What if George Foreman had beaten Jimmy Young?

25.01.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: One of the greatest things about being a sports fan is contemplating what might have been. In the case of boxing, I think pondering the hypothetical is especially interesting. Whether it’s comparing fighters from different eras, wondering how a different outcome from a single bout may have changed the sport’s history or any number of other plausible scenarios—the hypothetical has long fascinated fans and become the centerpiece for many a heated debate. Hypothetical scenarios help strengthen the imagination when trying to put historical sporting figures into proper perspective. This brings me to a hypothetical scenario which I’ve long pondered:

What would have happened if George Foreman beat Jimmy Young?

When Jimmy Young lost a controversial unanimous decision against Muhammad Ali in their 1976 title bout, Young was placed in a difficult predicament: How was he going to work his way back into title contention? The answer, it appeared, was by facing the man who was still one of the most feared in all of boxing—“Big” George Foreman!

Like Young, Foreman was also on the comeback trail, he too, having lost to Ali in a championship bout. This set the stage for a Foreman-Young showdown. The fight took place in San Juan Puerto Rico on March 17, 1977, and at that time, most observers prefigured that the menacing Foreman would chop Young down, paving the way for a long-awaited rematch with Ali.

One of the greatest things in boxing, and all of sports, is the unexpected, and that’s what the Foreman-Young bout brought us. Young was a very talented fighter who had a tendency of running hot and cold. When he was hot, he looked magnificent, and such was the case the night he faced Foreman. Not only did Young utilize his speed to confuse and bamboozle “Big” George, but he even managed to drop Foreman in the twelfth and final round. Young was in top form that night, and after the bout, Foreman would not fight again for another ten years.

After beating Foreman, Young would ultimately fight a WBC eliminator against Ken Norton. Unfortunately for Young, he’d once again find himself on the losing side of a controversial decision when the two met in November of 1975. Meanwhile, not long after, Ali would lose and regain his championship against the inexperienced Leon Spinks. Spinks was subsequently stripped of the WBC title for granting Ali a rematch, rather than facing Norton (who had won the eliminator against Young a few months earlier). After regaining the title, Ali would retire, albeit, only temporarily.

While all of this was happening, Larry Holmes—“The Easton Assassin”—was making some noise of his own. Ultimately, Holmes would face Norton, who had been awarded the WBC title when Spinks refused to make his mandatory defense. Holmes went on to beat Spinks in a fifteen round classic, and would later fight Ali, who made an ill-advised comeback in 1980.

How would the division have unfolded differently had Foreman never lost to Young?

Well, I guess we’ll never know, but that doesn’t make thinking about it any less intriguing. In all likelihood, fans would have been treated to an Ali-Foreman rematch. There’s also a very strong likelihood that we would have seen a bout between two legends, who sadly, never squared off against one another—George Foreman and Larry Holmes. It’s also interesting to ponder how Norton would have figured his way into this mix.

Would Foreman have been able to avenge his loss against Ali? How would “Big” George have fared against the great Larry Holmes? Would Foreman have even bothered starting a second career had events unfolded differently had he beaten Young?

What do you think would have happened?

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Article posted on 26.01.2007

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