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Old 01-12-21, 12:09 AM
Me duelen las nalgas
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Yeah, whenever anyone wants to discuss or challenge the notion that "styles make fights," I point to the classic 1970s era of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman. I've never found a better example to underscore the concept.

How could Ali handle Foreman with relative ease, while struggling against Norton and Frazier, who Foreman destroyed almost casually?

Of course, anyone who studied a young Ali and Sonny Liston in his prime against various opponents could have seen that coming. Foreman was mostly a supercharged Liston -- bigger, stronger, better technique, but very comparable.

And watching Liston demolish most other opponents of any size and style reveals why Foreman was so successful against anyone other than skilled boxers who were roughly his size and height.

Foreman's strength was punching from chest level, not quite straight punches, not quite uppercuts, with piston-like power. That was devastating against shorter opponents like Frazier, Bert Cooper, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and taller fighters who fought short by crouching, as Norton did. If Ali had made the mistake of crouching he probably would have been caught the same way. But Ali fought tall 99% of the time.

That's something an older Big George often mentioned later in his career as an HBO commentator. The HBO crew tended to be dismissive of Foreman's blustering, John Madden-like commentary, sometimes rudely. Not that Jim Lampley was particularly astute about boxing, just a lantern jawed talking head, a Tank McNamara in real life. And Larry Merchant never met a man he couldn't insult. There was never a bigger blowhard in boxing than Larry Merchant. His monologues sounded like his gaseous columns for The Ring magazine, meant to be read but never heard aloud. I take that back, they weren't even good in print.

Anyway, even as an adult and experienced boxing observer, I learned a few things listening to Big George's boxing commentary. Foreman was an astute observer, a good student, humble enough to learn from his own mistakes. He'd rail against tall fighters who failed to use their height and reach effectively (looking at you, Antonio Margarito), and Oscar De La Hoya for abandoning what Foreman called DLH's "crow-hop" predatory footwork in favor of badly mimicking the Philly shell and shoulder roll. In his prime, De La Hoya's footwork was like a raptor or predatory ground bird, jumping in and out, picking apart an opponent. But he always struggled with stamina and struggled to maintain that footwork in longer bouts.

If both Foreman and Ali had been in comparably good health in their 40s and fought again, I'd give Foreman the edge. Foreman's style aged well, while Ali's did not. Looking back at Ali's second career bouts, even at his best he was only a ghost of his 1960s peak form. It's a shame how quickly he aged in that three-year layoff. He still did remarkably well by being a much shrewder boxer after his comeback. But he never seemed to be able to solve the riddles of Frazier and Norton. Even his wins against them (and I do think Ali's wins against Norton were legit, if squeaky close) were struggles.
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