Lee Groves

10: Most historically significant upsets

2. George Foreman KO 10 Michael Moorer: Nov. 5, 1994, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada

It has been 20 years and 11 days (counting “leap” days) since Foreman shockingly lost the world heavyweight championship to Muhammad Ali. The eighth round knockout defeat had haunted him ever since because it struck at the core of Foreman’s self-worth as a fighter and as a man. He had good reason to think he was invincible and Ali, a relatively light puncher, had managed to shatter that myth. The ghost of Ali – and the man himself – taunted him from near and far and Foreman could hardly stand it. Ali mercilessly teased Foreman as the ex-champ engaged in his farcical “Foreman vs. Five” exhibition and circumstances prevented him from securing his vengeance.

Following a 12-round decision loss to Jimmy Young on St. Patrick’s Day 1977, Foreman fell ill in his dressing room. What some called heat stroke and exhaustion, Foreman called it a God-inspired spiritual transformation. For the next 10 years Foreman dedicated his life to serving his Master. He became an ordained minister, preached at a church bearing his name and opened a youth center. When funds ran dangerously low, Foreman figured the best and quickest way to replenish the till was a return to boxing – at age 38. Along with his altruistic intent, his comeback also was fueled by another agenda: Regaining the heavyweight championship of the world so that he could finally exorcize the demons that had tormented him since the Ali defeat.

His slow-but-steady approach paid dividends as he scored 24 straight wins, 23 by knockout, to earn an improbable crack against undisputed champion Evander Holyfield. After losing the decision, he declared that “Holyfield got the points, but I made the point” that age 40 wasn’t the end of one’s prime but rather a benchmark for new beginnings. Three fights later Foreman fought Tommy Morrison for the vacant WBO belt but “The Duke’s” surprising stick-and-move tactics led to a lopsided decision defeat.

The Morrison loss left Foreman in no position to demand a third chance but when Michael Moorer dethroned Holyfield “Big George” saw an opening. He convinced promoter Bob Arum, HBO’s Seth Abraham and Moorer’s management that he would be the perfect vehicle for a low-risk, high-reward first defense. Foreman’s salesmanship served him well, for all three agreed that Moorer vs. Foreman made perfect sense for everyone concerned.

Knowing this was his last chance at the brass ring Foreman sweated down to a svelte – for him – 250 pounds while Moorer was 222, eight pounds heavier than for the Holyfield fight.

By now Foreman was a beloved figure best known for hawking mufflers and the grill that bore his name as well as cracking self-deprecating jokes. But while he was the overwhelming sentimental favorite over the taciturn Moorer, the smart money favored the 26-year-old champion.

Ever mindful of the issues that long had plagued him, Foreman sought to come full circle by wearing the exact same trunks he sported during “The Rumble in the Jungle.” The red trunks with the blue waistband were as weathered as its owner but its symbolic power was as overwhelming as the fists that had scored 67 knockouts in 72 victories.

For nine-and-a-half drama-less rounds Foreman’s odyssey appeared destined for failure. Moorer’s thumping right jabs and pinpoint left crosses beat a tattoo on Foreman’s anatomy. Big George looked even older than his 45 years 310 days and through nine rounds he trailed 88-83 on two cards and a curious 86-85 on the third.

However, if Foreman was anything he was patient. No longer was he the wild-swinging madman who wanted nothing more than to launch Ali into orbit. No longer was he vulnerable to the psychological tactics that sealed his doom in Zaire. He was a mature warrior armed with enormous willpower and he felt that as long as there was time on the clock he had the weaponry to turn the fight in an instant.

That instant came with a little more than one minute remaining in round 10. A one-two to the face caused Moorer to inch backward, which persuaded Foreman to try it again. This time the right hand hit the button and Moorer’s body caved in with startling suddenness. Lying on his back with blood bubbling from his mouth, Moorer couldn’t find the strength to lift himself before referee Joe Cortez’s count of 10. At 2:03 of round 10, George Edward Foreman once again became the heavyweight champion of the world, the oldest man ever to capture a major world title at the time and, at least for the moment, the most famous sportsman on earth.

As Foreman kneeled in his corner to give thanks, the news wires were alight with “urgent” notifications and the roar from the MGM crowd could be heard outside the arena with cochlear-rattling clarity. With one mighty swing of his right hand, Foreman had lifted boxing to a level of notoriety not seen since the days of his conqueror, Muhammad Ali. Ali himself would tell Foreman how proud he was in a subsequent message.

HBO’s Larry Merchant captured the reality perfectly when he declared that while Foreman might have been a 2-to-1 underdog officially, he really was a zillion-to-one choice to actually pull it off. This upset, more than most, illustrated the can-do spirit most great fighters possess. But if there’s one fight that embodies this phenomenon better, it is the one that tops today’s list…

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