"Vicious" Victor Ortiz took on Andre Berto in the WBA WElterweight title match this past Saturday. Courtesy of fightpickexperts.com.

Thirty-five years ago, boxing fans sat on the edge of their living room sofas to see the once indestructible “Big” George Foreman make his grand return against Ron Lyle, 15 months after falling prey to Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope tactics in Zaire. On paper, Lyle v. Foreman appeared to be the perfect equation for an all-out slugfest, with the majority of fans assuming that Lyle would eventually succumb to Foreman’s trademark power.

But every boxing fan knows that this was hardly the case — the so-called “measuring-stick” bout quickly transformed from a mundane welcome-back showcase for Foreman into one of the greatest heavyweight brawls of the century.
“A good right by Lyle!” the late sports commentator Howard Cossell bellowed in that round. “Lyle’s all over him, he has Foreman in trouble! Foreman is down.”

There was utter chaos throughout the arena as spectators were far too shocked to see the machine-like Foreman fold to Lyle’s sluggish right. But that was when the fun was merely getting started.

“Now George fights back!” Cossell yelled just seconds after Foreman answered the eight count and got up from the canvas. “Now George strikes back! With a magnificent right!”

But just when the tides seemed to be flopping in the anticipated direction, Cossell found himself yelling the inverse in just a matter of seconds.

“Now Foreman goes down!” Cossell said. “Foreman goes down! Lyle fights back!”

Eventually, Foreman would produce the final answer with a fifth-round knockout after 12 unanswered blows to Lyle’s cranium as he rested on the ropes — a stark contrast to Foreman’s wretched memories of Zaire.

Thirty-five years later, we have seen and experienced the remnant of one of boxing’s golden eras. Last Saturday, April 16, the young Haitian heavy-hitter Andre Berto squared up against “Vicious” Victor Ortiz for the WBA Welterweight title. Unlike most of the “fight-of-the-year” candidates that the media hails today, this bout consisted of two young and fresh fighters at their physical apex.

Berto, 27, and Ortiz, 24, are both hungry  to  prove to the big name welterweights that they are no less of a draw than their opponents are. With 1.5 million viewers tuned in — the most for HBO this year — that question was at least answered early; it’s what followed the opening bell that answered more than the average fan could ever fathom asking.

Vicious Victor, the protégé of Oscar De La Hoya, is ironically a safety-first fighter. His two losses came from being overly cautious, as he once stated after a fight.

“Hey, I’m a smart kid,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to get my brains knocked in.”
But on April 16, something took over him. In the first round, he charged out of his corner in a pursuit for Berto’s blood.

“Down goes Berto!” commentator Jim Lamply yelled hysterically.

But Berto quickly answered in the middle of round two with a quick cross that sent Ortiz to the canvas.
“I think we have a Lyle-Foreman on our hands,” Larry Merchant said.

The fighters didn’t hesitate to rise above and beyond that comparison in the sixth round. In the first minute of the round, the visibly staggering Berto caught Ortiz walking in with one of the cruelest overhand rights that I’ve ever seen a dazed man throw  — Ortiz dropped like bricks.

But if  this were  anything  like Lyle-Foreman, then you should assume that Ortiz responded. Just seconds after getting up from the canvas, a staggering Ortiz caught Betro with a cross while he was rushing in for the kill —  it was Berto’s turn to  drop like bricks.

Shockingly, both warriors kept the grueling pace up for 12 straight rounds. While the battle was brutal for both fighters, Ortiz always had the upper hand and physical dominance. Consequently, the judges awarded Ortiz a unanimous decision. The victory improved Ortiz’s record to 29-2-2 and dropped the once undefeated Berto to 27-1. But the results, win or loss, elevated both of them.

What we witnessed Saturday is far too rare in boxing today. If the sport wants to flourish and reclaim the days when what happened in the squared-circle was synonymous with the history books, fans must demand more match-ups between the young and hungry as opposed to drooling over grandpa’s return.

Nathaniel is a member of
the class of 2011.

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