TSN Archives: George Foreman stuns Joe Frazier (Feb. 10, 1973, issue)
The following story, by regular columnist Dick Young, first appeared — under the headline, “Foreman Cleans Up on Piston Punches” — in the Feb. 10, 1973, issue of The Sporting News, the first after challenger George Foreman’s stunning second-round knockout of heavyweight champion Joe Frazier 50 years ago on Jan. 22, 1973.
KINGSTON, Jamaica — There are different strokes for different folks, certain horses for certain courses, and then there are fighting styles.
That is why George Foreman was able to bounce Joe Frazier off the floor six times in 4 minutes to win the heavyweight boxing crown.
That is why, I believe, Foreman would do it again and again, because Frazier is made for this big, strong kid, an advancing target, offering himself to be hit.
On the other hand, Frazier still could beat Muhammad Ali, I believe, any night of the week, because Ali does not hit hard enough to keep Frazier away. And to draw this triple contradiction to its ultimate phase, Ali could beat Foreman, because the new champion would not catch him, not now.
AND SO, Foreman will not fight Ali, not now. He says he wants to rest, relax and think.
TSN ARCHIVES: Foreman Hallelujah! (Feb. 10, 1973, issue)
He’s thinking, all right. Even before he knocked out Frazier in 1:35 of Round 2 January 22, he was thinking about defending his heavyweight title against Jimmy Ellis, Floyd Patterson, Joe Roman and men of such dimension. Those were some of the names he mentioned in a prefight interview, when I brought up the then-hypothetical defense of his crown.
What I was interested in, really, was the reassignment of Jack Kent Cooke’s famous phantom rematch, the Frazier-Ali return bout, which everyone talked about, everyone wondered about — Superbout II. The match had been delayed for almost two years because Frazier refused to fight in California for some reason or reasons that had not been made convincingly clear.
“IF YOU WIN the title,” I remember asking Foreman in the lobby of his hotel here, “would you be willing to fight Ali in California?” I was asking Foreman, in effect, if he would step into Frazier’s part of the contract for the California fight with Ali if he were to beat Joe out of the crown.
“I will fight anybody, anywhere,” he said, “even in their home town. I will fight Jimmy Ellis in Florida, Floyd Patterson in New York. There are lots of great heavyweights around.”
He named Ellis, Patterson, the Puerto Rican champ, Joe Roman. Unmentioned, but obviously included, were Jerry Quarry, Joe Bugner, Emie Terrell and such tigers.
IT WAS OBVIOUS what Foreman had in mind: low-risk fights with moderate purses, rather than one risky shot at the $3 million he might get with Muhammad Ali. The new champ will be content to pick up the easy $500,000 to $1 million at a time, fairly confident he will remain champ.
TSN ARCHIVES: Too Good to be True? (Feb. 10, 1973, issue)
And when will the easy pickings begin?
“When I need the bread,” Foreman said frankly, in the morning-after press conference.
That will not be too long. He is a champ with a cupboard that is bare. His $375,000 purse, the guarantee from the Frazier fight, has been chewed up by the legal hassle that threatened to block that fight. The big chunk, believed to be $250,000, was taken right off the top to buy out Marty Erlichman, who two years earlier had acquired lifetime ancillary rights to Foreman for a series of cash advances.
SUBTRACT $250,000 for Erlichman from the purse of $375,000 and you have $125,000 left. Then take out the one-third cut by Dick Sadler, manager, and the cuts of Sandy Saddler and Archie Moore, assistant managers; add the training expenses; pay Uncle Sam, and it’s easy to see Foreman will not be going on any extended cruises.
In fact, when Foreman signed to fight Frazier, back in November, there was a New York press conference. Somebody asked why he was taking the fight.
The intimation seemed to be that young George didn’t have much chance against old Joe at this stage and would be smarter to wait a year or two, when Frazier and Ali would be ready to quit and would let the title fall into his lap.
“The bill collectors are catching up with me,” explained Foreman, again being painfully honest.
BESIDES, Foreman did not share the widespread opinion he was not ready for Frazier. He was, after all, unbeaten, he pointed out, just like Frazier. What’s more, he’d had 37 pro fights and Frazier had only 29.
Sure. But Foreman had fought 37 guys named “Who?” Frazier, conqueror of Ali, had fought the top-notchers.
And so, as the fight approached, Frazier was the heavy choice, 4 and 5 to 1, with not much Foreman money showing. The only substantial bet I heard of before the fight was made by Sandy Saddler, who took 3-1, putting up $700 to $2,100.
“This kid is the most powerful puncher around today,” said Sandy, explaining his bet at the time. “Frazier has had it. He won’t be able to stand up to this kid’s punches. George will take him out.”
THE MORE I watched the workouts, the more I saw what Saddler meant. Not that Foreman was particularly impressive in his sparring sessions; he wasn’t. In the ring, he moved mechanically, by rote, as though he had been wound up by some large invisible key in his back.
But on the big bag, Foreman was impressive, even frightening. Pumping his arms like locomotive pistons on some old train pulling out of the station, Foreman made deep dents in the bag. The rhythm was steady, the percussion resounding: thud … thud … thud … thud!
And those arms. They seemed to grow as you looked at them. I had never seen such arms. They were larger than the legs of some girls I had known.
With each day, I took Foreman more seriously, until I became convinced he had one helluva chance to pull the upset. Speaking of his awkwardness in sparring, I wrote for my paper, the New York Daily News:
“THE THING to remember is that George Foreman is a different fighter when he steps into the ring for real. He has fought 37 times and has won 37 times. I give him an excellent chance to make it 38. … At 4-1, a man who can hit, against a man who can be hit, is a good bet.”
And on the afternoon of the fight, I wrote, “I give Foreman a substantial chance to pull the upset because he is strong and awkward. Frazier twice had trouble with Oscar Bonavena, the prototype of strong-and-awkward.”
To say that I could see Foreman annihilating Frazier, that I could imagine him knocking down the champ three times in Round 1 and three more times in Round 2 is preposterous. Who could foresee such one-sided demolition?
And that’s what it was, pure mayhem. I can recall Frazier landing only one decent punch in the round and a half of batting practice. It was a left hook, the famous Frazier hook, the punch that had floored Ali and had made Joe the undisputed champ of the world.
FOREMAN TOOK IT and didn’t blink. It came halfway through Round 1. The other hooks were picked off by Foreman’s high-held right. The next day, Foreman could not even remember having been hit.
“All I remember,” he said, “is the left hand flying past my head and saying to myself, ‘Is that the famous Frazier hook?”
He said it like a man singing a chorus of “Is that all there is?”
From the opening bell, Foreman was in charge and confident. He raced out of his corner and let fly a savage right roundhouse at the body.
“That was just to show him who’s boss,” Foreman was to say later. There followed some brisk jousting and then, wham, Frazier was down on the seat of his green and gold pants. The punch that did it was an underhand right, the piston-punch Foreman had been using to dent the bag in the gym. It had caught Frazier above the left eye, an unusual place to score a knockdown. That set the pattern.
FRAZIER JUMPED up at the count of two. That also set the pattern. Not once did Frazier stay down to take a head-clearing rest. He was up and down like a rubber ball, up at the count of two or three in the early knockdowns, taking the rest of the mandatory eight-count while standing. Each time he got up, he was woozier, the look in his eye growing glassier and more incredulous.
“I was trying to bully him,” said Frazier, later, when asked why he had gotten up so quickly. “I wanted to show him he wasn’t hurting me.” It was misplaced bravado. It was a mistake, Frazier admitted it later. He should have stayed down longer and he should have stayed away after arising.
But Frazier can fight only one way, aggressively. It was his way, his way of a champion. Knockdown three came just before the bell, and he was standing as referee Arthur Mercante said, “Five” when it clanged. Stunned, bewildered, Frazier slid onto his stool nearby.
HIS HANDLERS worked on him feverishly. “Stay away. Stay away,” implored Yank Durham as the buzzer sounded for Round 2. Frazier nodded — then forgot it. He charged out of his corner, taking the fight to Foreman, and was tagged.
Foreman, needing punching room for those piston shots, leaned his big mitts on the crouching shoulders of Frazier and pushed. Again and again he did that, a tactic he had practiced patiently in the gym. Technically, it is a minor no-no. The referee stepped between the fighters and warned Foreman about it early in Round 2.
Saddler, running along the apron of the ring, screamed at the ref about harassment of his fighter. Foreman, angered, charged at Frazier with a stinging right.
FRAZIER, BACKED against the ropes, went down again … bounced up again … took a torrent of blows and, trying to escape the ropes, ran sideways, away from Foreman, only to catch a fierce right as he fled.
While Frazier wobbled to his feet for the fifth time, Foreman turned toward Joe’s corner, imploring Yank Durham to stop the fight.
“He has made a lot of money for his manager and for his family,” Foreman was to say later when asked about the gesture. “What did they want me to do, kill him?”
Receiving no response from Frazier’s corner, Foreman charged across the ring for what was to be the last time. Frazier, covering up futilely against the rain of leather, was half-sitting on the ropes. A left to the head … another … then the crossing right, a head-snapping thing, sent Frazier flying through the air, sideways.
HE LANDED on his right knee, then pitched forward on all fours. While the ref led Foreman to a neutral corner, Frazier again struggled to his feet, woozy. Referee Mercante, picking up the count and rubbing Joe’s gloves at the same time, looked into the eyes and saw deep glaze. Waving his arms overhead, the ref signaled the end at 1:35 of the second round.
And so, barely four years after George Foreman, high school dropout, Job Corps trainee, had waved the small American flag overhead in Mexico City, signaling his winning of the Olympic Gold, he was heavyweight champion of the world.
The next day, Frazier spoke of a rematch. So did Yank Durham. The way they spoke made newsmen wonder if there had been a return bout agreement. Durham claimed not, but was counting on moral gratitude, he indicated.
FROM THE Foreman camp came bad news for Frazier. A man with a smallish, pointed red beard, identifying himself as Harry Barnett, a Washington, D.C., attorney, revealed the existence of a side-agreement calling for a rematch in Houston’s Astrodome. However, said Barnett, he questioned the validity of such a piece of paper, inasmuch as it had been signed by Foreman’s manager under duress. Signing it, said Barnett, was the only way Sadler could get the shot at the title for his man.
Barnett, who is Sadler’s lawyer, was serving notice that the Foreman people had no intention of rushing into a rematch. They have other plans, as previously described — nice, easy, money-making plans.
Postscript: Foreman successfully defended his heavyweight title twice — first beating Joe Roman in Tokyo and then Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela — before losing to Muhammad Ali on Oct. 30, 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire — the famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman and Frazier finally would fight again in June 1976, with Foreman (41-1 as a pro) winning by TKO in the fifth round.