George Foreman was a former Heavyweight Champion of the World, and in his reign, the first time around, he was one of the most feared and disliked men in the world. He had an aura of invincibility after destroying Joe Frazier and Ken Norton until Muhammad Ali destroyed the invincibility factor in Kinshasa Zaire in October 1974. Foreman retired a few years later. Foreman then would completely reinvent himself as the carefree jolly fat man who was also a Christian minister. He returned after ten years of retirement, and nobody really took him seriously at first. The competition he was beating was not very good initially, either. The fight that got him a title shot was a victory over Gerry Cooney’s comeback in a fight coined “The Two Geezers at Caesars”. Foreman knocked Cooney out in the second round.
Holyfield, on the other hand, was neither liked nor loved by the general public. Sure he was talented and fought with a lot of heart, but he wasn’t Mike Tyson, and his perception was hurt when he beat a fat James Buster Douglas to win the title towards the end of 1990.
Holyfield was a solid favorite for the fight because Foreman was still not seen as a credible threat by most fans, but this was a spectacle that if you didn’t live through it, then it would be hard to explain the size and ramifications of this battle. Foreman proved that night that he was no joke, and Holyfield, being outweighed by more than 50 pounds, proved that he was an absolutely fearless fighter in winning a tough decision. The 7th round of this fight was one of the greatest in boxing history.
The real story here is the PPV numbers. But, first, I will let Mark Taffert, the head honcho of TVKO, explain why this fight was so huge.
Mark Taffet, HBO’s longtime pay-per-view guru, tells it like this:
“Our very first fight at HBO pay-per-view, which was then TVKO, took place on April 19, 1991, when Evander Holyfield defended the heavyweight title against George Foreman,” Taffet said. “George was the cheeseburger-eating, stand-up-for-seniors George Foreman who took the country by storm. He became everyone’s favorite. George fought 12 rounds, never sitting down between rounds, and put up a great fight against Evander, but Evander won a decision.
“At that time, 16 and a half million homes in America were capable of receiving pay-per-view. We did 1.4 million buys that night at $35.95. We were shocked. We never expected to do that much business. In fact, when we bought the fight from the promoters, they never expected the fight to do that much business either. We had to laugh at how disappointed they were at the profits we earned. They expected us to lose money. But, in their minds, they felt that was OK because it was our very first [pay-per-view] fight. I remember them telling us that it’s OK to lose money when you launch a new company.
“Well, we earned a profit, and it’s all been history since then.”
It gets better.
“We did an 8-per cent buy rate that night, 1.4 million buys against 16 and a half million homes. Still, today, it’s the highest buy rate of any pay-per-view megafight.
Holyfield always gave the fans their money’s worth, and in his second career, Foreman had become a lovable fighter and personality.
What made this fight one of the greatest for a fan to watch as it was just a fun one. Both men were likeable; there was no trash talk, no press conferences with fighters threatening to eat each other’s kids. This fight was about two legends going after it for the biggest prize in sports. In the end, this fight had no loser, which made the fight so great; both men came out winners and so did the fans.
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