KSI fighting two blokes in one night? Former heavyweight champion George Foreman once faced five boxers one after the other promising ‘nothing but violence’ in front of Muhammad Ali

KSI fighting two blokes in one night? Former heavyweight champion George Foreman once faced five boxers one after the other promising ‘nothing but violence’ in front of Muhammad Ali

By Damian Mannion

George Foreman destroying Five Guys in one night may sound like a boxing legend polishing off an upmarket burger (grilled, of course) and fries. Instead, it was the unique and utterly bizarre way ‘Big George’ made his ring return for the first time since his shock defeat to Muhammad Ali in 1974.

It was a simple premise: five opponents, one after the other, each bout scheduled for three, three-minute rounds. Few expected any to go the distance.

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Ali beat Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, with ‘Big George’ then returning to the ring to take on five boxers one mad night that was labelled a ‘circus’

KSI may want to revisit the madness of Toronto in 1975 ahead of his event at the O2 that will see him face two boxers in one night

KSI may want to revisit the madness of Toronto in 1975 ahead of his event at the O2 that will see him face two boxers in one night

“An X-rated show,” promised the menacing, heavy-handed Foreman pre-fight. “Battling five guys in one night is nothing but violence.”

The event delivered violence, hilarity, insanity and laid bare Foreman’s fractured psyche. The first foe he faced-off against was actually Ali, sat ringside for US television. The pair jawed at each other after Foreman got into the ring, a smirking Don King watching on.

His list of opponents on the night was a who’s who-isn’t of the 1975 heavyweight scene: a collection of journeymen who the 26-year-old ex-champion outweighed by 20-30lb.

First up was Alonzo Johnson – and from the start, Foreman seemed out of sorts. Perhaps it was Ali’s heckling, a mixed reaction from the half-full crowd at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens or the sheer oddness of the event.

“What has he got to gain really?” said commentator Howard Cossell, before the first bell. “If he knocks these five guys out, they’ll say when he should’ve: they’re all stiffs. If he fails to knock any one of them out, they’ll say he’s not the fighter he was.”

Foreman, who owned an ominous 40-1 (37 KOs) record, hardly looked like the destroyer who’d ruined titans like Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in his opening bout. His punches were heavy but sloppy against a gutsy Johnson, who got up from two knockdowns until a pair of punishing right hands took him out in round two.


These days you’re more likely to associate Foreman with his world renowned grills

Getty Images – Getty

These days you’re more likely to associate Foreman with his world renowned grills

However, in his prime he was a dominant champion who possessed one of the hardest punches in boxing

Getty

However, in his prime he was a dominant champion who possessed one of the hardest punches in boxing

For a man with four fighters still to face, Foreman was sweating and breathing heavily in the aftermath. And his second opponent, Jerry Judge, made things a whole lot uglier.

The limited Judge clearly had a heart the size of his giant sideburns. He looked cooked after Foreman dropped him with a hefty uppercut – but got up and, as Foreman lazily stalked in to end it, Judge administered some old-school justice with a cracking right-hand haymaker to briefly hurt Foreman and draw a roar from the crowd.

The ending was even more astonishing. After the referee waved the bout off, the pair swapped insults, Judge shoved Foreman, who responded with some bonus blows. The two ended up rolling around wrestling on the canvas.

“It has degenerated into a charade! A carnival!” cried Cossell, though you have to wonder what he was expecting of an event that pitted the most dangerous heavyweight on the planet against five tomato cans. Thoughts on a postcard imagining his reaction to Jake Paul taking his beloved sport by storm please.

Foreman looked to have the better of Judge and then things turned a bit farcical

Getty

Foreman looked to have the better of Judge and then things turned a bit farcical

A scowling Foreman was now more intent on talking to Ali at ringside and goading a hostile audience than the fighters he was facing. Fortunately for him, undersized Terry Daniels – who had actually challenged for the world heavyweight title three years earlier – provided limited opposition.

Foreman got a third successive second-round stoppage when he personally waved in referee Harry Davis, an untidy ending which led to the two corners brawling post-fight.

Charley Polite was opponent no.4 and he made the distinctly impolite start of blowing kisses at Foreman during their pre-fight face-off. By this stage, the former champ clearly wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be gladiatorial combat or his own personal Royal Rumble, as he wound up giant, comedic windmill uppercuts – (“That’s hardly professional,” deadpanned Cossell) – as Polite cowered in the corner.

Polite flopped and spoiled but actually went the three-round distance without officially getting knocked down. “I’m tired, man,” said Foreman before his final fight and this opponent had by far the best pre-fight record of the five: former foe Boone Kirkman.

Polite was the fourth opponent of the night and there were some comical punches thrown in from Foreman

Getty

Polite was the fourth opponent of the night and there were some comical punches thrown in from Foreman

Kirkman had the best record of Forman’s opponents, but ‘Big George’ saw off his challenge

Getty

Kirkman had the best record of Forman’s opponents, but ‘Big George’ saw off his challenge

Foreman briefly had viewers thinking he might be spent, as he got on the back foot and circled away from Kirkman early on. It was an illusion.

Clearly Foreman had been holding something back, as he unleashed his crispest combinations of the night to bludgeon Kirkman to the canvas. However the bloodied, bruised, outgunned heavyweight rose and looked delighted to eventually survive all three rounds.

A halfhearted cheer greeted the final (final) bell – and then Foreman did something odd. He attempted, clumsily, to jump and click his heels in celebration, drawing jeers.

It was a snapshot of how lost Foreman was, how unsure of who he was supposed to be. He’d spent years imitating the menacing, stone-faced Sonny Liston. But Foreman was still hurt by the wider public’s rejection of him as champion and their love for Ali.

The post-fight leaps around the ring were a reminder of the delighted, wide-eyed 19-year-old who’d waved tiny US flags after winning Olympic heavyweight gold in 1968.

By the time of his post-fight(s) interview, Foreman’s surly persona had returned. He spent most of it glowering at Ali and complaining about the cowardice of his opponents leaning against the ropes; a reference to the tactics Ali had used to defeat him six months earlier.

Ali caused an upset when he took Foreman’s belts from him in Zaire and further angered by the public’s affection for his rival

Ali caused an upset when he took Foreman’s belts from him in Zaire and further angered by the public’s affection for his rival

The scars of the loss of his world title were still being carried by Foreman. None of the five opponents, who all gave a game effort, would find their way onto Foreman’s official professional record – and he was reluctant to talk about the freakshow exhibition in the years afterwards.

But Foreman would eventually reinvent himself and show the charming, charismatic man behind the mask. In 1994, his late-career comeback peaked with the balder, fatter, happier Foreman remarkably knocking out Michael Moorer to win back the world heavyweight title at age 46.

However nothing in his rollercoaster career was as strange as the night, 26 years ago, when George Foreman heard the first bell five times in an hour in one of heavyweight boxing’s most extraordinary spectacles.

On Saturday 27 August, talkSPORT brings you exclusive radio commentary of KSI vs Swarmz live from the O2 Arena from 7pm. Listen on air, via your smart speaker, or download the talkSPORT app for FREE

Source: Talksport.

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