by Michael Collazo
Most boxers live the life cycle of cars. Like cars, boxers are hip, sleek and seemingly unstoppable at first. Never mind both notoriously depreciate – both basically start losing value as soon as they roll off the lot – but in their primes can be the awe of their peers. Both can pick up the hot chicks.
Boxers fleetingly make the big bucks; cars show off those big bucks.
Thirty five years ago, Philly’s Jimmy Young was in his prime. By 1977, Young was good enough to be a contender but seemingly never could beat an elite heavyweight. His boxing style didn’t help his perpetual underdog status. Young’s best skill was his defense and counterpunching – which doesn’t always sell tickets. Ask B-Hop about that. So he was vulnerable to close-but-no-cigar decisions.
In 1976, Young fought the great -- but at fight time, the listless -- Muhammad Ali for the WBC and WBA World Heavyweight titles. Expecting an easy fight in preparation for a title defense against Ed Norton, Ali looked overweight and lacked snap in his punches. Meanwhile, Young looked sharp and took advantage. Despite the unanimous decision for Ali, Young certainly made it close – and some feel could have won a close decision.
So after the tough loss to Ali, Young had to climb his way back up to another title shot. In his way was George Foreman. The Don King Production took place at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico: March 17, 1977. Young, seemingly confident off his Ali performance, came in at tip-top shape. The opening six rounds were feel-out rounds – Young was measuring George’s power; Foreman was looking to explore where to score a big blow and knock Young out.
By Round 7, the fight heated up - but at first not for Young’s benefit. ABC’s Howard Cosell reported during the fight that Young had predicted a win if he could stay unscathed after Round 5. Well early in Round 7, it didn’t look like Young’s prediction would work out. Foreman threw a big right cross then an uppercut, staggering Young. This is when George overpowers the light-punching Young right?
Young held his way out of trouble then late in the round countered twice to stun Foreman. By now several thousand Puerto Ricans began chanting “JIM-mee Jung! JIM-mee Jung!” Foreman was the brute who lost to Ali in Zaire; Philly’s Jimmy Young was the scrappy underdog potentially winning the fight. The locals were on Jimmy’s side.
Using Round 7 as a turning point, Young won a unanimous decision, controlling the fight until the final bell – even falling Foreman in Round 12, in a fight that was named Ring Magazine's 1977 Fight of the Year. Foreman would avoid comment after the fight and not get in the ring for another 10 years. Foreman would say later basically he found God after this devastating loss. A Michael Moorer title win and millions of George Foreman Grills later…well, the rest is history. You can watch the Foreman-Young tilt here.
Sadly, Young’s Second Act didn’t go as well. He would lose a title eliminator bout against Norton the following November. Young meddled around with bouts until 1988. Young fought financial and drug problems until his death in 2005.
Postscript: while living on Broad St. and 71st Ave. in the late 80s, we always saw this powder blue late 70s Cadillac broken down and parked on the corner. So one day my Dad and I noticed a bushy-haired guy turning a wire hangar down the window to get inside. Dad recognized that man.
It was Jimmy Young.
Indeed, boxers rarely drive off into the sunset.
If you like this, you'll also like The Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone Everett.North Philly native, former Syracuse University classmate of Donovan McNabb, and childhood friend of Jimmy Young's son James, Michael Collazo is Group Sales Manager for Prudential Center in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @MCollazo215.