Weak Opposition And Fatal
Flaw Keeps Him From Elite Status
By Bobby Franklin
Big George Foreman is remembered as a powerful man and a devastating puncher. His brutal destruction of Joe Frazier in 1973 is etched in every fight fan’s memory. It is mainly off of this performance that George made it onto many people’s lists of all time greats. That January night in Jamaica he looked fearsome. In taking Frazier apart so one sidedly, he took on an almost superhuman status. But on closer examination of his record and boxing technique, the all time great designation doesn’t hold up.
Going into the title fight with Frazier, George had an impressive undefeated record of 37 and 0. Only three opponents had gone the distance with him. Yet, even with those impressive numbers, Frazier was made a 3 1/2 to 1 favorite to retain the title. Joe was also undefeated at the time and had defeated Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century less than two years earlier.
While Foreman’s record looks good on paper, when taking a closer look at his opposition the numbers give a clearer picture of why he was the underdog. Out of those 37 opponents there were very few that could be considered serious competition. In fact, in his last bout before facing Joe, George fought Terry Sorrell, who at the time had had a total of 19 fights winning only 4. Sorrell would close out his career with a record of 29 fights with only 6 wins (3 by KO), 22 losses (10 by KO), and 1 draw.
Some might argue this was just a warmup bout for George before stepping in with the Champ. Well, a warmup bout usually involves having a warm body for opposition. I’m not sure it was ever verified Sorrell had a pulse when he stepped into the ring.
Three fights earlier George had faced the immortal Clarence Boone. Boone had a record of 30 fights, winning only 3 with 26 losses and 2 draws. Of those 26 losses he had been stopped 14 times. I think the promoters used the same undertaker that provided Terry Sorrell for George.
Go back one more fight and you will see where an opponent was dug up who made Boone and Sorrell look like Louis and Dempsey. On January 29, 1972, George faced the immortal Joe Murphy Gordwin of Houston, Texas. This would be the final fight of Gordwin’s career and he would bring his remarkable record of 1 win, 1 draw, and an astounding 15 losses (13 by KO) into the ring with him that night. George surely had to be terrified; terrified he might kill Joe Murphy.
Go back a little further in George’s career and you will find such immortals as Vic Scott (1 win 2 losses), Bob Hazelton (3 wins, 6 losses), Leo Peterson (3 wins, 4 losses), and Fred Askew (2 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw).
Of course, when a young fighter is being brought along, it is not unusual for him to be given “opponents” to face. But usually those “opponents” are fighters who, while not posing much of a threat, do have beating hearts and the ability to provide some opposition so the prospect will have a chance to learn his trade and improve.
Looking back at the rest of George’s opposition in those 37 fights, you will not find a lot of strong opposition. While many are better than those I have just mentioned, most aren’t too far ahead of the Boones and Sorrells.
George did face a few solid “opponents” during those years. Levi Forte (20 wins, 21 losses 12 by KO, and 2 draws) and Roberto Davila (21 wins, 14 losses 3 by KO) both were the type of boxer an up and coming prospect would be expected to face, and both extended George the full ten round limit.
The most notable names on Foreman’s record at the time were Boone Kirkman, Gregorio Peralta (twice), and George Chuvalo. His wins over Kirkman and Chuvalo were impressive, he struggled with Peralta.
Kirkman was another up and comer who had faced a series of “opponents” and had not been tested. George simply overpowered him.
Chuvalo was known as incredibly tough. He had never been knocked off his feet, and a number of years earlier had given Muhammad Ali a tough go of it. But with the exception of a very odd win over Jerry Quarry, the Canadian never beat a top rated contender. His slow moving style made him an easy target for Foreman’s heavy but wide swings. Big George did look impressive in stopping Chuvalo.
I have written about Foreman’s fights with Peralta. George won their first fight by decision, and stopped Peralta in their rematch. In both fights, George’s flaws were exposed. It was these flaws Ali exploited a few years later to regain the crown.
Looking at the accumulated record of Foreman’s opposition at the time of the Frazier fight you see that combined they had a total of 289 wins, 376 losses, and 58 draws. if you remove the three fighters who had a pulse from that group, Peralta, Chuvalo, and Kirkman you end up with a group that had a total of only 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws.
After defeating Frazier, Foreman defended the title twice in impressive fashion knocking out Joe Roman in one round and Ken Norton in two. Roman would have been considered an opponent if he had fought Foreman earlier, and was far from having an impressive record. Norton was never able to stand up to a big puncher as was seen when he went on to be kayoed in one round by both Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney.
After those two defenses George lost the title to Ali who used many of the tactics the over the hill Peralta had employed a few years earlier. After the loss to Ali, George still did not score any major wins with the exception of his victory in a slugfest with Ron Lyle, which was a battle of attrition, not skill.
He closed out his career with a loss to the light punching Jimmy Young, who also used technique to neutralize George’s power. Without that power Foreman had no boxing skill to fall back on to win a fight.
His major flaw was extending his arms when trying to parry punches. If you watch him in action, it appears he is trying to emulate Jack Johnson’s strategy of catching punches with an open glove. Only with Johnson, he would grab the punch just before it was about to land on him. With George, he would reach out and try to stop it just as it was being thrown. As a fight moved along he would begin pawing with both his hands and leave himself open. Ali, Young, Peralta, and Lyle were all able to land on him because of this fatal flaw. Any one off the great, and even not so great heavyweights of the past would have spotted this flaw and taken advantage of it.
George certainly had amazing raw power, but that only takes a fighter so far. He did not develop the skills to make him a great fighter. Sure, he would always have a puncher’s chance against anyone. But hoping for a lucky punch is not the stuff of greatness. George simply never showed the skills to be considered an all-time great heavyweight champion.
I have not discussed Foreman’s second career because it really is not relevant to this discussion. Foreman 1.0 was the prime George and the one to look at when judging him as an all time great.