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Fight #34 George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer

Fight #34 George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer, November 5, 1994, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV

I watched this fight live on HBO with my Dad in the den of the house where I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. At the time of this fight, I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. My Dad was four days away from his 49th birthday, or just four years older than George Foreman was when he stepped into the ring against 26-year-old heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, in another bid to reclaim the crown he had lost in Zaire more than 20 years earlier.

Moorer was making the first defense of his lineal, WBA, and IBF heavyweight championships, which he had won six months earlier with a majority decision win against Evander Holyfield. At the time of this fight, Moorer was 35-0 with 30 knockouts. He also was just the second man in history to go from being the light heavyweight champion to the heavyweight champion.

Foreman had first made his comeback to the ring in 1987, and after reeling off 24 straight wins, got a shot at the heavyweight title in 1991, losing to Holyfield. After three more victories, he got a second shot, this time for a vacant WBO title, but lost again to Tommy Morrison. After that fight, Foreman had a 17-month layoff before he faced Moorer for the championship.

Almost all his old skills were gone. HIs punches were slow and easy to see coming. He plodded around the ring, and his reflexes were abysmal. By all appearances, he was no match for Moorer, and indeed, of the first nine rounds, I gave Moorer eight. Moorer had vastly better hand speed, and dominated each round with right jabs that had real snap on them.

But the problem was, Moorer was fighting the wrong fight. With his own impressive knockout power, Moorer seemed to make a calculation early in the bout that he could punch with Foreman, and perhaps even knock Foreman out. To achieve this, Moorer, who was a southpaw, kept jabbing and moving to his left, trying to get Foreman in range for a big left hand shot to put him down. But that strategy was sending him directly into the line of fire for Foreman's right hand. Now, Foreman was no longer the punching demigod that had annihilated Joe Frazier years earlier. But he could still do a lot of damage with those punches when they landed. And the only way they were going to land was if Moorer stood in front of Foreman. There was just no other way. Foreman just did not have the hand speed to hurt Moorer if Moorer moved the opposite direction, to his right and away from Foreman's right. And the thing is, Moorer never even really landed that left hand. He dominated the rounds with his right jab, which was a strong punch because, in truth, Moorer was ambidextrous and had plenty of power and speed in that right hand.

What I'm trying to say is, Moorer could have won this fight one-handed. Move to his right, throw the right jab, and then keep moving. If he fights that way, Foreman loses every single time. Instead, Moorer chose to punch with Foreman. That fight, Moorer also wins most of the time, because again, his hand speed was just superior in every sense. But to win the fight that way, Moorer had to accept that occasionally he would get hit with Foreman's right hand. He had to hope that he could withstand that for 12 rounds. He withstood it for nine, but not twelve.

The whole fight, Foreman took a tremendous amount of punches, as his awkward defense was no match for Moorer's hand speed. Moorer landed a crazy high percentage of his punches in this fight, something close to 60 percent. But you got the sense that the old man was just trying to get Moorer there for him for one or two good shots. Like a pitcher holding his best fastball in reserve for when he really needs it, Foreman threw a lot of punches, but saved the most meaningful ones for when he knew he had Moorer hurt. That moment came in the tenth round. Moorer got caught on the chin with a strong right hand that forced him back. Foreman saw the opening, and really stepped into the next punch, which put Moorer down and out for the count.

It was, and still is, a shocking knockout. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Moorer was winning the fight easily, and suddenly he was on the canvas, staring up into the lights of the MGM Grand Arena. At first, I remember, my Dad and I thought maybe the fix was in. The crowd, the announcers, everybody seemed to want Foreman to pull this miracle off. But when we watched the replay, I remember seeing how when Moorer's head hit the canvas, a spurt of blood bubbled out grotesquely through his lips. And my Dad said matter-of-factly, "Nope, that's a real knockout."

To be honest, this was a pretty monotonous fight with an incredible ending. But it remains one of the signature sports memories of my entire childhood. I don't think I can recall ever being as shocked as I was when Moorer went down. I remember jumping off the couch in our den, putting my hands to my head and shouting, "What just happened?" And as if on cue, when Joe Cortez counted Moorer out (he was still laid out at the count of 10), Jim Lampley gave what I think is one of the greatest calls in boxing history. He simply exclaimed, twice, "It happened! It happened!" As he said it, the camera caught an exhausted and relieved Foreman staring up into the heavens, in silent prayer and wonder. Man, boxing.

The problem, though, was that once Foreman won this fight, there was really nowhere else to go. He was still an old, slow fighter who had only the slimmest of chances against the top heavyweights in the world. He would fight four more times against less than spectacular opposition, winning three of them, but none of them by knockout. Finishing his career with 76 wins and 68 KOs (an incredible ratio), his last ever knockout came on this night against Michael Moorer. It's a good thing that this old, fading version of George Foreman never faced a prime Tyson or a prime Lennox Lewis. He would have been obliterated.

Moorer's career was just never the same. He was knocked out by Evander Holyfield in their rematch in 1997, and knocked out again by David Tua in 2002. He finished his career with an extremely impressive 52 wins (40 by knockout) against only 4 defeats, but this fight is probably all he is remembered for now.

I think boxing and the heavyweight division would have been better off if Moorer had won this fight, and he could have been a player in the Holyfield-Tyson-Lewis-dominated years of the late 1990s. Foreman's win produced a great and shocking moment in modern sports history, but in the long run I think boxing does better when the younger and more talented fighters win.

Here is a video of the fight:




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