Lyle personified 'tough'

MURRAY GREIG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:12 AM ET

EDMONTON - Anyone who seriously believes the current crop of precious poseurs in boxing and MMA is made up of "tough" guys should go to YouTube and simply type: "Foreman vs. Lyle."

Ron Lyle the second half of that memorable 1976 match died Nov. 26 following complications from stomach surgery. He was 70.

Lyle was never a world champion and isn't likely to ever be enshrined in the Boxing Hall of Fame, but Lord he was tough.

Throwback tough.

The kind of tough that other fighters fear.

Thirty-five years after they rumbled in Las Vegas, Lyle's shootout with George Foreman a unanimous choice as The Ring's Fight of the Year remains one of history's most mesmerizing examples of heavyweight violence, as evidenced by its 450,000 hits on YouTube.

Lyle came by his reputation honestly.

While still a teenager, he was convicted of second- degree murder in the shooting death of a rival gang member in Denver and sentenced to 15-25 years at Colorado's notorious Canon City state penitentiary.

STABBED

Shortly after his arrival, he was stabbed in the abdomen by another inmate and was twice pronounced dead on the operating table during surgery to repair the wounds.

"One of the doctors actually signed my death certificate, but the other one wouldn't give up on me," Lyle recalled years later in a Wide World of Sports interview with Howard Cosell.

"I was given 35 transfusions in eight hours before they finally stopped the bleeding."

Determined to make the most of a bad situation, after months of rehab the 6-foot-3 Lyle signed up for the prison boxing team. He'd never fought in gloves before, but after losing his first official bout behind bars, he went on a six-year unbeaten tear.

The streak lasted until he was paroled at age 28, after serving nearly eight years of his sentence.

Lyle continued boxing after his release, reeling off an amateur record of 25-4 with 17 knockouts. He won the 1970 North American amateur heavyweight crown and, as the only black fighter on the roster of the Denver Rocks, became the first and only champion of the short-lived International Boxing League.

"It didn't last long, but those were fun times ... it was exciting to be part of something different," Lyle said when I asked him about the IBL last June at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

"It was the first time I really thought about how far I might go as a pro. The IBL gave me a little taste of the big time."

Lyle's amateur success foreshadowed a pro career that saw him become one of boxing's most feared punchers.

After consecutive KO wins over fading contenders Buster Mathis, Luis Pires and Larry Middleton in the last three months of 1972, he put his 19-0 record on the line against No. 2-ranked Jerry Quarry at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 9, 1973.

Quarry took the unanimous decision, but Lyle's courageous showing earned him back-to-back dates with Oscar Bonavena and Jimmy Ellis, both of whom he beat over 12 rounds.

On May 16, 1975, Lyle was matched with world champion Muhammad Ali at the Convention Center in Las Vegas. The fight aired live on network television, and after 10 rounds one judge had Lyle ahead 49-43. The second had him up 46-45, while the third had the fight even at 46-46.

Ali, sensing his title slipping away, landed a vicious right to the head that stunned Lyle early in Round 11, then followed up with 30 unanswered punches before referee Ferdinand Hernandez waved him off.

ROBBED

"When they stopped that fight, I felt I was robbed of the greatest honour in all of sports," Lyle recalled in Canastota.

"But I got over it. I never took it personally. If it wasn't for Ali and the other guy (Foreman), do you think you'd be at the Hall of Fame talking to me today? No way, man."

Some fighters are born to be champions, and some are just born to be tough.

For Ron Lyle, tough was more than good enough. And that's as good an epitaph as any.


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