November 26, 2011 / 11:36 PM / 7 years ago

Former heavyweight title contender Ron Lyle dies

DENVER (Reuters) - Former prizefighter Ron Lyle, a convict-turned-contender who once fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title, died on Saturday at age 70 in Denver.

Lyle, admitted to Porter Adventist Hospital on Friday with a stomach ailment, died from septic shock after undergoing surgery, said Ron McKinney of the Salvation Army, who worked with the former heavyweight at a youth boxing program.

“I just spoke to him yesterday, so this was a total surprise to all of us,” McKinney told Reuters. “He was a giant, but a gentle giant...I’ve lost a good friend.”

A native of Dayton, Ohio, who grew up in Denver in a family of 19 children, Lyle was convicted as a teenager of second-degree murder and went to prison, learning to box while he was incarcerated.

A chiseled, hard-punching fighter, Lyle became a fearsome amateur boxer while still an inmate.

He was paroled in 1969 and set out on a professional boxing career, ultimately earning a title shot against Ali in May 1975.

Lyle was ahead on points in the championship bout until Ali unleashed a flurry of unanswered combinations to a cornered Lyle in the 11th round.

The referee stopped the fight, awarding Ali a technical knockout victory. Lyle always contended that the fight was halted prematurely.

His other memorable fight was a January 1976 slugfest with another hard-hitting heavyweight, George Foreman. The two stood toe-to-toe, knocking each other down multiple times before Foreman ultimately won in a knockout.

Lyle was last seen publicly earlier this month when he commented on the death of former champion Joe Frazier.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Colleen Jenkins

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