Four-and-a-half decades ago, George Foreman was arguably the most menacing fighter on the planet. Having captured the Heavyweight Title a year earlier by destroying Joe Frazier in Jamaica (“Down Goes Frazier!”), Foreman was on a collision course with the great Muhammad Ali.
However, on the night of March 26th, 1974, Foreman had a bit of business with another dangerous contender, Ken Norton. The fight was held in Venezuela and it was the second defense for hulking Texan of his Heavyweight Championship.
Norton was considered one of the top contenders in the world after he had beaten Ali in March of 1973 by Split Decision, and breaking “the Greatest’s” jaw in the process. Ali avenged the defeat by decision in September of ’73, but Foreman and Ali could not get together on contract terms and this fight was made with Norton for the championship.
A bit of intrigue was added to this one, when Foreman apparently suffered some type of a knee injury the week of the fight. And on the morning of the scheduled 15 rounder, Foreman’s knee had apparently swollen and stiffened to the point that there was talk he would not be able to defend in the ring.
As the story goes, and Foreman related in the post-fight interview, he saw a doctor that helped his knee get loose enough to be able to walk and move and went ahead with plans to battle Norton that night.
To underscore just how intimidating and physically overpowering Foreman (with 36 knockouts already) had become, he had scored a first or second-round k.o. in each of his previous seven fights. This included his one-round blitzing of Puerto Rican Challenger Jose Roman in September of 1973, which was the immediate fight before the Norton defense.
And ultimately, this fight would follow the same pattern. Relive it here:
Norton deserved credit for trying to hang in after being hammered and knocked down along the ropes twice. However, it’s obvious that he was overwhelmed and on the verge of being seriously injured, when the aging referee finally waved the fight off with Norton’s corner men also coming into the ring already to stop it, too.
The victory was the 40th of Foreman’s career with 37 Knockouts and made him even more seemingly unbeatable in the eyes of most.
It is interesting that Ali, who was on the television commentary that night, admitted in the video before the first bell rang that he and Foreman would agree soon after to fight for an unheard of $5 million each guaranteed in Zaire that fall.
The “Rumble in the Jungle” took place on October 30th of ’74 and Ali stunned the boxing world by wearing Foreman down and eventually knocking him out in the eighth round to recapture the title.
Foreman would go on to fight six more times after the Ali loss, including rematching Frazier in June of 1976 and knocking him out again in the fifth round. However, when George lost to veteran heavyweight contender Jimmy Young by decision in March of 1977, he elected to retire at just 28 years old with a 45 – 2 record.
Norton, would stay active and eventually was awarded the WBC version of the belt, but lost it in an epic 15 round fight in Las Vegas to an up-and-coming unbeaten from Pennsylvania named, Larry Holmes.
Most famously, Foreman came out of retirement after 10 years away in 1987 and at age 38. He would fight another 30-plus times in his career up until 1997. His history making moment came when Foreman recaptured portions of the heavyweight championship with a stunning 10th round knockout of Michael Moorer in Las Vegas in November of 1994.
At 45 years old, Foreman became the oldest to ever hold the lineal Heavyweight Championship.
Foreman was eventually stripped of the WBA and IBF versions of the title for refusing to fight any of their contenders. And, after three more decision victories, he lost his final fight in November of 1997 to Shannon Briggs on a decision and retired at nearly 49 years of age.
Still, it’s fun to look back and reminisce at the history of the heavyweight division and what a key part George Foreman played in the early to mid 70’s in his battles with the likes of Frazier, Ali and even Ken Norton.