time. Lewis would have benefited greatly from a Foreman fight. From his perspective, it would have been a low-risk/high-reward scenario. George would have been 49 by the time of the fight, and much slower and easier to hit than Shannon Briggs. George would have been an easy target for Lennox's reasonably quick hands. It's possible that the fight wouldn't have happened. George had already shunned tougher fights in favor of more lucrative and easy to win matchups. He didn't need Lennox. He didn't need to get hurt for money or even glory. But there is the
possibility George might have been willing to take one last chance. And that's where things get interesting.

March 28, 1998. George Foreman, 49 years old, 77-4(68) versus Lennox Lewis, 32 years old, 32-1(27) going in to the fight. Lennox enjoyed several appreciable advantages over George. He was an inch and a half taller, had a two-inch reach advantage, and was significantly quicker of both hand and foot. George's most significant advantage lay in his more resilient chin. He also may have been a slightly harder puncher, but that advantage would have been nullified by Lennox's superior hand speed. Regardless, Lennox would have to have been a substantial favorite.

Going into the fight, Lennox may very well have treated it lightly. He clearly wasn't in the best shape against 25-year-old Shannon Briggs, why would he get himself into any better shape against a 49-year-
old? Despite his sizeable waistband, George was usually in deceptively good condition. He had the stamina to go 12 rounds, and had a pretty good work rate considering his size and age. If Lewis undertrained and didn't take the fight seriously, he might have been vulnerable to the defensive lapse that he occasionally was known for. Overconfidence is what led to his losses to McCall and Rahman, and his close calls against Briggs and Klitschko. It is unwise to not take seriously the challenge of perhaps the hardest puncher of all time.

I could see the fight happening in one of two ways. The most likely option is that Lennox would fight George like he did Tua. He would hang back, pump the jab, and keep his distance. Lennox's movement and speed would keep George from getting too close, and his jab and reach would allow him to safely pile up points. The most likely scenario sees Lennox winning a lopsided and somewhat boring decision. If Lennox doesn't push it, he wouldn't get the knockout. George was too tough to go down against a cautious Lewis. After losing a wide decision, George would collect his huge purse and retire to his grills.

Another scenario is possible, however. After winning a few early rounds by jabbing and moving, Lennox may decide that George is too easy and is ready to be knocked out. That's when trouble could strike. Lennox would start to open up his offense around the third or fourth round, bringing his right down on George. He would start throwing combinations, which would require him to get in close. George might take a beating for a round or two, but eventually, he would have the presence of mind to notice Lennox dropping his left after jabbing. As Lewis comes in, pawing with the jab, setting up a right cross, George counters over the left with a big cross of his own. The cross lands on the point of the overconfident Lewis's chin, and down he goes. At this point, if Lewis does get up, George would likely be battered and exhausted, and might not be able to follow up. If Lennox recovers, he still might box his way to victory. Either way, there is a possibility, however slight, that 49-year-old George Foreman could have knocked out the best heavyweight in the world.

A win over Lewis would very likely have caused chaos in the division. George would most likely have retired at that point, abandoning the WBC title. The top contenders in the WBC would have fought for the vacant title. It's still possible that Lennox could have recovered and won the title back. But the short-term consequences would have been interesting, to say the least.

Realistically, George would most likely not have even fought Lennox. As I mentioned before, he didn't need to take that kind of risk. He had all the money he needed, and a Lewis fight wouldn't have made a
huge difference. And even if he did fight Lewis, the end result would most likely have been a lopsided loss. However, Lennox was known for overlooking opponents he deemed to be non-threatening. And that would give George Foreman the chance to shock the world once again.

Article posted on 11.01.2007



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