Champion of Champions

By Tom Donelson, BASN boxing writer
Updated: December 2, 2011
Ron Lyle

Ron Lyle

IOWA CITY, IOWA, (BASN)—The recent passing of Ron Lyle got me to thinking of the era that Mr. Lyle fought in. Lyle became a contender during the 1970’s, which could easily be described as the golden era of Heavyweight boxing. Rarely had so many great fighters reigned at top, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman plus there were some pretty good fighters among the contenders, Lyle being one of them.
Lyle was a rugged fighter who combined solid boxing techniques with power, which allowed him to contend with boxers like Joe Bunger but enough power to not only withstand barrages from heavy handed sluggers like Earnie Shavers but beat them. Lyle had the biggest problems with boxers as he lost two fights to the ever cutie of boxer, Jimmy Young; who made every fighter who fought him look bad.
Lyle two signature fights were the ones that he lost. In his slugfest with George Foreman, he nearly knocked Foreman out before ending up on the canvas himself. This was one of those fights in which two heavy handed sluggers simply winged shots and it was a last man standing type of affair. Lyle didn’t win the fight but he did manage to be part of the one of the great fights of the 70’s.
His other signature lost was against Muhammad Ali. This was a fight in which Lyle almost outsmarted the great one as he refuse to fall for Ali tricks. Ali tried to entice Lyle into tiring himself out by throwing punches at Ali rope a dope defense but Lyle refuse to fall for the trick. Instead, Lyle peppered Ali on the ropes and then moved away; forcing Ali to chase for brief moments and Ali found an unwilling participant for his tricks. An Ali quick right hand in the eleventh round sent Lyle head spinning 180 degrees before Ali unleashed a barrage of punches and the fight was stopped. The fight was hardly a classic as Lyle did just enough to get ahead on the scorecard and Ali spent a good portion of the fight on the rope, hoping to counter Lyle from behind the rope a dope defense. Ali found himself having to take things in his own hands and stop Lyle in the eleventh round but for 10 rounds, Lyle was the Heavyweight Champion of the world on two of the three scorecards, the third having the fight even at the time.
Lyle career wound down near the end of the decade as Gerry Cooney stopped Lyle in the first round. At the age of 54, Lyle came back and won three fights by knock outs before retiring for good. Lyle was one of those forgotten fighter of a great era dominated by giants but for many boxing fans my age, he was one of those good fighters who provided entertaining fights.
If Lyle represented the contender the side of the Heavyweight golden era, Joe Frazier represented the elite in an era where elite fighters rode the top. Frazier like George Foreman and Larry Holmes, who took over the top of the division at the end of the decade, was overshadowed by Ali. Ali dominance both as a fighter and public figure often eclipsed the other great fighters of the era. Ali ability to find a way to win allowed him to stay on top of the division and his one endearing quality, rarely recognized by pundits at the time, was his ability to take punches. By the time he fought Lyle, the speed was still there but not as quick as the Ali’s of the 60’s and his ability to dance and move for fifteen rounds diminished by age. Ali still had his third fight with both Ken Norton and Joe Frazier over the horizon but one could see the erosion of skills even then. Ali’s guile and smarts allowed him to stay on top while able to handle the power of both Frazier and Foreman and that allowed him to win most of those key battles.
Joe Frazier own misfortune was simply be part of the same era as Ali and Foreman. He lost two of three close fights to Ali and Foreman stopped Frazier twice; these latter defeats overshadowing a great career. Today, we recognized Frazier for the great fighter he was and know that in most eras, he would have simply dominated. He had fought in the 50’s; he would have been as dominated as Rocky Marciano. Frazier death along with Lyle reminded us of a time win America actually had great heavyweights at the top. Today, the great heavyweights reside across the Atlantic and America had not seen a great heavyweight since the Evander Holyfield peak years in the mid 1990’s. Frazier and Lyle belonged to an era long past but not forgotten, the Golden Era of Heavyweights.