George Foreman destroying Five Guys in one night may sound like a heavyweight legend polishing a high-end burger (grilled, of course) and fries. Instead, it was the unique and utterly bizarre way “Big George” returned his ring for the first time since his shock loss to Muhammad Ali in 1974.
The principle was simple: five opponents, one after the other, each programmed for three rounds of three minutes. Few expected him to go the distance.
“An X-rated show,” Foreman’s menacing and heavy counterfight promised. “Fighting five guys in one night is nothing but violence.”
The event delivered violence, hilarity, madness and laid bare Foreman’s fractured psyche. The first enemy he faced was actually Ali, sitting in the front row of American television. The two mingled after Foreman stepped into the ring, under the smirk of a Don King.
His list of opponents on the night was one that is not from the 1975 heavyweight scene: a collection of companions that the 26-year-old ex-champion weighed in at 20 to 30 pounds.
The first was Alonzo Johnson – and from the start, Foreman seemed in a bad mood. Maybe it was Ali’s heckling, a mixed reaction from the half-full crowd at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, or the sheer weirdness of the event.
“What does he really have to gain? commentator Howard Cossell said, before the first bell. “If he knocks out those five guys, they’ll say when he should have been: they’re all stiff.” If he fails to take out one of them, they’ll say he’s not the fighter he was.
Foreman, who had a grim 40-1 (37 KO) record, looked little like the destroyer who had ruined titans like Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in his first fight. His punches were heavy but sloppy against a brave Johnson, who recovered from two knockdowns until a punishing pair of right hands knocked him out in the second round.
For a man with four fighters yet to face, Foreman was sweating and breathing heavily as a result. And his second opponent, Jerry Judge, made things a lot worse.
The limited judge clearly had a heart the size of his giant favorites. It looked cooked after Foreman dropped it with a big uppercut – but got up and, as Foreman lazily stepped forward to end it, the judge delivered old-fashioned justice with a Reaper on the right to briefly injure Foreman and draw a roar from the crowd.
The end was even more amazing. After the referee called off the fight, the two exchanged insults, the judge pushing Foreman, who responded with a few bonus shots. The two ended up rolling while struggling on the canvas.
“It degenerated into a charade!” A carnival ! Cossell cried, though one must wonder what he expected from an event that pitted the planet’s most dangerous heavyweight against five cans of tomatoes.
A scowling foreman was now more determined to talk to Ali at ringside and whet a hostile audience than the fighters he faced. Luckily for him, undersized Terry Daniels – who had actually challenged the world heavyweight title three years earlier – provided limited opposition.
Foreman got a third straight save in the second round when he personally waved to referee Harry Davis, a messy ending that led to a scuffle in both corners after the fight.
Charley Polite was the No.4 opponent and he made the decidedly rude start to blow kisses at Foreman during their pre-fight face-to-face. At this point, the former champion clearly wasn’t sure if this was a gladiatorial match or his own personal Royal Rumble, as he ended up with giant, comical windmill uppercuts – (“It’s hardly professional,” Cossell said unmoved) – as a polite curled up in the corner.
Polite flopped and got spoiled, but actually walked the distance of the three laps without being officially knocked down. “I’m tired, man,” Foreman said before his final fight and this opponent had by far the best pre-fight record of the five: former nemesis Boone Kirkman.
Foreman briefly made viewers think he might be exhausted, as he put on his back foot and walked away from Kirkman early on. It was an illusion.
Obviously, Foreman had held something back, as he unleashed his crispiest combinations of the night to club Kirkman on the canvas. However, the bloodied, bruised and overtaken heavyweight stood up and looked elated to finally survive the three laps.
A half-hearted cheer greeted the final (final) bell – then Foreman did something strange. He tried, awkwardly, to jump and click his heels in celebration, mocking him.
It was a snapshot of the loss of Foreman, the uncertainty of who he was meant to be. He had spent years imitating the menacing stone-faced Sonny Liston. But Foreman was still hurt by the mainstream’s rejection as a champion and their love for Ali.
The post-fight jumps around the ring were reminiscent of the elated, wide-eyed 19-year-old who waved tiny American flags after winning Olympic heavyweight gold in 1968.
By the time of his interview after the fight (s), Foreman’s brooding character had returned. He spent most of it staring at Ali and complaining about the cowardice of his opponents leaning against the ropes; a reference to the tactics Ali had used to defeat him six months earlier.
The scars of losing his world title were still borne by Foreman. None of the five opponents, who all made an effort to play, found their way into Foreman’s official professional record – and he was reluctant to talk about the freakshow exposure in the years that followed.
But Foreman will eventually reinvent himself and show the charming, charismatic man behind the mask. In 1994, his late career comeback culminated with the bald, fatter and happier Foreman remarkably knocking out Michael Moorer to reclaim the world heavyweight title at 46.
However, nothing in his roller coaster career has been as strange as the night 26 years ago when George Foreman heard the first bell five times in an hour in one of boxing’s most extraordinary shows. heavyweight.