|It was a fight that was hyped as “The Battle of the Ages.” In one corner, from Atlanta, Georgia, the world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, twenty-eight and at the peak of his powers. Opposing him, from Marshall, Texas, George Foreman,|
forty-two, former world heavyweight champion. Holyfield had an unblemished professional record leading up to this fight. He was 25-0 with 21 knockouts. He was a former Olympic Bronze Medalist in 1984, had cleaned up the cruiserweight championships and had stopped all seven opponents in his heavyweight career. Six months previously, he KO’d Mike Tyson conqueror James “Buster” Douglas in three rounds to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. The champion at the time was being criticized for fighting the forty-plus year old Foreman who was on a comeback trail after losing his last fight in his first career to Jimmy Young on points in 1977 in Puerto Rico. After claiming he had seen God in his dressing room after the fight, “Big George” hung up his boxing gloves and became an ordained minister. Ten years later in 1987, Big George returned sporting a shaven head and quite a wider waistline, but he strung together twenty-four successive wins, knocking out twenty-three opponents. Employing a cross armed defense, Foreman was difficult to hit and due to his sheer size, even Gerry Cooney’s left hand bombs had no effect.
Foreman at the time was ridiculed for attempting to comeback and he added fuel to the fire by claiming he trained on a diet of cheeseburgers. Foreman also stated that he ate Evander Holyfield’s weight for breakfast. The critics laughed but at the same time, Foreman was beginning to notch victory after victory and suddenly couldn’t be ignored. It was in 1990 that Foreman eventually began making an impact on the heavyweight division. His wins that year included a devastating two round knockout over former contender Gerry Cooney who certainly didn’t come to lay down, and another two round win over Adilson Rodrigues, who at that time was a top-ten ranked fighter.
On the same bill on the night Foreman KO’d Rodrigues, Mike Tyson was on the comeback trail and there was talk that the two might meet in a big money non-title fight, but Foreman from day one had one thing in mind, the heavyweight championship of the world. Holyfield, the champion, had an option for a voluntary defense before taking a mandatory and the big money option was to fight former champion George Foreman. The fight was made for April 19 1991 at the Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. One month earlier Mike Tyson had staked his claim for another shot at the championship with an impressive win over Razor Ruddock, but circumstances outside the ring dictated otherwise.
On fight night, Foreman was made the sentimental favorite, although the bookies choice was Holyfield. The physical differences between the two were immense with “The Punching Preacher” weighing forty-nine pounds more and he was also two inches taller in height. The important factor though was age. 19,000 fight fans, celebrities and former champions packed the Trump Plaza to see if Foreman could pull off the impossible. Former champions and Foreman opponents Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali were in the ring for the introductions and both raised the roof.
Ultimately, the task proved too much for Big George, but he acquitted himself admirably against possibly the best conditioned heavyweight champion of all time. Foreman even chose to stand in the corner between rounds and even had some success in the fifth round landing some clubbing blows, but Holyfield’s granite chin withstood them. Holyfield went on to win the fight on a clear point’s decision, but although it was Holyfield's fight, it was Foreman’s night and the older man came out with nothing but respect.
Many thought that this would be the end for Big George but he continued on and unbelievably, three years later he would knock out Michael Moorer in the tenth in November 1994 to become the oldest ever champion; more than twenty years after losing it for the first time to Ali. He had his last professional fight in 1997, losing controversially to Shannon Briggs.
It’s easy to forget on this night in 1991 that Evander Holyfield was indeed the undisputed, undefeated champion due to all the plaudits Foreman won. Amazingly, it took a defeat nineteen months later in November 1992 in an all time classic to Riddick Bowe to finally win “The Real Deal” the respect at heavyweight he so thoroughly deserved. He certainly didn’t need to badmouth fighters to get the job done. His fists were good enough and he was a class act with total faith in his abilities. Holyfield would go on to regain the title a further three times, making him the only four-time heavyweight champion in history and a genuine hall of fame fighter.