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Modern Classics: Holyfield-Foreman

By: Sean Crose

There’s no doubt that the public wanted this one. George Foreman had been the terror of the heavyweight division until Muhammad Ali first outsmarted, then took his heavyweight championship from him in Zaire in 1974. After that it was all downhill for Foreman – at least for a time. For several years, Foreman battled on, never getting another crack at the title. He finally slipped into pop culture obscurity, having embraced Christianity, and subsequently dedicated his life to his faith and family. Then something notable happened. In 1987, years after his ring zenith, a heavy, bald, aging Foreman decided to return to boxing. People treated it as a joke.

At first.

As time went on, however, Foreman kept on winning. He returned to boxing to earn money for his parish, but by the early 90’s the ordained minister had people cheering him on. The world had gone from laughing at George Foreman to laughing WITH George Foreman…a kind of victory for the former champion in and of itself. Foreman was far from through, though, for on April 19th, 1991, the man got a chance to regain his heavyweight crown. He wasn’t going up against any old champion, though, for that crown was currently being held by Evander Holyfield. Having bested Buster Douglas six months earlier, and with an inevitable showdown with Mike Tyson seemingly right around the corner, Holyfield was given an opponent in Foreman who must have seemed like easy money.

Championship Rounds - Superfights: Holyfield-Foreman - ESPN

It all made sense. Foreman was popular, of course, but he was overweight and middle aged. What’s more, the formerly menacing fighter had become humorous in middle age, cracking jokes regularly, often at his own expense. Such things tended to keep people from taking his chances against Holyfield seriously. Once the opening bell rang in Atlantic City that night, however, the world got to see just how serious – and talented – a fighter smiling George Foreman still was. As Sports’ Illustrated’s Pat Putnam would write afterwards: “George Foreman’s comedy act closed in Atlantic City last Friday night, and at the end no one was laughing at the 42-year-old fat man in short white pants.”

Sure enough, Holyfield-Foreman was a real, dyed in the wool, knock-down, drag out fight. “The audience at the Atlantic City Convention Center expected an execution,” Putnam wrote. “Foreman gave them a war.” Each man had his moments. No one was surprised when Holyfield had his. People watched in wide eyed wonder when the 42 year old Foreman had his. In the end, the judges ruled for Holyfield, which was the right call. Still, Foreman had almost showed the world that being over the hill didn’t mean he couldn’t be champion. Foreman would be able to finally prove that fact a few years later, when he was 45.

Still, in the age or Triller, Holyfield-Foreman proved that sometimes a novelty fight can be a whole lot more than just novelty.

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