Lee Groves

10: Best St. Patrick’s Day fights


2. 1977 – Jimmy Young W 12 George Foreman, Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico – Heavyweight title eliminator

For nearly three years Big George chased a rematch with Muhammad Ali, who rope-a-doped his way to a monstrous upset in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” His fury reached a boiling point in April 1975 during the infamous “Foreman vs. Five” exhibition as Ali, working as a broadcaster for ABC, taunted him mercilessly. Nearly two years after that farcical interlude, Foreman stood one fight away from his cherished second chance, and all that stood between him and his date with destiny was a light-hitting Philadelphian named Jimmy Young.

Young had a spotty record – 20-5-2 with seven knockouts – but he raised many eyebrows when he nearly dethroned a lethargic Ali 11 months earlier in Landover. Since then he had won four straight, including a 12 round decision over Ron Lyle and a pair of early knockouts, to earn the crossroads fight with Foreman.

An overconfident Foreman felt he could squash Young any time he wished, so he set out to prove a larger point to an audience of one – Ali. Foreman wanted to show he could last the 12-round distance against the man who flummoxed him, so to save his energy he did little more than stalk after Young in the first five rounds. He also manhandled his rival at every opportunity and Young made sure to let referee Waldemar Schmidt know about every infraction. The complaining worked, for Foreman lost a point in the third after pushing Young down while driving his glove on the back of the neck. Meanwhile Young, comfortable with the slower-than-expected pace, speared Foreman’s face with well-timed rights, one of which stunned the big man at the end of round two.

Foreman finally stirred early in the seventh when a hook made Young stumble toward the corner pad. For the next two-plus minutes Big George sprayed bullets in all directions but Young’s resourcefulness in the face of mortal danger turned the crowd into the San Juan chapter of the Jimmy Young Fan Club. An arm-weary Foreman throttled down in the eighth and ninth, allowing a confident Young to regain control.

That control became complete with a minute left in the fight when Young staggered Foreman with a combination and felled him with a one-two to the jaw. The knockdown turned a potential majority decision into a unanimous one; while Waldemar Schmidt (118-111) and Cesar Ramos (116-112) saw Young a clear winner, Ismael Fernandez saw it much closer at 115-114.

While Young went on to meet Ken Norton for what would become the WBC title two fights later, Foreman underwent a life-changing religious experience in the dressing room that resulted in a 10-year retirement.

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