By Jim Amato
What happens when the unstoppable force meets the unmovable object? Let me rephrase that. What would have happened if Joe Frazier and Ron Lyle would have hooked up in the mid-1970s?
It is too bad this fight was never made. It was discussed on occasion, but to the best of my knowledge no serious talks ever took place. What a shame. This would have been a thrill-a-minute battle for the fans. Each boxer had the tools and the style to offset the other’s skills.
Let’s start with Ron Lyle. George Foreman showed everyone that a big, strong heavyweight with a decent jab and a solid uppercut could keep Joe from getting inside, while also punishing him at long range. Frazier was game to the core, but Big George showed that Joe could be hurt. Lyle was no Willie Pep on his feet, but he had decent mobility for a man his size. He had a fairly quick jab with some pop to it. He threw a strong right hand but he needed room for it to gather steam. His best weapons on the inside if Frazier did get past his jab were a short left hook and a scorching uppercut. Also Ron was more then willing to stand in the trenches and swap body shots. He would have been quite a handful for Joe.
What would Frazier have to do to counter Ron’s strategy? First and foremost he would just have to be Joe Frazier at his bobbing and weaving best. At times Lyle had a tendency to paw with his jab. This would have been a crucial mistake against the relentless Frazier. Joe was very adept at timing a jab and then either slipping under it or slipping to the side of it. The end result would be the same. Joe would now have his head on the opponent’s chest and he would pummel the stomach, ribs and kidneys with savage purpose.
This is a fight that would probably see most of the action along the ropes. I could see Ron banging Joe a few times on the way in and then giving ground as Joe forces Ron back to the ropes. Lyle was a willing mixer with his back on the strands, so I’m sure there would have been some explosive exchanges. Although Ron had a tremendous uppercut, I can not see him landing it consistently, as Joe would have weaved away from many of them. Also, if Ron dipped his right shoulder to get more leverage on the uppercut, he would leave himself more open to Joe’s numbing short left hooks to the head.
At times there would be a lot of clinching, mauling and wrestling – especially when the two boxers were in mid-ring. Lyle was good at this and his size and strength would have given Joe trouble in these situations. Ron would attempt to stall at times, but Joe would always be trying to work. Although it would not be pretty it would be enough to win Joe a few rounds just for effort and work rate.
The key for a Lyle victory would be to hurt Joe early like Foreman did. Hurt Joe and not let up. Frazier was a notorious slow starter, but in most cases so was Lyle. So unless Ron timed a good one on Joe’s chin, this bout would likely become a war of attrition. The longer the fight went, the better Frazier would get. You could never count Lyle out though, because he could take you out of there with one punch, and again Foreman had shown that Joe was a mere mortal. Lyle had a good chin. He was belted by Jerry Quarry but stayed on his feet. Earnie Shavers’ “Puncher of the Century ” had Ron down but could not keep him there. Eventually it was Shavers who was brutally knocked out. Lyle gamely got off the canvas in his classic war with George Foreman, but later ended up falling as much from exhaustion as he did from Foreman’s blows.
Let’s say this fight takes place in 1974 after Joe’s decision loss in his rematch with Muhammad Ali. Let’s say Frazier-Quarry II takes place, because logically there was a great demand for that fight due to Quarry’s remarkable comeback. Since Lyle’s loss to Jerry in 1973 he had re-established himself as a viable contender. Frazier-Lyle in the fall of 1974 would have been a very interesting and highly anticipated match up. Joe showed against Jerry that he was far from washed-up. Could you have imagined Frazier-Lyle as the semi-main event to Foreman-Ali in Zaire?
The outcome? With all things considered and with each boxer still having the bulk of their enormous talent, I see Lyle taking an early lead. He may even score a flash knockdown against Joe. But Frazier is hungry. He feels he has the inside track for a match with the winner of Foreman-Ali. Little by little Joe works his way inside. His wrecking ball left hook is working overtime. Lyle refuses to be intimidated and he attempts to stand his ground, landing his fair share of solid counters. As the rounds progress into the sixth, seventh and eighth, Ron is spending more and more time with his back against the ropes. The tenacity of Frazier is wearing Ron down. Still, there no quit in Lyle. He is still landing enough hard shots to keep Joe honest and the fans at the edge of their seats.
Finally, as the eleventh round comes along, Joe breaks through and hurts Lyle several times with the hook. Still the courageous Lyle refuses to fall, although at one point it looks like the referee was considering stepping in. Joe tries to come out fast in the twelfth and follow up on his advantage, but his attack gives way to fatigue. The final round sees both men throw desperate but almost harmless blows in a futile attempt to keep the bout from going to the scorecards. At the final bell both warriors are completely spent, fall in to each others arms, and then go to their corners to await the judges’ verdict. The decision is unanimous. The winner is Smokin’ Joe Frazier.