A Glorious Era

By Mauricio Sulaimán
President of the WBC – Son of José Sulaimán

All of us who are passionate about sports enjoy remembering and entering in discussions with friends about sports’ glory moments, those memorable endings of some game, the great stories that lead to debate between what has been most dramatic ending or the greatest performance or who has been the best.

We love making lists of the best and the most memorable. We are fascinated by comparing legends from different eras, debate what would have happened if X faced Y … if Pelé is the best of all time, comparing him with Maradona, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer ever, what would have been the result if he had faced Mike Tyson? Or if Tom Brady is the best QB of all time, then those from the Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana era quickly jump into the conversation.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to get myself into a time capsule. My brother Héctor asked me for a list of fights that I could recommend to watch during these #stayhome days.

After making such list I got trapped into the idea of analyzing some fights as if those were going to happen and didn’t know the result, I immediately went to YouTube, and embarked on a tour of boxing’s glory days at heavyweights. I got fully involved in watching a few of these historic fights without interruption.

It is the first time that I have been able to understand and completely value what I have known for years and always took for granted. The data that I once read and did not totally analyze; the multiple talks I heard to, but did not fully listen. I am so happy I did it, now I have a different view of the greatness of some of the legends off our sport.

I took Ali’s return as a starting point after not boxing for three years following his refusal to go to the Vietnam War.

Putting aside politics, the facts were simple; There is a unified world champion in the heavyweights, the WBC / WBA champ is Joe Frazier and Muhammad needs to regain his championship. The fight was made, the high expectations were built and the quality of this bout is one of the best experiences in history.

J.Frazier (26-0) against M. Ali (31-0). Two undefeated heavyweights at their prime.

The show was held on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, New York, with a record ringside broadcast in 12 languages. It broke the world audience record. All celebrities were present, even Frank Sinatra had to shoot as photographer for Life magazine in order to enter the event. Frazier knocked Ali down in round 15, defeating him for the first time, and in so doing he consolidated himself as champion.

Then…J. Frazier (29-0) vs. G. Foreman (37-0). Again, two undefeated heavyweights at their prime.

At the Kingston National Stadium in Jamaica, the show was held on January 22, 1973. Foreman knocked out a Frazier in two rounds, flooring him six times! If you just see the result, you lose the magic, but if we analyze … Joe was the undefeated champion. He had defeated Ali, and he was the firm favorite; while George was the challenger. The combined record: 66 wins, no losses, with 58 knockouts!

George Foreman became the champion by tearing Frazier apart, and continued to knock out his rivals and was considered invincible.

The following year he knocked out Ken Norton, who in turn had beaten Ali. George accomplished this in just two rounds, and then Rumble in the Jungle was announced.

Muhammad, meanwhile, after losing to Frazier remains active with 12 fights in three years winning and defending the NABF championship, a subsidiary of the WBC.

G. Foreman (40-0) vs. M. Ali (42-2). Undefeated champion against a highly regarded Ali.

It happened on October 30, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire, now known as The Congo. The WBC World Heavyweight Championship was contested in the heart of Africa: The Rumble in the Jungle.

Foreman, champion who demolished Frazier and Norton with second-round knockout, both who had defeated Ali, seven years younger and overwhelming favorite in the eyes of the experts. The mistaken underdog, Muhammad Ali arrived in Zaire and went out to the streets, reached the villages and got close to the people; Foreman retreated in his hotel.

Ali won over the local public and that was brilliantly charismatic. He used subtle and sometimes blunt force psychological strategy through minty fresh tactics, and even he hung a bloody chicken leg on the door of his rival’s room.

He also adapted an ingenious yet risky fight plan: to tire and frustrate George. Ali hit him and with his immense strength, leaned in on George. He pushed and pulled him, staying put on the ropes, limiting George`s punching range, expertly shielding himself from bludgeoning George, responding by headhunting with hard laser-accurate, slamming jabs and crunching right hands. Ali spun off the ropes to knock out a bewildered, almost exhausted, comprehensively outboxed and outwitted, yet always valiant George in that legendary eighth round. Ali regained the world championship that politics stole from him, and it was there that the world crowned him as the greatest of all time.

Did you know…?

Boxing is defined by mastery of styles. Frazier beat Ali, but Foreman defeated Frazier. And Muhammad defeated George. Middleweight Marvin Hagler defeated Roberto Duran, yet the latter once defeated Leonard. Sugar Ray Leonard overwhelmed Tommy Hearns, who in turn demolished Hands of Stone; while again Hagler took on Hearns and Sugar Ray defeated Hagler. Styles, strategy, technique and intelligence.

I accept any questions and recommendations at [email protected]

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  • Hi Mauricio,
    I totally agree about your analysis of the Ali-Foreman fight. That was one of the most important fights of all time. We all know that Ali won and that fight secured his status of “Greatest of All Time.” W e also know how both of their careers played out after that fight.
    Imagine for a moment that Foreman had won. If Foreman knocks out Ali in 2 or 3 rounds like he was supposed to-then I believe, he would have gone down as the greatest. Ali retires after that fight. Frazier and Norton get destroyed again in rematches. Foreman would have ruled the rest of the 70s, knocking out the rest of the contenders.
    The only real threat he would have had would have been Holmes. If Foreman had fought Holmes in 1978 or 79. at that point he would have had a record of 51 or 52 victories ( breaking Marciano’s record) and 47 or 48 knock outs. with his power and confidence and only being about 30 years old-I believe he wins a close decision. Foreman then retires as an undefeated, invincible champion. With his record and resume-Foreman goes down as the Greatest of All Time.
    That is why I consider that fight the most important in heavyweight history. It changed two men’s destiny and place in boxing history.

    • You’re forgetting that Foreman still would have likely faced Jimmy Young had he gotten past Ali.

      If Foreman were to face Holmes as an undefeated fighter, at, as you estimate at around 52-0, that would have been a signature win for Holmes, and maybe put him in the conversation for GOAT.

      • Yes, Jimmy Young was a clever, slick boxer who gave tough fights to Ali and Foreman. The Foreman who fought and lost to Young was the post Ali fighter. That George Foreman was not confident and was not the same fighter (until he came back for his second career years later).
        as for the Holmes fight, Holmes himself said his toughest fight was the Norton fight. That was a close fight and i actually thought Norton won. If he thought Ken Norton was a tough fight in 1978, what would have happened with George Foreman ?? Like I said- I think Foreman wins a close decision. Ali had a couple gift decisions towards the end, I think George gets at least one.

        • We’ll never know for sure what Holmes-Foreman would have looked like. As far as Foreman-Ali, that was no fluke as far as I’m concerned. I suspect Ali beats him 10 times out of 10. If Foreman couldn’t win with Ali just laying on the ropes and letting him tee off, then there’s no scenario in which Foreman would have won as far as I’m concerned. The loose ropes excuse was weak. Foreman certainly wasn’t going to win that in the center of the ring.As far as Holmes goes, Norton was probably his best win, and Norton was past his prime. He beat some solid guys in Witherspoon, Williams, Berbick, Snipes, etc…, but he doesn’t have any huge wins on his resume. Nineteen consecutive title defenses is impressive though, even if it wasn’t the strongest era in boxing history. As it stands though, Holmes is in the Top 5 of many All-Time Heavyweight Greats list….

          • Ali was definitely the better, smarter fighter. He had the better fight plan and desire to win that fight more than Foreman did. Ali deserved the victory.
            I don’t think he would beat Foreman 10 out of 10. Especially after 1976, Ali was on his way down and his best days were behind him. I think that is one reason he never gave George a rematch. He knew he couldn’t dance anymore, he couldn’t slug it out with George, and if he tried rope a dope again-i don’t think George would fall for that again to the extent of wearing himself out.
            If you watch the fight again, the ropes were very loose ( but I don’t blame that. Ali clearly was the better fighter that night). But if you watch when George gets knocked down, he did get a short count. The referee was on the count of 8 and foreman was up and the referee waived his hands and the fight was over. Foreman was all done at that point. Ali probably would have stopped him in the next round or two. But George did beat the count. That always gets overlooked.
            Ali at his best ( 1966 or 67 right before his title was stripped) probably does beat George 10 out of 10. But I think anytime after the Ali-Norton fight, Foreman wins every time. Too bad they never did have a rematch.

          • I think Ali certainly would have won a rematch, as long as they did it before Ali was ancient. Remember, Ali beat Foreman in 1974. Ali beat Wepner, Lyle, Bugner, and Frazier in 75. Ali was over the hill at that point, but he was able to survive a tremendously grueling fight with Frazier that year, so he still had something left. Foreman wouldn’t have fallen for the Rope-a-Dope the second time around, but what do you think Foreman’s path to victory would have been? He wasn’t going to outpoint Ali. He never really hurt Ali, even with Ali laying on the ropes letting him tee off. Ali had Foreman completely mentally whooped by the time of the KO. Foreman could punch, but he was a little ponderous. Ali, even over the hill, was all wrong for George.

          • Ali was and is my favorite fighter of all time. He revived the sport, he was funny, and he could fight. He fought every champion and contender for 2 decades. I am actually glad that he did beat foreman, because that made even his detractors admit he was great (if not the greatest).
            I only posed the question of what if Foreman had won? That would have changed both of their boxing destinies. Foreman went on to have a legendary career also because of his remarkable comeback.
            Ali’s last great year as a fighter was 1975, and last truly great fight was the Thrilla in Manila with Frazier. That was only a year after the Foreman fight. That fight with Frazier took alot out of him physically. In 1976 he fought 2 no-names and actually lost to Young and Norton ( but was given the decision in both because he was Ali). The fights he had at this point he was just going on experience. He had no speed and was taking too much punishment.
            It showed when Leon beat him. He was lucky it was a fighter who was not great ( or even really good) otherwise he wouldn’t have won the title for a third time. Could you imagine if Ali had fought Norton or Holmes instead of Spinks? Ali would not have won a third title.
            That is why I think anytime after the Norton fight at the latest (maybe even after the last Frazier fight) Foreman would have beaten Ali. I think even Muhammad might have known it. That is why he didn’t give him a rematch. He would have made more money with a rematch eith George than any other fight at that time. That fight would have been huge.
            Foreman’s path to victory would have been to box Ali ( don’t forget George was a very good boxer. he used that a lot in his second career. He just didn’t need it the first time around cause his raw power ko’d everyone). George had a long , stiff jab. Also, cut off the ring and wear Ali’s legs and movement down, and of course whenever he saw an opening throw power shots. At that point of his career, Ali was getting hit a lot. George would have hit him too.
            In his second career, Ali was in his best shape and at his best in Zaire, he was never that great again (even in manila). If Leon beat him-what do you think a 29 year old foreman would have done ? Even in the Holmes fight, Holmes could have stopped Ali from the second round on. He went very easy on him cause he didn’t want to hurt him. ali had nothing left.
            I love Ali, but you have to be realistic. He hung on way too long and unfortunately paid a heavy price for it.

          • I get what you’re saying, and I agree that it was probably the most important fight in Heavyweight history. Whoever won a potential fight between an undefeated Holmes and an undefeated Foreman likely would have been considered one of the best 2 or 3 ever. There are some great points/questions you brought up. I just don’t think George was going to beat Ali, at least up to around 1976. It’s easy to understand why some think he would have, being that George smoked Norton & Frazier, and Ali struggled with both, but as you know, styles make fights. I saw nothing in their fight that gave any indication that Foreman could beat him. That was nowhere near Ali’s toughest fight, and Ali would have done AT LEAST as well as Jimmy Young did against George had there been a rematch. BTW, I suspect Young probably would have gotten by an undefeated, fully confident Foreman anyway. Your original point is interesting to think about though. The Foreman-Holmes bout would have been fascinating.

          • Although we may never agree on when, or if, Foreman would have ever beaten Ali in a rematch.We can both agree that both men at their best, Ali was the better, smarter fighter.
            Now, when we hear someone say ” Fight of the Century” or ” Their has never been a more important fight”- we know that Ali-Foreman was THE FIGHT that changed the course of boxing history, and truly made Ali ” The Greatest” !
            It has been a pleasure to ” spar ” with such a knowledgeable boxing historian.

          • Same here, and I absolutely agree that the Foreman fight solidified ALI as the GOAT for many people, including me. A Foreman victory that night may have set him on the path to be considered the greatest, without a doubt. Foreman had already cleaned up most of the division before the Ali fight, and the potential Foreman-Holmes matchup would have made a huge impact on each man’s standing among All Time Great Heavyweights.

  • Son of ,son of ….are you serious.Enjoy your presidency for life position.viva viva!!Wbc speak so much guff.

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