Punching power house George Foreman saw himself in the ring with most of the heavyweight greats of the 1970’s. Ali v Foreman, Foreman v Frazier, Foreman v Norton….they all contributed to what turned out to be the most popular and memorable decade for heavyweight boxing.
However, there is one particular and potential classic that we never got to see involving the oldest heavyweight champion. And that was the “Eastern Assassin” Larry Holmes stepping into the ring to take on the legendary huge hitter. Retiring with a record of 76-5 with 68 KO’s, many fell before Big George. Recognisable names such as Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Michael Moorer, Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Jimmy Young all failed to last. It took a granite chin, willpower and ring generalship to overcome Foreman in the 1970’s. And it certainly wasn’t much easier to defeat the Texan during the second leg of his career that recommenced in 1987.
Holmes, born in Cuthbert, Georgia, finally called it quits in 2002 after a points win over Eric “Butterbean” Esch. In a career that spanned 29 years, he was equipped with an excellent jab that saw him become recognised as one of the best jabbers in heavyweight history, if not the best. But I feel that he also isn’t given enough credit for how good of a right uppercut this man had as well as his right hand, which would often be a well used finisher. Holmes was notably agile on his feet during the 1970’s although his legs would begin to betray him as the mid 1980’s loomed. Although he isn’t thought of as somebody who had particularly concussive power, he still stopped 44 of 69 opponents which should account for something.
It is crucial to note that Holmes v Foreman almost occurred back in 1999. Both boxers signed contracts to fight but there was a dispute between Foreman and Roger Levitt, promoter of the bout, in regards to not being paid what was allegedly agreed. In the end it caused Holmes to miss out on a $4,000,000 pay day and fans to forever debate who would have taken a fight between the two.
What this article is going to focus on, however, is not how a match would have panned out between two faded icons that have seen better years. There is little fun in that. Let’s imaginatively travel back 40 years when Holmes and Foreman were at their physically finest.
A clash between George Foreman and Larry Holmes, over the course of 15 rounds, would be a case of power v precision. Ken Norton had the right idea in 1974 when he faced George when he tried to keep mobile on his feet and use the ring to keep out of the way of his punches. But he never possessed a jab that was nearly as good as Larry’s and nor did he use it as much as he should have in that fight, hence, why he came up short in the 2nd round.
The “Eastern Assassin” would do what came naturally to him and that would be him dancing around, trying to set the right distance between the two boxers to keep out of the way of Foreman’s wrecking whacks. Earnie Shavers, thought widely to be the hardest hitting heavyweight fighter in history, put Holmes on the floor during their September 28th, 1979 rematch in the 7th round. Shavers couldn’t finish the job and found himself out of the fight in the 11th. “The Black Destroyer” had notable stamina issues and so did Foreman. “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali proved it when he let Foreman exhaust himself for 7 rounds before finding a huge right hand that saw him becoming world champion again.
I can picture Holmes moving around the ring and getting his sharp jab working on a stalking Foreman. He had the superior hand speed so he would always be able to get off first. But one of Homles’ weaknesses was that he sometimes would stand in the pocket a bit too long at the most ill of times. This would be where George would have his best chances of winning. I can definitely see the former Olympic gold medalist scoring a knockdown or even two!
But Holmes would always find his way back up and come back to halt an overtaxed George Foreman in the 11th, in a brutal and vigorous tussle that would have been just as exemplary as the fights that we all were once treated to back in the Golden Age.