The Night Big George Foreman Beat Five Men In An Hour In Front Of Muhammad Ali

An attempt to bounce back from defeat became one of the saddest spectacles in the sport’s history
11:00, 25 Apr 2020

On March 26, 1974, George Foreman obliterated fellow heavyweight Ken Norton inside two rounds in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas with a series of power punches that left the former US Marine rendered flat on his back.

"His eyes were rolled up and he had turned his back on Foreman," referee Jimmy Rondeau said after the fight. "His corner was asking me to stop the fight, but I already had."

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Just a year earlier, Norton had beaten Muhammad Ali and, in a rematch, lost only on a tight split decision - a result many are still dubious about today. Foreman had just made a huge statement and was well on course for heavyweight supremacy.

Then, just ten months later, came the proverbial fly in the ointment; Ali himself. ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’ would prove to be the downfall of the concrete-fisted goliath as the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’ bamboozled him with the now infamous ‘rope-a-dope’ technique for eight rounds.

When the dust settled on that magnificent night in Zaire, Foreman emerged a shell of the man the world saw not even a year earlier.

Defeat in zaire to Ali decimated George Foreman's confidence
Defeat in zaire to Ali decimated George Foreman's confidence

These days, Foreman is magnanimous in defeat to Ali and accepts that he was beaten by quite possibly the greatest fighter to grace the ring but back in the seventies, with his pride wounded, he was adamant that he was bested by exhaustion, not his opponent’s superior fistic skills.

Foreman was determined to prove he was still numero uno in boxing’s marquee division and so, in 1975, voyaged to Toronto to fight five men in one night. On April 25, what was meant to be a triumphant display of Foreman’s athleticism and power, became one of the saddest spectacles in the sport’s history.

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The five poor souls sent out to slaughter for three rounds apiece were each between 30 and 40 pounds lighter than ‘Big’ George and by the time he finished with the ‘tomato cans’ (a boxing idiom for a nobody), little more than an hour had passed. Unsurprisingly, none of these five fights found their way onto Foreman’s official record - even his usual trainers refused to show up for the charade!

Welcomed by the onlookers at Maple Leaf Gardens for the circus it was, Foreman was not only greeted by jeers but also his most bitter rival, and the reason the farcical sideshow attraction existed in the first place, Ali, who was on hand to provide colour commentary alongside the legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell.

Of course, Ali being Ali, the greatest trash-talker of all-time, he proceeded to spend the entire hour hurling abuse at a poor Foreman from ringside.

"He can whoop these five men, but he won't whoop one me!" He bellows at one point.

Muhammad Ali with legendary broadcaster and friend Howard Cosell
Muhammad Ali with legendary broadcaster and friend Howard Cosell

The footage of the night is haunting at times - as the boos begin to fill-up the arena and glass bottles begin rain down from the heavens, it’s as if Foreman realises mid-punch that his naive plan to prove his superior stamina was falling flat on its face.

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After finishing off his fifth and final opponent, Foreman raised his arms in triumph and eagerly looked out to the hostile crowd to find the man who put him in this position in the first place - It was futile, Ali was already long gone.

This was the lowest point of George Foreman’s glittering career but, as we all know, he bounced back emphatically and is now regarded as one of the best and most popular heavyweights of the 20th Century.

Foreman in his fifth and final fight of the night
Foreman in his fifth and final fight of the night

In 1976, Foreman returned to the ring again and produced five straight knockout wins, including a second victory over the great Joe Frazier, before a defeat to Jimmy Young led him to hang up his gloves in 1977.

He returned to the ring once again in 1987, an entirely different breed of fighter to the one we’d seen a decade earlier. It is during this rebirth that some of Foreman’s most spectacular nights were produced - particularly in 1994 when at the age of 45 he stunned the world by stopping Michael Moorer and regained the heavyweight world title 20 years after he first won it.

Thankfully it all worked out for Foreman and hopefully we’ll never see a similar sideshow attraction in boxing again. To quote the great Cosell at ringside that night: “This is the weirdest thing you will ever see.”