Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 1994: For the ages

LAS VEGAS - It took five punches for George Foreman to lose the heavyweight championship to Muhammad Ali in 1974. Twenty years later, it took him one punch to win it back.

After losing the legendary Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, Foreman more or less disappeared from big time boxing. He took a year and a half off from boxing, fought six bouts in a half-hearted attempt to gain a rematch with Ali, then left the sport, disappearing with a career record of 45-2.

For a decade, Foreman stayed away from the spotlight. After having what he called a near-death experience in the hotel room following a loss in 1977, he became a born-again Christian, eventualy becoming ordained as a minister in Houston, running a church and opening a youth center. He spent 10 years dedicated to those causes.

In 1987, at the age of 38, Foreman surprised many by announcing a comeback to boxing. He said he was doing it to raise money for his youth center, but he also said he wanted a chance at Mike Tyson, the new heavyweight champion. If Foreman's comeback surprised people, his subsequent success surprised even more. Always possessing a powerful punch in his younger days, his pure strength hadn't left him.

Foreman won his first 24 fights in his comeback, all but one of them by knockout. He had shocked everybody but himself when the time came for him to fight for the heavyweight championship in 1991 against Evander Holyfield. Though it wasn't the fight against Tyson he had hoped for - primarily because Tyson was still in prison for rape - it was still a fight for the title Foreman had last held in the jungle of Zaire. Though Foreman lost by decision, the fact that he took the heavyweight champion to the limit at the age of 42 made Foreman even more respected.

Foreman kept fighting, too. Three years after the loss to Holyfield, Foreman again had a shot at the heavyweight championship, facing off against the undefeated Michael Moorer on November 5, 1994, in Las Vegas.

Moorer dominated most of the fight, taking a comfortable lead into the 10th round. But then Foreman dug deep, looking for the strength that had made him a champion a generation before. Wearing same red trunks he wore in his fight against Ali in Zaire, Foreman turned back the clock 20 years. He threw one powerful, devestating punch, knocking Moorer to the canvas. As the referee counted to 10, Foreman was once again the champion of the world. Twenty years and six days after losing his title by knockout to Muhammad Ali, Foreman had gained it back - also by knockout.

Foreman's stunning victory set three records: he was 19 years older than Moorer, the largest gap in age between two fighters in a championship bout; the 20 years between titles was the longest gap ever between a boxer losing his title and then winning it back; and at age 45, Foreman became the oldest man to win the heavyweight championship.

Foreman fought four more times, fighting for the final time at age 48 and losing a controversial decision to Shannon Briggs. He considered coming back a couple other times, but nothing ever materialized. It's probably just as well; Foreman's legacy is just fine as it is. For decades, he was known as the loser in the Rumble in the Jungle. Now, he's known as a boxer for the ages.

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