Only certain guys can do that. Ron Lyle was one guy that hit you so hard it didn’t hurt. No one else did. —George Foreman
Ron Lyle’s 1976 fight against George Foreman is widely considered one of the greatest in heavyweight history. From the intense staredown before its start, to the early shots in rounds one through three that shook both men, to round four, which is an all-time classic, that day in Vegas lives on. No boxer loses a fight like that, as is said, and it’s one that hard-core fans have never forgotten. But aside from the Foreman fight and the other things Lyle did in his career—beating Muhammad Ali on the scorecards for ten rounds, or knocking Earnie Shavers out cold—it was his life and personality outside the ring that’s just as remarkable.
One of nineteen kids, Lyle grew up on the streets of Denver and spent seven and a half years in Canon City Penitentiary covering for a killing someone else did. A local cable-TV magnate named Bill Daniels used his political influence to eventually get him out of jail after some initial resistance from the authorities. Lyle had learned to box inside Canon City, where he excelled in other sports as well, playing on the inmate football, baseball, and basketball teams. His stay there wasn’t easy, however, as he spent time in the hole and was nearly stabbed to death by another inmate and lost thirty-five pints of blood before the prison doctors saved his life.
Once he was out, at age twenty-nine, Daniels and his handlers moved him along quickly, and after a successful amateur run lasting a little over a year, he turned pro at thirty. Lyle won nineteen pro fights in a row before losing to the skilled and durable Jerry Quarry. In between, one opponent he knocked out was Jack O’Halloran. O’Halloran, a monstrous and respectable heavyweight whose ring alias was “The Giant,” is perhaps better known for playing the mute villain, “Non,” in the sequel to the blockbuster 1978 film, Superman. Lyle blasted him, which opens this documentary that also shows Ron going back to visit and train with inmates he did time with at Canon City:
Lyle’s appeal as a fighter was, without question, connected to his toughness, punching power, and daring. But he could box too, thanks in part to the guidance of his trainers Bobby Lewis and the legendary Chickie Ferrara. All of that is on display in this fine highlight video produced by Dean Peters for his YouTube channel, haNZAgod:
The Shavers knockout and the Foreman knockdown say much. No other fighter ever hurt Foreman like that, not even Ali. And Earnie Shavers, “The Black Destroyer,” who many consider the hardest puncher of all time, is someone Foreman and Joe Frazier apparently refused to fight. All of this underscores Lyle’s place in the pantheon of seventies heavyweights that still lives in the hearts and minds of fight fans, even if he never captured a major belt.
But that fact—that he never won a belt—seems inconsequential when assessing Ron Lyle as a boxer and a man. I became more aware of him watching Pete McCormack’s 2009 documentary, Facing Ali, and was riveted by his wisdom and charisma. And one thing he said during his interview about his loss to Ali struck me. “I couldn’t believe it, you know? Am I bitter? Forget about it. I never took it personal,” he admitted. “If there don’t be no Ali, you think I’d be sitting here talking about Ron Lyle? About what?”
First, I love Ali like everyone else, but I couldn’t imagine him doing seven years at Canon City, never mind being in the hole and almost getting shanked to death. Maybe Sonny Liston was up to it. Who knows. And speaking of Sonny, another fearsome ex-con from the previous era of heavyweights, it’s interesting to contrast his performance against Ali with Lyle’s. Sonny retired on his stool in the first fight, and took a dive in the second, albeit versus a younger Ali. Lyle, on the other hand, went out on his shield, which is what he did when he wasn’t sending fighters like Shavers out on theirs in thrilling firefights. No Ali? No matter. Ron Lyle would still be Ron Lyle. Oh, and another thing. He was a bad motherf*cker.
Coming October 31: “Off The Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story”. Revised edition, with a new foreword by Showtime boxing analyst and International Boxing Hall of Fame member, Al Bernstein. Available for PRE-ORDER NOW!
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