The George Foreman Chronicles: Jimmy Young
By Russ Greenspan
"Our greatest foes, and whom we must chiefly combat, are within" – Miguel
De Cervantes, Don Quixote
Boxing is a sport legendary for the assiduous construction and shattering of its practitioners’ mythologies, often within a disturbingly narrow time frame. In one notable such instance, on a sweltering Kingston, Jamaica night in January 1973, talented but somewhat lightly regarded George Foreman, brutally dismantled heavyweight titlist Joe Frazier within two rounds, flooring the supposedly unassailable Philly favorite 6 times, before referee Arthur Mercante mercifully called a halt to the one sided proceedings.
Though Foreman entered the fight a 3:1 underdog, he had within scant moments thereafter, all but imperceptibly assumed the now ex-champion's mantle of invincibility, and everything that came with it; that is, until Foreman's own cloak was summarily rent asunder by Muhammad Ali the following October, leaving him dejected, humiliated and on the comeback trail.
In his autobiography “Big George”, Foreman describes his feelings thus: “Losing had knocked me off my axis. The heavyweight title meant much more to me after I lost it than when I held it. Without it I was nothing. As champ, I’d imagined that people considered me the ultimate man. Now I imagined that I could hear them laughing at the loser.” The laughs continued in earnest, following a televised April 26, 1975 exhibition, in which Foreman took on five challengers of dubious merit, knocking out three. If Big George wanted a rematch with Ali, this was almost certainly not the way to go about it.
Foreman thereafter embarked on a series of bouts against significantly more legitimate opposition, posting five inside the distance wins against Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle, Scott LeDoux, Dino Denis, and Pedro Agosto. Next on the agenda was a bout against Jimmy Young, an evasive, light fisted ring stylist who had also defeated Ron Lyle (twice), drew with and lost to knockout artist Earnie Shavers, and was beaten by Ali via somewhat controversial 15 round unanimous decision in an April, 1976 title endeavor. Foreman firmly believed that Young would not present him with a significant obstacle inside the squared circle, averring that “Beating him was a certainty; it just wouldn’t be easy.” But Young had other ideas.
The 12 round contest took place in Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente Stadium on March 17, 1977; Foreman was the betting favorite, but entered the arena to a resounding crescendo of boos from the crowd of nearly 8,000.
True to Young’s reputation, rounds 1-6 were an exercise in futility for Big George, who steered clear of his foe’s attack by moving from side to side, or impeded it by holding on and/or laying back against the ropes; for his part, Foreman repeatedly missed his non-compliant target, and did nothing by way of offensive production save for a jarring blow in the third frame, to remotely discourage Young from his undoubtedly maddening game plan. As had so many others before him, Young intended to test Foreman’s stamina and mettle by taking him into the later rounds; only unlike most of those others, Jimmy seemed well on his way to getting the job done.
Then the bell rang for round seven, and within moments, a sweeping left hand bludgeon to Young’s head landed with an extraordinarily audible thud, leaving him staggering around the ring from pillar to post. An energized Foreman rapidly pursued his wounded prey, trying with everything he had to finish their encounter; however, Young intelligently survived by alternately clutching and running until he shook off the effects of Foreman’s wallop, and started fighting back in earnest during the stanza’s last minute, even jarring Big George before the bell rang. Young admitted after the bout that “…while I may have been standing, I was out cold. He (Foreman) could have pushed me over with his little finger.” But Foreman did not push Young, who returned to his corner with his arms raised in triumph after the round ended, to a standing ovation.
Young started round eight with a tactical modification, first circling Foreman, then assuming the aggressor’s role, throwing jabs and combinations at his pursuer. Foreman seemed to go oddly torpid during this frame, doing nothing much other than futilely chasing Young in a quest to halt the rapidly advancing tide; Time was passing, and Foreman was fast running out of it.
Rounds nine and ten were not unlike most of those which preceded them, as both combatants grew increasingly battle fatigued. In the 11th stanza, Young dominated what middling action there was, snapping reasonably effective left jabs into Foreman’s face and throwing the occasional combination for good measure; Foreman remained purposeful yet ineffective, even falling seriously off balance during one overzealous, amateurish swing at his rival.
In Foreman’s corner between rounds 11 and 12, George’s red faced trainer Gil Clancy shouted incessantly at his pacing charge, no doubt informing him that a knockout would be required to win the day in old San Juan; Foreman had never gone deeper in a fight than ten rounds before the Young contest, and it showed.
The former champion ambled laboriously across the ring seconds before the 12th round bell, and was held off by referee Waldemar Schmidt until it tolled. Foreman again moved forward vigorously towards Young, but was soon practically staggering with fatigue, all but welcoming the Philadelphian’s efforts to tie him up.
Young scored inside with combinations, then countered a wild Foreman right hand miss with a right of his own to Big George’s head; the blow sent Foreman sprawling to the canvas on one knee, and he rose on shaky pins at the count of one. Young spent the balance of the stanza jabbing and moving away from a spent Foreman, and the fight concluded with both men on their feet, and the decision a reasonably foregone conclusion.
Big George had gone the distance for the first time in his professional career, but the judge’s cards favored Young unanimously, by scores of 115-114, 116-112, and 118-111.
The Foreman win began the end of Jimmy Young’s career as a viable heavyweight contender; he next lost a disputed 15 round split decision to Ken Norton in a WBC title eliminator, after which according to Young’s cousin (and former middleweight contender) Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Young’s heart seemingly went out of boxing.
Young began losing far more often than he won, first as big name cannon fodder for prospects and up and comers like Gerry Cooney, Tony Tubbs and Tony Tucker, then sadly, against journeyman and club fighters with sub .500 ledgers. Young finished his career with a record of 34-19-2, 11 KO’s, and died of a heart attack aged 56 years, after battling financial, drug and legal problems, along with the onset of pugilistica dementia, traumatic brain injury caused by repeated head blows. Rest in peace, Jimmy.
George Foreman had an inarguably life changing religious experience following his loss to Jimmy Young. He became ill in his dressing room immediately after the bout, reportedly suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion. But that’s not how Big George sees it. In a 2001 interview with David Mainse, Foreman maintains that he was given a series of visions from God, in which he saw death after being “snatched out of” his body, then returned to corporeal form and born again after pleading with the Almighty for assistance.
The experience sent Foreman into a decade long retirement, during which he became an ordained minister dedicating his life to preaching the gospel. Foreman returned to the ring on March 9th, 1987 to raise money for the youth center he had started in Houston, Texas; after a series of comeback fights, the 45 year old Foreman became the oldest man in history to capture the heavyweight championship, defeating reigning WBA/IBF titlist Michael Moorer by 10th round knockout.
George Foreman retired from boxing with a record of 76-5, 68 KO’s, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. Now 60 years old, Big George Foreman remains active as a beloved TV pitchman for any number of gadgets, recently became the spokesman for UFood Restaurant Group, and makes the occasional appearance as a boxing commentator.