On Friday, April 28, a new boxing biopic arrives when Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion on the World hits the silver screen.
While Foreman’s life has been considerably more nuanced than a simple boxing story, he still remains one of the most intimidating and accomplished heavyweights of all time. In his first incarnation, the colossal Texan duked it out with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and Muhammad Ali during an unforgettable golden era.
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Foreman was a nailed-on Hall of Famer before he returned to the sport to mix with a new breed of heavyweight. Following a 10-year layoff, the ex-champ went to battle against the likes of Evander Holyfield, Tommy Morrison, and Michael Moorer. With a shuddering 10th-round knockout of the latter, a 45-year-old Foreman regained the championship 20 years after losing it to Ali.
What a fighter he was.
Today, fans are starved of superfights, particularly in the heavyweight division. We’ve still to see Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk. We’ve still to see Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua. We’ve still to see Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder. We’ve still to see Oleksandr Usyk vs. Deontay Wilder.
It wasn’t always this way. The Sporting News now looks back at 10 timeless heavyweight collisions that took place over a five-year period.
Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali 1
- Date: Mar. 8, 1971
- Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City
For the first time, two undefeated fighters with a legitimate claim to the heavyweight championship faced off. Frazier cleaned up during Ali’s exile, but “The Greatest” had never lost his title in the ring.
This was a magnificent prize fight – arguably the best of all time – and it belonged to “Smokin’” Joe.” The marauding Frazier came through innumerable lance-like jabs and right crosses to pulverize Ali’s mid-section and find a home for his vaunted left hook. After hurting Ali badly in Round 11, Frazier floored his nemesis with that very signature shot early in the 15th.
Scoring was on a round basis, with all three judges favoring the Philadelphia powerhouse 11-4, 9-6, and 8-6-1.
Result: Frazier UD 15
Joe Frazier vs. George Foreman 1
- Date: Jan. 22, 1973
- Location: National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica
If Sonny Liston’s decimation of Floyd Patterson was the most brutal and destructive heavyweight championship win of all time, then this one is a close second.
Frazier was installed as the favorite to regain the title and extend his unbeaten record. But while the champion has a significant edge in world-level experience, it was the brute power and strength of Foreman that proved decisive.
The challenger scored six knockdowns in two rounds; the last of which – a right uppercut – lifted Frazier clean off his feet. Incredibly, the stricken champ beat the count, but referee Arthur Mercante had seen enough.
Result: Foreman TKO 2
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Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton 1
- Date: Mar. 31, 1973
- Location: Sports Arena, San Diego
Following the loss to Frazier, former champ Ali elected to face every worthwhile contender available in a bid to force a rematch.
On a 10-fight winning streak, “The Greatest” selected ex-marine Ken Norton as his opponent. Despite a No.7 ranking, Norton was installed as a huge underdog and given virtually no chance of victory. What no one knew was that Norton had improved massively under the watchful eye of trainer Eddie Futch and this fighter’s style would prove to be kryptonite for Ali.
Norton broke Ali’s jaw in this fight and there’s always been debate about when that happened. Ali always said round two, whereas Norton insisted it was the 12th. There is evidence on the broadcast that Ali’s mouth was bothering him before the final round, but don’t let that detract from Norton’s performance. He out-jabbed Ali, pulverized his body, and fought a magnificent fight.
Result: Norton SD 12
Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton 2
- Date: Sep. 10, 1973
- Location: Los Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles
Having been overweight in the first Norton encounter, Ali whipped himself into excellent fighting shape for the return. He would eventually weigh in at 212 pounds – his lightest number in years – and couldn’t have been more ready.
This is when the boxing world found out that Norton was always going to be poison for Ali. Against a fully-loaded version of arguably the greatest heavyweight that has ever lived, Norton again dished out hell. Despite being outboxed early, the Adonis-like Californian’s persistent pressure brought Ali down off his toes and forced him to fight.
Norton won many of the exchanges, hurt Ali badly in the seventh, and the fight was just about even entering the championship rounds. It took everything Ali had to pull out a memorable assault in the final three minutes and a split decision triumph.
Result: Ali SD 12
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 2
- Date: Jan. 28, 1974
- Location: Madison Square Garden, New York
The great rivals squared off for a second time in an official eliminator for the heavyweight championship. Ali had won 12 of 13 fights since the Frazier setback, whereas his conqueror had gone a mere 3-1.
“The Greatest” was sharp, fleet-footed, and defensively switched on in this rematch. He hurt Frazier with a right in round two, and frequently dazzled the crowd with some innovative combination work. When Frazier did manage to cut the distance, Ali initiated – and got away with – some well-timed clinches to thwart his rival’s attack.
The bout was far from one-sided, but at the end of 12 fast-paced rounds, there was only one winner. Ali was awarded the decision by scores of 8-4, 7-4-1, and 6-5-1.
Result: Ali UD 12
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George Foreman vs. Ken Norton
- Date: Mar. 26, 1974
- Location: El Poliedro, Caracas
After destroying Joe Frazier to win the championship, Foreman feasted on the unheralded Puerto Rican Jose Roman in his maiden defence. However, despite destroying Roman inside a round, the critics were merciless in tearing apart the opponent.
If Foreman could destroy Norton, who had given Ali so many problems, then that would remind sportswriters why the big Texan was being touted as the most feared heavyweight champion since Sonny Liston.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Norton boxed well enough in the opening session but was caught by a big right hand in round two, from which he struggled to recover. Three knockdowns came on top of the other, the last of which sent a barely conscious Norton crashing to the canvas. The former marine found his feet but he was in no position to walk, far less fight, and the bout was stopped.
Result: Foreman TKO 2
George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali
- Date: Oct. 30, 1974
- Location: Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, Zaire
Foreman was a young and undefeated knockout artist in the prime of his career. Conversely, the 32-year-old Ali was never regaled as a power puncher and his footspeed had now diminished.
Knowing that movement was out of the question in the African heat, Ali improvised a near-suicidal game plan to go to the ropes and allow Foreman to unload his bombs. “The Greatest” took a few, particularly to the body, but the champ was punched out after five rounds.
Completely exhausted, Foreman continued to flail away with limited success. In round eight, Ali seized the moment, releasing a spectacular combination, punctuated by a straight right to the jaw, which closed the book on the most famous victory in boxing history and gave birth to the “rope-a-dope” strategy.
Ali became the second man, behind Floyd Patterson, to regain the heavyweight crown.
Result: Ali KO 8
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 3
- Date: Oct. 1, 1975
- Location: Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, Philippines
Following his merciless destruction at the hands of Foreman, and the points defeat to Ali, “Smokin’” Joe was viewed as damaged goods. However, the prospect of taking revenge on his tormentor and regaining the championship brought out the beast in Frazier.
The action favoured Ali early, but he soon found himself in a fierce battle of attrition. Frazier pounded Ali’s internal organs and landed some shattering left hooks that would have knocked out most men. Only Ali’s soldier-like courage and incredible durability kept him in the fight.
The vision in Frazier’s right eye had been poor for years and his left eye was swollen shut in the championship rounds. It was becoming target practice for Ali, who dished out a horrific beating. Consequently, and much to Frazier’s chagrin, trainer Eddie Futch refused to let his charge come out for the 15th and final round.
“The Thrilla in Manila” was an understatement.
Result: Ali TKO 14
George Foreman vs. Joe Frazier 2
- Date: June 15, 1976
- Location: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York
Foreman was on the rebuild, and this was the last-chance saloon for “Smokin’” Joe.
The idea that Frazier would tangle with a fighter who had demolished him so emphatically in their prior encounter only serves to highlight his fighting guts. But while he lasted a little longer in the rematch, the ex-champ ultimately succumbed to the same fate.
Frazier gave Foreman some movement early and did manage to land his famed left hook on more than one occasion. However, it wasn’t long before Foreman had Frazier standing still and that spelled doom.
Foreman scored two heavy knockdowns in round five, which convinced the referee and Frazier’s team to call a halt to the action.
Result: Foreman TKO 5
Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton 3
- Date: Sep. 28, 1976
- Location: Yankee Stadium, New York City
Having been to hell and back against Norton in two prior fights, Ali knew he needed to be at his very best in the rubber match.
However, with two stoppage wins over Frazier and Foreman in the previous two years, a confident Ali elected to work on his punching power in training and vowed to put Norton away once and for all.
It wasn’t going to happen.
Again, Norton asked questions of Ali, and again Ali struggled for answers. The challenger banked the majority of the early rounds, and although Ali came back at him in the middle sessions, it was Norton who closed strongly.
When Ali returned to his corner at the end of the 15th round, he carried the body language of a loser. Norton, meanwhile, was carried aloft by hi handlers and thought the result was a formality. Inexplicably for some, all three judges gave Ali a close points win.
It remains one of the most controversial results in heavyweight championship history.