I HAD my best night in boxing, back when I fought, in January 1976, Ron Lyle: it was almost 40 years ago now. In my past fight, I’d lost my undefeated record and the world heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle.
You tell everybody that you’re a good fighter, you tell everybody that you’re a good boxer, but you never get a chance to show it when you get a one-round knockout win, or when you lose.
I told everybody, after losing to Ali, that there were a lot of things going against me in Africa – the fight was in Zaire, known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo – and everybody just said, ‘Oh yeah, sour grapes, you’re just a sore loser’.
I didn’t have a lack confidence after losing to Ali, but it was the idea that people didn’t think a lot of me afterwards.
Everybody had thought I was unbeatable, and then when I lost that fight, I had to look them in the face, stare them in the face and say, ‘I’m better than that’. I had to go back out there and earn everything I got. This was my first fight back, and against a puncher: Lyle retired with 31 stoppages/KOs from 43 wins.
Ron Lyle-George Foreman was going to be a major match-up, it was going to be for the top contender: whoever won this fight was going to be in line for another shot at the world heavyweight title, and the build-up was ‘puncher faces puncher’.
I was always nervous about a boxing match, and this was no different.
I knew Lyle was going to be a dangerous fight because he could punch. You can beat a puncher round-to-round, bell-to-bell, corner-to-corner, but a puncher can throw one shot and hurt you and I knew he was dangerous – and he got me.
There was a lot of pressure, not only for me personally, but this would be my career on the line.
I remember being knocked down early in the fourth round and thinking, ‘What excuses do you have now?’ It went right through my mind. ‘You know what? I’m gonna have to get up, and I’m gonna have to fight’.
He knocked me down again, after I’d put him down, later on in that round and I said, ‘You know what? No excuses!’ Not only did I have to prove something to the fans who believed in me, but to myself too.
That night, I was knocked down twice, I got up twice, and I was fatigued. Everything had gone wrong and yet I was able to fight and get a victory, and against Lyle. It was everything: I used my boxing skills that I had, I couldn’t see him well, but I was able to circle him and use my jab, and throw punches: it was all heart. Lyle stood up to me. Most guys, I’d box them and they’d run, hide and cover up, like with the rope-a-dope, but this guy was not afraid of me.
If I hit him, he’d start hitting me back. And he had power: something that I hadn’t been affected with before like that. Power: he hit me with right hands and they hurt.
All my questions were answered that night, and so I was able to feel free, I could sleep better at night because I’d done my best.
That was the most profound day in my life as a boxer. I was just happy I walked away with the victory.