by Fox Doucette
Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of All Time, gets the fight of his life in a special Mirror Match Edition of Historical Fight Night, as he takes on a younger version of himself, who was still widely known in the media and to the US Selective Service Board (and infamously by Ernie Terrell) as Cassius Clay in a main event that, yes, contradicts this series’ normal rule about putting people in proximity to the same person from elsewhere in their lives. In the co-feature, 1977 George Foreman, fresh off his loss to Jimmy Young that precipitated his first retirement, takes on 1994 George Foreman, who grabbed the heavyweight championship of the world from Michael Moorer. It’s a question of whether youth and power are enough to overcome the loss of the eye of the tiger against an older and craftier man.
So why the mirror matches? Well, the Historical Fight Night Commission wanted to give a birthday present to your columnist, who celebrated 38 years on the Blue Marble on July 16. Bust out the pizza and the cake, it’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight. We’re throwing our usual serious tone right out the window, so strap in for a wild ride.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By Seriously, I Will Put Your Name Here If You Pay Me, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
George Foreman (3/17/1977, 45-2, 42 KOs) vs. George Foreman (11/5/1994, 73-4, 68 KOs)
Foreman retired in 1977 after losing the will to fight when Jimmy Young put him on the floor in the 12th and final round of a fight Young would win by split decision, and went on to spend a decade as a preacher, outside the spotlight of the boxing ring. Without question, he still had the power of his knockout punch; his comeback would prove decisively that old George could still put his weight behind his shots. The problem came mentally; he just didn’t have the desire to do it anymore.
Older George, on the other hand, while his boxing skills and speed were completely gone, relied on a winning smile, a determination and will that overcame even Father Time, and that same old power punch to become the oldest man to win a major world title, a record that stood for nearly two decades until freak of nature Bernard Hopkins came along.
Young George (we’ll be using “Young George” and “Old George” to differentiate the two combatants here) took a look at his older self, bald and thirty pounds heavier and a gladhanding man who had done a heel-face turn in wrestling terms, and as he entered training camp, decided that he would teach his older self the value of his own young man’s anger in the ring.
So it came to be that Young George, re-energized by the unique challenge, came into this fight at the same 217 ½ pounds that he’d come in for his first fight with Joe Frazier, while Old George, perhaps thinking that he would still be the beaten man he was on that day in 1977, came in at 256, his weight for the fight with Axel Schulz after the Moorer fight.
Young George wasted no time getting after it. He was faster, he was quicker, and he was every bit as strong if not stronger, and he quickly showed that any speculation that he’d lost it mentally had been erased by watching tabletop grill infomercials and seeing both the inspiring power and the frightening decline that only aging can bring. Losing to Muhammad Ali was one thing. Losing to Jimmy Young at a crisis point in his boxing and his faith was one thing. Losing to an old fat man, even if that old fat man was him in 17 years? There were some lines even Young George Foreman would not allow to be crossed.
The fight was a mismatch, and only Old George’s durability and ability to take a punch got him through three minutes in one piece. Overwhelmed by the onslaught coming at him, Old George even tried a bit of rope-a-dope, but this was 1977 Foreman, not 1974, and that tactic was nothing the younger man hadn’t seen before. When Old George turtled, Young George went straight to the body, wearing the old man down.
On it went for three one-sided rounds, including Old George taking a knee in Round 3 just to get eight seconds to stop the assault against him. Referee Mills Lane let Old George know that “you gotta show me something or I’ll stop it” in between the third and fourth round.
But if anyone had lost the eye of the tiger, it was Old George, stunned by the ferocity of his own youth, and with a furious barrage that had the old man slumping on the ropes with no effort to throw back, Lane stepped in and called a merciful end to the fight at 1:47 of the fourth round. Young George could go back to preaching, and Old George…well, he was still the heavyweight champion of the world in his own time.
RESULT: 1977 FOREMAN TKO4 1994 FOREMAN.
Cassius Clay (5/25/1965, 21-0, 17 KOs) vs. Muhammad Ali (10/30/1974, 45-2, 32 KOs)
The hallmark of Ali’s later career was his ring wisdom and quite possibly the highest boxing IQ ever seen in a heavyweight. Ali wasn’t always faster or stronger than his opponents as he moved through his thirties, but without exception he was smarter and far more skilled at executing a fight plan. Against Foreman, the “rope-a-dope” strategy served its purpose of lessening the effect of the blows from the much stronger and younger fighter while simultaneously getting Foreman to punch himself out. By round eight, Ali was able to throw the famous line, “That all you got, George?”, and in an interview as part of ESPN’s SportsCentury documentary on Ali in 1999, Foreman admitted that all he could think was “Yep, that’s all I got.”
Curiously, young Clay respected the power of his opponent too; right up until the “phantom punch” counter right hand that ended the fight in one round, Clay danced around Sonny Liston rather than engage with a fighter who had the potential to hurt him.
The first round of any fight is often a feeling-out process in which two fighters suss out each other’s tendencies, devise strategies, and find the range on their punches.
In this regard, a decisive advantage went to Ali (for purposes of this story, we’ll just keep it to “Ali” for the older man and “Clay” for the younger), who knew very well what he had been nine years earlier in his life, while Clay was completely at odds to attempt to predict what kind of man he would be nine years in the future. Ali used this to his advantage; he knew exactly which way he was going to move, and it meant he was able to cut down the ring, potshot, and get back out. What’s more, this wasn’t just a case of a man outhustling himself like the old days of playing Madden NFL in the same room with someone and watching their hands on the controller as they picked a play. Ali had an overall strategy in mind here.
Ahead of that, however, he won the first round easily, and continued through the second and third rounds to do exactly the same thing.
Clay, frustrated and enraged by the unfair advantage that the passage of time had granted his opponent, abandoned all hope of using his speed or his agility against himself. He began to move in, trying to turn the fight into a brawl, and he had success pushing Ali back to the ropes. Everyone in attendance saw where this was going. Ali threw his counters and his return punches to the body of Clay, who, ever more determined to knock his older doppelganger out, threw punches with ever greater amounts of bad intentions upon them.
People forget that Ali was ahead on all three cards at the time of the stoppage in the Rumble in the Jungle. A similar problem presented itself here, as Ali was fully in control of the action, using his younger self’s aggression to very good effect for his own benefit.
Quoting Foreman again, “Ali used the rope-a-dope, and I was the dope.”
Clay, five rounds of fruitless attempts to penetrate Ali’s defenses, thwarted at every turn and forced to go for broke, found himself down by at best a 6-2 score on rounds and realistically to a point where he would have to get a knockout to win.
Finally, it came down to the older man stealing something from the younger man’s book. A punched-out Clay slowed down, but in his haste to land one big shot, he abandoned the use of the jab on his way in. Given the wide-open target, Ali landed the very same right hand that had floored Liston, and this was no phantom punch; this right hand crashed forth with enough force to put a decisive end to the battle of young and old.
It is said that age and guile beats youth and enthusiasm, and on this day, it turned out to be one win apiece for the concepts. Where the younger Foreman was able to win a pure contest of power with his older and slower self, the older Ali was able to simply outsmart the version of himself that had not yet learned to fight with wisdom rather than force.
As one boxing writer gets ever closer to forty, it’s good to know that not everything is a young man’s game in this world.
RESULT: ALI KO9 CLAY.
We may revisit this young-vs-old scenario a time or two in the future (in particular, 1936 Joe Louis vs. 1950 Joe Louis has a certain ring to it, and a catchweight fight at super middleweight for Bernard Hopkins isn’t out of the question), but in the meantime, we return to classic fights.
Next week, it’s a British Invasion, as Nigel Benn takes on Joe Calzaghe in the super middleweight main event, while the co-feature brings us Prince Naseem Hamed taking on Danny Lopez in a featherweight throwdown. Bring on the fish and chips, it’s going to be a jolly good show.
As always, Historical Fight Night runs at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific every Friday, right here on The Boxing Tribune. Leave a comment on how you think these fights would go, discuss great fights you’d like to see on here, and thank you for reading!