Her was as good as a heavyweight fighter can be without being great. That’s one of the things I will always remember about ex-convict Ron Lyle, who died in Denver on Sautrday at age 70.
Of course, we should all recall how he gave the iconic Muhammad Ali fits before “The Greatest” stopped him in the 11th round in Las Vegas in 1975.
And we should also play back the awesome four knockdown, Pier Six Jan. 24, 1976, brawl against Big George Foreman at Caesars Palace. The hulking Foreman was floored twice by the equally muscular Denver brawler before he could deck Lyle twice and gain a fifth round victory.
SEE LYLE VS FOREMAN BRAWL HIGHLIGHTS RIGHT HERE.
I was a kid new to handling the fight beat for The Las Vegas Sun at the time and my chore was to get reaction from key ringsiders as to the war of attrition which ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” telecast live across America.
Virtually everyone in the smallish Sports Pavilion, really a Quonset hut used for tennis, was open mouthed, just amazed at how Lyle and Foreman had hammered each other. This wasn’t Sweet Science, it was a back alley fight befitting two ex-gangbangers.
I noticed the odd but later highly successful, gravelly-voiced singer Tom Waits standing near the ring and shouting something uncomplimentary at Foreman. Then I saw heavyweight contender Ken Norton.
“What did you think, Kenny?” I asked, not so brightly.
“Those n—–s were really fighting!” Norton said in admiration.
This being 1976, my editor (Don Chase) changed one word and the entire meaning of the descriptive quote about the Fight of the Year that mayt have been the Slugfest of the Century.
In Sunday’s Sun, it came out as: “Those brothers were really fighting!”
Lyle had an ill-advised comeback at age 54, winning four meaningless bouts. His relevance in the ring ended in 1980 when rising Irish Gerry Cooney blasted him out in one round.
His overall pro mark was a more than decent 43-7-1 with 31 big KOs. The 6-3 Lyle, born in Dayton but always associated with Denver in boxing, beginning life as one of 19 children.
Lyle did 7 1/2 years in prison in Canon City, Colorado, and was twice pronounced dead during a seven hour operation there after getting horrifically stabbed. (Lyle went to the slammer for second degree murder.)
Lyle would have turned age 71 on Feb. 12. In recent years, he toiled as a security guard in Vegas but returned to the Mile High City.
Perhaps his niftiest KO came after he got knocked down by awesome hitter Earnie “The Acorn” Shavers in a Denver bout. Lyle bounced back to halt Shavers in six. Talk about two tough nuts colliding.
Looking back at his excellent effort against Ali in 1975, its worth noting that two judges had it close (Johnny Mag 46-46 and Art Lurie 46-45 for Ali with Bill Kipp way off, favoring Muhammad 49-43). It was close, damned close.
Lyle beat some good fighters and none of his losses were shameful.
He dropped a decision to talented Jerry Quarry and twice lost to slickster Jimmy Young.
One odd defeat was a KO 2 by college football player turned journeyman Lynn Ball but Ball was a tremendous puncher.
Good if not great foes who Lyle defeated included Scott LeDoux, Fili Moala, Stan Ward, Boone Kirkman, Jose Luis Garcia (he KO’d Mr. Norton) Jimmy Ellis and Mustang Ranch brothel murder victim Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena.
When we lose a stalwart competitor like Lyle, it’s a vivid reminder that without such a potent measuring stick we could not accurately measure how great Ali, Foreman, Joe Frazier and our other giants in the heavyweight pantheon really were.
RIP, Ron Lyle, a man’s man in every sense of the expression.
They pronounced him dead three times and the third time they were right.