Yesterday, we got through our first round of matchups en route to crowning the greatest-ever Heavyweight Boxer. Today, Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis will get involved. And it’s about to get fun.
Now, we have 11 fighters left as Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis enter the fray. I’ll give No. 3, Evander Holyfield, a bye—given the uneven amount of the fighters left. First up is the late, great Muhammad Ali who in reality lost a computerized fight to Rocky Marciano years ago.
Here, the former Cassius Clay put his gloves on to battle the gritty John L. Sullivan. For those who have studied Ali, they know full well that not only is he bigger than he looks, he also has one of the best chins in the history of the sport. And, is also probably the smartest fighter of any heavyweight. When he put his mind to it, Ali had an answer for any puzzle on how to beat a fighter. The George Foreman fight is the best example when he developed the “Rope-A-Dope.”
Sullivan would be chasing Ali all over the ring while Ali would consistently pepper him with punches. I don’t think Ali could knock out John L. Sullivan, but he would easily win a decision.
Sam Langford facing Joe Louis would see Langford up for a very big task against a man that held the title for 29 months. Louis was another version of a modern-day Mike Tyson. He would hit fighters and they would fall. This would be the case for Langford.
George Foreman versus Gene Tunney, a match of wits against brawn. Could Big George be looking at more of the same trickery that he ran into with Ali? Take a look at George in his early days. He looked menacing. I don’t believe Tunney would have been able to absorb the punishment Foreman dishes out like Ali did. Foreman in a knockout.
James Jeffries is facing another nasty heavyweight in Sonny Liston. Ali had tricks up his sleeve unlike any other fighter in any division. That’s why he beat Liston. He also had the knack for getting inside a fighter’s head. And, ruining his psyche heading into a fight. Liston at his best would knock Jeffries silly. KO in this one.
The last fight in this round pits Jack versus Jack. Johnson versus Dempsey. In today’s era, with pay-per-view the big thing for fight sports, this bout would have outdrawn any other matchup you could find. Two very evenly matched fighters, but I think Dempsey was a bit more beatable. This would go the distance—whether it would be 12, 15 or 75 rounds. Johnson by a hair.
Now, we’ve reached the quarterfinals with just six fighters remaining:
- Jack Johnson versus Muhammad Ali.
- Sonny Liston versus Joe Louis. And…
- George Foreman versus Evander Holyfield.
I’ll begin with Holyfield/Foreman because they actually fought in 1991. It ended in via unanimous decision victory for The Real Deal. But this wasn’t the George Foreman beast that was once a champion. I believe had these two men fought each other when they were at their best, Holyfield would be a bit overwhelmed as he had the nature of wanting to mix it up and go toe-to-toe with opponents. That would cost him against the best of George Foreman, who would knock him out.
Sonny Liston and Joe Louis? This would be a war. But, I don’t think Liston would have the chin or stamina to withstand the attack of a Joe Louis at the top of his game. Louis would knock out “The Big Bear.” And the last fight in this bracket pins Muhammad Ali against the great Jack Johnson. This would be a show of true boxing skills and less of a slugfest. If it were to happen, some might think such a fight as “boring.” If these two men were to actually face each other, there would be very little physical damage.
In the end, my feeling is that Ali would win via decision and advance to a mythical semi-final round where—because there are three fighters left—he would get a pass for being ranked No. 1 all-time. In the only other bout, Joe Louis fights George Foreman.
Joe Louis was 6’2″ and normally weighed about 200 pounds. George Foremen fought at around 220 pounds, but was only an inch taller than the “Brown Bomber.” The fighter with the stronger chin would survive this fight. And Foreman’s chin was never tested that much until he fell prey to Ali’s Rope-A-Dope.
Joe Louis lost just three times in his career and was knocked out twice. The first came during the devastating Max Schmeling loss. The second came in his very last fight, losing to a much younger Rocky Marciano. The third loss came at the hands of Ezzard Charles via unanimous decision. Foreman, on the other hand, lost only five times in 81 bouts. And of those 68 victories, he knocked out 68 opponents.
Trying to determine who wins a fight between a prime Foreman and prime Louis is difficult. Again, each fighter is going to touch each other’s chin with a hard blow. Who withstands that best determines the winner. I believe this fight could go either way, but for this argument, unlike football where “defense wins games,” in boxing I believe offense can win battles given the power being offered. I like George Foreman by knockout.
Which means, all of this boils down to one match: Muhammad Ali and George Foreman—who had fought in that infamous “Rumble in the Jungle.” The date was October 30, 1974. The fight took place in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali’s corner feared the power and ferocity of Foreman, but Ali feared no one. He was well aware of the destructive path Foreman had left behind leading up to this title fight.
Ali created the “Rope-A-Dope” for this fight, consistently leaning back into the ropes when Foreman went on the attack to soften the impact of Big George’s blows. He did this round after round to tire Foreman until the moment was right. That moment came in the eighth round, when an exhausted Foreman was under attack from Ali—who knocked him out and won back the Heavyweight title.
Putting that fight aside and considering these two as the two best fighters of all time, would George Foreman be able to find a way to topple Ali? Reportedly, Foreman sought a rematch but it never came to fruition. The one trait about Muhammad Ali was that he knew how to figure out opponents. Thus, how he beat Foreman. Big George was so reliant on his power that he failed to realize Ali’s strategy. Had Foreman taken the fight to the center of the ring and made Muhammad come to him, we may have seen a different result.
There is nothing that can convince me which would result in a different outcome in a fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Ali has been declared the greatest heavyweight of all time by many experts and is the consensus best ever. Not just in the minds of boxing writers, but in Ali’s mind as well. Muhammad made the lines “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” famous and known around the world. One mention of that automatically brings to mind the great Ali.
Something else that made Ali famous was his predictions of fights. An even dozen times, Ali correctly finished an opponent just as he had said he would during pre-fights. Many will remember Muhammad Ali for his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. military and fight in Vietnam. Then, subsequently being jailed and stripped of this title for three years. But Ali didn’t believe in killing another human being, and he would eventually win back his title. Outside the ring, he would become one of the most respected human beings worldwide.
The best and most fond way to remember Muhammad Ali? Probably by his most famous two lines:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”
Do you agree that Ali was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time? And for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!