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Ron Lyle: The Only Fighter To Hurt Foreman In Maybe The Finest Hour For Both

Frank Lotierzo

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Over the course of his stellar heavyweight career, how many times can it be said that former two-time champion George Foreman was ever hurt by another fighter to the point that he was stumbling all over the ring? The answer to that question is once, and that occurred on January 24, 1976. And that was courtesy of a big right hand landed by former contender and title challenger Ron Lyle 43-7-1 (31). Sadly, November 2011 has claimed another pillar heavyweight from the seventies as former title challenger Ron Lyle has joined former champ Joe Frazier at his final resting place.

Ron Lyle is best remembered for his title bout with heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and his five round slug-fest with George Foreman nine months later. Lyle is also remembered for his two-handed power, especially in his right hand. However, what’s often missed when Lyle’s career is discussed is the fact that his boxing style was unique and rare, that is until Lennox Lewis and the arrival of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. Throughout the modern era circa 1880 to the present there haven’t been many outstanding heavyweights who fought as a boxer-puncher.

There’s been some great boxers, swarmers, punchers and sluggers, but the only great boxer-punchers prior to 1970 were former champs Joe Louis and Sonny Liston. If you continue on chronologically, Lyle’s name would bridge the gap between Louis and Liston and Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos as far as outstanding/great boxer-punchers. Ron Lyle was an outstanding boxer-puncher. He had a blunting left jab, threw tight upper-cuts and hooks as counters to the head and body, and he also had a very powerful conventional right cross to the head. Ron applied subtle pressure and was very measured in his attack. He never rushed his shots or got wild.

Lyle got a late start as a pro. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 21-year-old gang rival Douglas Byrd at age 19. He served 7 1/2 years in a Cañon City prison where he began to box. After his release from prison he had a brief amateur career. In 1971 he knocked out 1972 Olympian Duane Bobick in the first round with one punch. Bobick was reportedly down for over five minutes. But due to the fact that Lyle needed money he bypassed the 1972 Olympic Trials and turned pro, thus opening the door for Bobick to represent the US at the Olympic Games in Munich.

As a pro Lyle was put in tough fights early because of his late start. He scored wins over Vincente Rondon, Buster Mathis, Larry Middleton, Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Earnie Shavers, Joe Bugner, Scott LeDoux and was avoided by Ken Norton between 1974-77. He also had the misfortune of running into Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Young on one of their better nights. He was leading Muhammad Ali after 10 rounds during their title bout before Ali landed one of the best right hands of his title tenure and then followed it up with a barrage of rights and lefts leading to the referee stopping the fight in the 11th round. After losing to Ali, Lyle knocked out Earnie Shavers and put himself in line to fight George Foreman on ABC. Foreman was making his return to the ring after his 15 month retirement after losing his undisputed title to Ali in late 1974.

When Foreman agreed to meet Lyle in his comeback fight, he and new trainer Gil Clancy probably thought Lyle would be an easy fight and early round knockout for George. They knew Lyle was fearless and wouldn’t be intimidated and would oblige Foreman and trade with him. For three rounds Foreman and Lyle traded measured bombs pretty evenly. In the fourth round the flood gates opened and Lyle and Foreman traded knockdowns of each other. Then Lyle dropped Foreman a second time and had him badly hurt. Foreman hadn’t fully recovered until the fifth round when he trapped Lyle in a corner and unloaded with non-stop hay-makers that overwhelmed Lyle and dropped him for the count.

Yes, Muhammad Ali may have stopped Foreman, but he didn’t really hurt him or have him falling all over the ring. George went down from exhaustion more than from being hurt. This wasn’t the case when Lyle dropped him. When Lyle dropped Foreman with a right hook/uppercut at the end of the fourth round, Foreman crashed to the canvas and struggled to get up and stumbled back to his corner. George was never more hurt or in trouble in any fight of his career prior to or after fighting Lyle.

Ron Lyle was an outstanding/borderline great heavyweight fighter. He was fearless and had a good chin along with being a much better and well rounded fighter than some remember him as being. He like many other heavyweights who fought during the Ali, Frazier, Foreman era circa 1965-75 had the bad luck of their birth certificate. Had Lyle fought during the eras of Marciano, Holmes, Tyson and today’s era of heavyweights, he surely would’ve won the title or at the least a version of it.

If Lyle was fighting in his prime today, Vitali Klitschko is the only heavyweight he’d have to worry about. Aside from Vitali he’d have his way with the rest of the division. He traded bombs with Earnie Shavers and won, and if he just stayed away from Foreman a little more he may have defeated him by knockout just the same. No, Ron Lyle never won the heavyweight title, but he’s the only fighter who ever hurt George Foreman and had him stumbling around the ring, ever. Nobody but Foreman would have had the character and physical attributes to have gotten up in the Lyle fight. He was badly hurt and dead the second time he was dropped. In some ways, Foreman getting up was his finest hour.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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