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One of the more intriguing stories from local boxing is that of Ron Lyle, born on February 12th, 1941. He was one of William and Nellie Lyle’s nineteen children and, from an early age, he found himself in trouble. As a teen, he was charged with second degree murder in the gang related death of Douglas Byrd, which garnered him a 15 to 25 year stretch at the Colorado State Penitentiary. During this time, Lyle was shanked by another inmate and bled to death on the operating table. It took thirty-five pints of blood to sustain his life…even after he was pronounced dead. After he convalesced, he began to excel at sports, especially boxing.
Lyle was released after serving seven years of his sentence and immediately began a very short amateur career that only lasted fourteen months. Starting his professional career rather late (he was thirty when he fought his first pro match), against A.J Staples, who he knocked out in the second round. Lyle went on to become the fifth rated heavyweight contender after posting an impressive 19-0-2 record with 17 knockouts. He scored notable knockouts against light heavyweight champion Vicente Rondon and the imposing Buster Mathis (who retired from boxing after receiving his KO in the third round).
In May of 1975, Lyle was faced with the reigning heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. During the match, both fighters displayed an unerring prowess for strategy, cadging their points and restraining the urge to go in for a quick and decisive end. During the eleventh round, Ali’s eye was swollen and purple and he was behind in points. Suddenly, he hit Lyle with a crushing right, then closed in on Lyle with a hail of punches. The referee stepped in, ending the match after he observed that Lyle had quit defending himself. This decision was not a universally held one as Lyle showed up in interviews after the bout with nary an mark on his face.
In one of the most brutal and sensationalized boxing matches, Lyle fought George Foreman in 1976. Foreman was coming off of his defeat during the infamous Rumble In the Jungle match with Ali, so at least the two contenders had some common ground. Lyle won the first run with an aggressive attack on Foreman with one punch almost knocking Foreman out of his shorts…literally. Foreman came back in the second round to strike Lyle with a blow that almost knocked him out. The crowd was stunned that Lyle made a comeback in the fourth round, knocking Foreman to the mat twice, making Lyle the only person to knock Foreman to the ground during a professional match…twofold. Foreman eventually regrouped and knocked Lyle out in the fifth round.
After this match, Lyle’s career went on a downward spiral as he ended up fighting virtual unknowns and then succumbing to being knocked out by several semi-amateur boxers. He eventually became a security guard in Las Vegas and was one again accused of murdering former prison mate of his, the charges of which he was later acquitted of. Lyle went on to run a boxing gym in Denver, Colorado and was the trainer for lightweight contender Victor Ortiz. On November 26th, 2011, Ron Lyle died at the age of 70, surrendering to complications from a sudden stomach ailment.
The history of boxing is uniquely thrilling as it is a vicarious window into noble violence, blurring the lines between what is acceptable in a “civilized” society and an outright descent into barbarianism. Ask anyone over the age of fifty and you will probably be regaled with endless stories about local Golden Glove matches and names etched into the memories of those who either attended the sports matches or actually participated in the brutalizing spectator sport, enduring countless hours of sparring, exercising and personal preparation. For the boxer, it is a contest of wills, defending with speed, dexterity and strength all the while plotting strategies to overwhelm and overtake your opponent. Boxing is a singularly personal experience, a test of body, mind and spirit and one that lends itself to being one of the few sports where the contestants are, for all intents and purposes, exposed with no protection with which to screen themselves except for their training, experience and belief in themselves.