Ali-era puncher Ron Lyle passed away over Thanksgiving weekend, although his obituary did not attract as much attention as the earlier passing of Joe Frazier. Yet in his own way, Ron Lyle was a legendary banger, and a participant in one of the greatest non-title heavyweight clashes of all-time. Lyle died in Denver on November 26th, and his funeral is scheduled there for 11 am this morning.
While Lyle was not the hardest or most explosive puncher of the early-to-mid 1970s, designations belonging to George Foreman and Earnie Shavers, I like to think of him as the era’s premier knockout artist. To say Lyle came from a tough background is an understatement; he was imprisoned in his teens for killing a man in a gang fight, and almost stabbed to death in prison. Lyle learned to box in prison, and similar to Bernard Hopkins, emerged from his experiences forged into a tough and determined customer.
After a 7 1/2-year prison stint, Lyle was a latecomer to boxing. He started his amateur career at 28 and his pro career at 30. Thankfully, Lyle had the tools to take the heavyweight division by storm. He was a big man for the era, standing 6’3″ and weighing in at around 225 lbs. He was basically an outside bomber, with a good jab and a missile-like straight right, and Lyle was an above average infighter as well. He was one of the strongest heavyweights of his day, endowed with one-punch knockout power, and had a concrete chin. Even so, Lyle was not without his deficits. He couldn’t get much power onto his short punches, and he had a nagging tendency to paw with his jab.
Those talents gave Lyle a mixed-but-distinguished career. He was out-boxed once by Jerry Quarry (Quarry was spared one of his infamous cuts that night), and twice by Jimmy Young. In his 1975 title fight with Muhammad Ali, Lyle was winning on the scorecards when Ali nailed Lyle with a hard right in the 11th, and then followed up to stop him. However, Lyle also defeated Jimmy Ellis and Oscar Bonavena, and out-shot Earnie Shavers, one of the hardest punchers of all-time.
What Lyle is best remembered for is his classic January 1976 showdown with George Foreman. This fight exploded into a see-saw artillery duel, with both men going to the canvas in the 4th Round, and Foreman ultimately prevailing with a 5th Round KO. That fight was so action-packed and suspenseful that it easily makes my short list of great heavyweight fights. While Lyle lost that fight, it wouldn’t have been what it was without Lyle’s combination of tenacity and power.