Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Copyrighted Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime, 2002)
(Interviewers Note: Ron Lyle passed away in 2011, but will forever be in our boxing hearts for the wars he put on in the ring. RIP)
Ron Lyle is yet another heavyweight from the Golden Era of the 70’s who I have had the privilege to interview, as of late. In his heyday, Lyle may have given boxing one of its most exciting fights when he faced two-time former Heavyweight Champion Big George Foreman on January 24th, 1976 in Las Vegas Nevada.
FAST—Forward to June 2001 and the Boxing Hall of Fame weekend where I met Lyle, and found him to be yet another example of why I love boxing. He was bombarded by fans for his autograph, and we had to talk in between him signing. Anyone could tell he really enjoyed the love that was shown to him by so many boxing fans. He took the time to sign countless gloves, posters, pictures, and items put in front of him while he spoke to those same fans.
That same evening at the Banquet of Champions, Lyle got up in front of a packed room and gave a heartfelt speech that not only evoked tears from himself, but there was not a dry eye in the house, including this writer and Burt Sugar, the MC of the evening. As Lyle spoke about his parents, along with his journey into boxing, you could feel his true passion for the sport that we both love.
Lyle, is a fighter who always gave 100% each time he stepped in the ring during that Golden Era of the 70’s, in this writer’s opinion. So to be able to recognize him here in my column, is an honor because I feel that so many of his era, not just in the heavyweight division, have gone far too long without the recognition they truly deserve.
First of all, for all the readers who bring up your name when the Golden Era of Heavyweights is mentioned, what are you doing today?
Currently, I am working with a young man named Farid Shahid who is from LA, and in the last five months, we have made some great strides in his boxing skills. This young man is very dedicated and listens well. He is only amateur, but the skills are there, and he will be fighting towards the end of this month on an amateur card. Brad, I love boxing and really feel I can make a difference in some young man’s life who has hopes, ambitions and dreams, by pointing him in the right direction to fulfill them. This is the first young man I have worked with, but in the past, I have worked with Michael Grant along with Lonnie Smith. I had Ronnie Smith when he knocked out Billy Costello at Madison Square Garden for the title. Bottom line: I really want to show the boxing world my capabilities with working with troubled youths to give them a chance to turn their lives around.
I had the pleasure to meet you for the first time this past June at the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. Was that your first trip and what were your observations of the Hall of Fame?
That was my first trip to the Hall of Fame. I have always dreamed of being judged by my peers who were all at the HOF this past June. In my life, I have always had this dream to be amongst my peers and respected. So when I made this trip and that happened, especially after I made my speech at the Banquet of Champions which aroused a standing ovation, my dream had come true.
My Mother, God rest her soul, told me, “If you hang in there and don’t give up, in the end, you will be recognized for you what you have done.” When I got up to make the speech, she was up in heaven looking down on me. In my life, I have never felt what I did on that night. (I was amongst that crowd which gave Ron a well deserved standing ovation. His tears of joy were sincere, and as I said earlier, there was so much love in the room for him which moved me to tears, as well.)
You were involved in many thrilling fights, but two in particular involved Earnie Shavers and former two-time Heavyweight Champion George Foreman. What are your recollections of those fights?
Earnie Shavers is the hardest puncher I have ever faced in my career. He is the first man to ever knock me off my feet. I didn’t fall from losing my balance, slipping or being tired; he knocked me down with his sheer power, which caused the ground to come up to meet me. I really feel I came into my own in this fight because I had always wondered, if I got knocked down, would I get back up? My question was answered in that fight. Brad, Earnie is one of the nicest guys I have ever known in boxing. (Knowing Earnie as well, I totally second what Ron has said).
George Foreman is a tough fighter and a God-fearing man. He was very strong and I truly wish I could have fought him again, but was never given the opportunity. He really is a good man, and reminds me of my Dad.
Who do you feel was your toughest opponent in your boxing career and why?
Muhammad Ali. The why is because he represented so much in the world. When you fought him, you were not just fighting the man, you were fighting everybody. That was my most gratifying fight because the respect I had for this man along with the many things he stood up for was amazing.
He stood up for black people as a whole, putting up his life, swallowing that bitter pill. I truly respected him for this. At that same time, I knew I was a good athlete who could match his athletic skills in the ring. I feel that I did in that fight.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently in your attempt for the Heavyweight Championship against Muhammad Ali?
Nothing at all. I say that because when I was in prison, God surrendered me that dream; I never knew how it turned out. In it, I was the champ and getting to that level to fight for the title shot, was a very special thing to me then.
You fought slick boxer, Jimmy Young, twice in your career and lost two decisions. What do you feel helped him beat you both times?
I feel I beat him both times. It’s the nature of the business to have losses no matter what you think. Jimmy knows I won those fights, but I will not complain about it. Boxing has been very good to me and I totally respect it. It gave me a way out, to compete in society and for that, I am grateful to it.
What are your recollections of Jerry Quarry when you fought him?
Jerry was a very tough fighter. It was my first big fight in boxing. He was not given enough credit in boxing and really was a legit fighter in the ring. He had great combos with power; wasn’t a big guy, but was in a big division. Bottom line: Quarry had a heart of a lion.
Who are your three favorite fighters of all-time and why?
Sugar Ray Robinson. I thought he was the greatest fighter I had ever seen, and that was at a time I didn’t know that much about boxing, but knew how special he was. When I got into boxing, I really found out how great Robinson really was. Joe Louis was the Man! He could really punch and didn’t need any room to do it in. All the rest of us needed room, but Joe didn’t. He captured so many of our hearts.
Finally, Muhammad Ali. He did so much for the sport of boxing, and it would not be to the point it is today, without him.
What is the greatest fight you have ever seen and why?
Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello I. At that time, I thought Alexis had huge power, which he did show in that fight. It was an all out war with two great fighters. (As many readers already know, this is my favorite fight as well).
What big fights were you approached with, but never materialized?
Larry Holmes and Kenny Norton. One other was Joe Frazier and I didn’t cry over that one, (Ron laughed when he said that) because Joe was a bad man.
Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?
I absolutely do and it’s way overdue! Every other sport has one, but boxing. There are so many pioneers who were involved in this sport and should have a pension fund. This is a great question, and I am glad you asked it. We need people such as yourself to keep bringing this out, so hopefully one day, it can become a reality.
How do you match the current heavyweights to your group?
I am going to give you my opinion from only a fighter’s perspective. You always hear, the fighters of today couldn’t compete with our group. If that’s the case, then Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Bonavena, Chulvalo and myself to name a few, wasted our time, if these guys are not better than us. Every group has to be better than the group before them, because they are learning from the one behind them. Now, I think the fighters of today, are bigger and stronger. However, do they fight for the same reasons that we fought for? That is where the breakdown comes in. They are better, but are they sacrificing more to gain, or to get less?
I don’t think you can say these guys could or couldn’t match up with us. That’s like saying, Joe Louis will knock Ali out. I don’t think so. Ali could use the ring against Louis, but if he got in Joe’s range, he had the opportunity to win. This it not taking anything away from Louis because without him, there would be no Ali.
Without Ali, there would have been none of us. Each fighter contributes something to the next generation of fighters to carry on and it’s what they do with that knowledge which is totally in their hands.
I have a copy of your fight against Muhammad Ali for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. On that tape, you’re being interviewed by the legendary Howard Cosell and holding your own. What are your memories of Cosell?
Howard Cosell was a tribute to the sport of boxing. He really helped promote boxing, and in the case of Muhammad Ali, he made him bigger than life. In his way, he meant well and elevated the sport. We all have faults and Howard was no different from you or I.
What made you return to boxing after 14 years of being gone?
I really wanted to see if I could do it. The desire for boxing has never faded away in my heart. Here is an old quote, “Old fighters never die, they just fade away.”
Now that you are retired from boxing, how do you want your many fans to remember you?
That I was a standup guy and every time I went to the post, I gave my best.
Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?
Respect yourself, so you can respect others.
Ron wanted to add the following to our interview:
I would really like to thank the people in charge of the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York for their warm hospitality to me. I have always wanted to be respected by my peers, and when they gave me a standing ovation at the Banquet of Champions put on by the HOF, it answered my question, if I was respected. For this, I will always be indebted to them at the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Interviewers closing comments:
As everyone knows, I will always share my joy of an interview when I feel it was special. Not only was this interview special, Ron gave me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received as a boxing writer when he said, “Brad, I appreciate this. You don’t know, that I bit my tongue for years after I retired the first time from boxing. You are the first person who has ever asked me these type of questions and as you can see, I have been waiting to answer them.” These are the things that make this journey so wonderful for me.
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: Amateur: 29 fights; 22+ (17 KO), 3=, 4-
Professional: 52 fights; 44+ (32 KO), 1=, 7-
– 1971 –
+ (Apr-23-1971, Denver) A.J. Staples ko 2
+ (May-22-1971, Boston) Art Miller ko 5
+ (Jun-22-1971, Stateline) Gary Bates ko 4
+ (Jul-16-1971, New York) Edmundo Stewart ko 5
+ (Jul-24-1971, Lake Geneud) Leroy Caldwell ko 9
+ (Aug-11-1971, Las Vegas) Frank Niblett ko 7
+ (Sep-11-1971, Las Vegas) Eddie Land ko 2
+ (Oct-10-1971, Denver) Manuel Ramos 10
+ (Nov-10-1971, Las Vegas) Joe Lewis ko 3
+ (Nov-26-1971, Denver) Jack O’Halloran ko 4
+ (Dec-18-1971, Denver) Billy Drover ko 2
– 1972 –
+ (Jan-22-1972, Denver) Chuck Leslie ko 3
+ (Mar-25-1972, Denver) George Johnson ko 3
+ (May-10-1972, Las Vegas) Mel Turnbow ko 7
+ (May-25-1972, Omaha) Mike Boswell kot 9
+ (Jul-11-1972, Denver) Vicente Rondon ko 2
+ (Sep-29-1972, Denver) Buster Mathis ko 2
+ (Oct-28-1972, Denver) Luis Faustino Pires kot 3
+ (Dec-9-1972, Denver) Larry Middleton ko 3
– 1973 –
– (Feb-9-1973, New York) Jerry Quarry 12
+ (Apr-14-1973, Missoula) Bob Stallings 10
+ (May-12-1973, Denver) Gregorio Peralta 10
+ (Jun-11-1973, Philadelphia) Wendell Newton 10
+ (Jul-3-1973, Oklahoma City) Lou Bailey 10
+ (Aug-15-1973, Denver) Jose Luis Garcia ko 3
+ (Oct-4-1973, Denver) Juergen Blin ko 2
+ (Oct-31-1973, Baltimore) Larry Middleton 10
= (Nov-17-1973, Francfort) Gregorio Peralta 10
– 1974 –
+ (Mar-19-1974, Denver) Oscar Bonavena 10
+ (May-21-1974) Larry Middleton 12
+ (Jul-16-1974, Denver) Jimmy Ellis 10
+ (Sep-17-1974, Seattle) Boone Kirkman kot 8
+ (Dec-13-1974, Nouvelle-Orleans) Al Jones ko 5
– 1975 –
– (Feb-11-1975, Honolulu) Jimmy Young 10
– (May-16-1975, Las Vegas) Muhammad Ali kot 11 (World, Heavyweight)
+ (Sep-8-1975, Denver) Earnie Shavers ko 6
– 1976 –
– (Jan-24-1976, Las Vegas) George Foreman ko 5 (United States, Heavyweight)
+ (Sep-12-1976, Utica) Kevin Isaac kot 7
– (Nov-6-1976, San Francisco) Jimmy Young 12
– 1977 –
+ (Mar-20-1977, Las Vegas) Joe Bugner 12
+ (Sep-14-1977, Las Vegas) Stan Ward 10
– 1978 –
+ (Jun-3-1978, Denver) Horace Robinson retiring 8
– 1979 –
+ (Apr-6-1979, San Diego) Fili Moala ko 8
+ (May-12-1979, Las Vegas) Scott Ledoux 10
– (Dec-12-1979, Phoenix) Lynn Ball kot 2
– 1980 –
+ (Jun-19-1980, Tacoma) Al Newman kot 10
+ (Aug-23-1980, Inglewood) George O’Mara ko 10
– (Oct-24-1980, Uniondale) Gerry Cooney ko 1
– 1981-1994: inactive –
– 1995 –
+ (Apr-7-1995, Erlanger) Bruce Johnson ko 4
+ (May-12-1995, Erlanger) Tim Pollard ko 2
+ (Jun-9-1995) Ed Strickland ko 2
+ (Aug-18-1995, Denver) Dave Slaughter kot 2
As always fight fans, keep reaching for the stars, and all your dreams can be fulfilled.
Interview conducted October 2001