“Down goes Frazier!” Howard Cosell shouted, stunned surprise in his famous drawling sportscaster voice, even though he had picked the underdog Foreman to defeat the Champ. He said it a second, “Down goes Frazier!” and a third time “Down goes Frazier!” In those three straightforward words, Cosell summed up the story of the January 22, 1973 title fight in Kingston. The battle that drew 36,000 fans to the National Stadium and was billed to be a contest between two formidable opponents, with 3-1 odds in Frazier’s favour, became a one man fight that ended by knockout at 1:35 in the second round. Big George Foreman, 24 years old, 6 ft. 3 inch, 217-lb. slugger from Marshall, Texas, was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
By Dr. Rebecca Tortello
Frazier vs. Foreman
BIG GEORGE FOREMAN
Foreman was born on January 10, 1949. He started out as an amateur boxer who learned his sport in the job corps. In 1968 he earned an Olympic gold medal at the controversial games where an image of him waving an American flag around the ring stood in stark contrast to his team-mates, track stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos, balled fists. Big George, as he would come to be known turned pro in 1969 and less than four years later had a shot at the title after winning over 35 straight victories. Only three of his opponents had been able to even go 15 rounds with him. Thirty-one of those victories came by knockout, 29 of them before the 6th round. Foreman was ready to meet Frazier and capture his place in boxing history.
SMOKIN’ JOE FRAZIER
Joe Frazier, born on January 12, 1944, the son of a South Carolina sharecropper, became heavyweight champion in February 1970 (Muhammed Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing induction into the US army in 1967 and many considered him the true champion), was known for his “smokin'” left hook and his philosophy of relentlessness. He believed you had to take punishment to give it. The 5 foot 11-inch, 214lb fighter confirmed his greatness by defeating Ali by unanimous decision in the 15th round at New York’s Madison Square Garden in March 1971 with a left hook to the jaw that dropped him for a four-count. Prior to meeting Foreman in Kingston, Frazier whose career choice came after spending some time in a gym and discovering an aptitude for the sport, was known for having trained as a butcher’s apprentice in Philadelphia (said to have inspired Rocky’s side of beef punching bag training scenes). A gold medal winner himself at the 1964 Olympics, Frazier turned pro in 1965. He successfully defended his heavyweight title twice before losing to Foreman in 1973.
Foreman and Frazier were two very different fighters. Foreman fought flat out, all guns full steam ahead, while Frazier, kept his left hook ready, waited and took blows, hoping to wear down his opponents. On the night of January 22, 1973, both men fought true to form. Foreman came out like a giant hurricane, swinging strongly, while Frazier held back, bobbing and weaving confidently. Almost immediately Foreman landed a solid punch to Frazier’s gut and then, two light lefts and a right uppercut the first of many that would take the champ down. He was up in two but forced to wait for the mandatory eight count. He landed a solid left hook the only real blow Foreman took that night. In response, Foreman backed Smokin’ Joe into the ropes and landed a hard left and right to the head. Five more rights and a set-up left followed and down went Frazier again. Again he took the eight count only to get up and run straight into a long, hard right to his head that sent him back to the canvas where he remained two counts after the bell had rung ending Round One.
Round Two. Frazier emerged on the attack and was met with a left and a right to the jaw that dropped him again. After the mandatory eight count, he stood, dazed, flailing his punches and stumbling onto a right that lifted him off the floor and send him packing to the mat with a leg bent at an inopportune angle. Foreman called out to him, “Stay down, Joe. You’ve had it.” He looked over to Frazier’s corner, expecting to see the towel tossed, but Frazier, with the will of a champion, pulled himself up once more. Just as Foreman was forced to move in for the kill, the referee, Arthur Mercante, seeing Frazier’s sagging figure, blood dripping from his mouth, called it at 1:35. The difference in height and reach between the two men was important as Foreman used his longer reach to great advantage he simply did not give Smokin’ Joe time to gather steam. Foreman knocked Frazier down a total of six times, three in each round, in a fight that ranks amongst one of the top feats in boxing history.
Gate proceeds were $370,000 with another 3 million earned from television coverage. Foreman was guaranteed 20% of the gate and Frazier 42%. When asked about a rematch, Foreman, displaying poise and a sense of celebrity for which he would later become well known, simply stated “I don’t know how long I’ll be the champion we only borrow the title you know….” Having been tremendously welcomed by the Jamaican people (who were not happy with Frazier, the man who had defeated Ali) Big George said he’d be happy to defend his title in Jamaica a statement that must have set the heart of Jamaican businessman and fight promoter extraordinaire Lucien Chen, owner of Track Price Plus, who had guaranteed the promotion of this fight, racing. Chen had hoped to make Kingston into a fight centre. Sadly, this was never realised due to the high cost of financing such events, made even more difficult today by the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar and the skyrocketing purses of title fights. (Lennox Lewis was made something close to US$20 million for his most recent fight in Atlanta).
Today, however, Chen is extremely proud of his efforts at bringing the Frazier-Foreman fight to Jamaica. No stranger to title fight promotion, Chen had promoted a few other title fights prior to the 1973 one. In fact, he was the first to organise the staging of a title fight in the West Indies with the Bunny Grant vs. Percy Hales and Hayles vs. Carlos Fernandez fights, both held in the 1960s. Chen got involved in the Frazier-Foreman project at the urging of then Prime Minister Michael Manley and his brother, Douglas. He negotiated but at a cost. Chen still remembers the tag of US$300,000 as too steep. US$300,000 was higher than had ever been paid for the matchmaking of the fight alone). The enigmatic Chen also recalls with a smile how his odds and those of Vegas differed. Jamaicans seemed to favour the underdog Foreman, whose punches in training alone, Chen said, “sounded like tornadoes” and whose build was larger and heavier than the Champ Frazier. So with Vegas odds at 8-1, Chen gave odds at 4-1, much to the consternation of famed odds-maker Jimmy the Greek. In the end, however, the promoters lost a good deal of money and the fight itself was memorable for being a whirlwind many who arrived a few minutes late wound up missing the less than two minute title fight.
On October 30, 1974, after two successful title defences against Joe Roman and Ken Norton, Foreman met Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire for the historic, “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali shocked the world by taking all that Foreman had to give and knocking Foreman out in the last thirty seconds of the eighth round to recapture the Heavyweight title. It was Foreman’s first career knockout and the audience went wild, Ali’s charisma having never been dimmed. In fact, many had shouted “Ali, boma ye!” “Ali, kill him!” throughout the fight. Both fighters received 5 million each. After almost 2 years as heavyweight champion, Foreman sat out the next year. In 1976 he returned and scored victories over Ron Lyle and Frazier before being outboxed by Jimmy Young in 1977. After that defeat, he had a religious experience, which caused him to walk away from the sport and millions of dollars altogether. He stayed away for nine years until he staged an improbable comeback and lodged 24 straight wins before losing by decision to Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight title in 1991. In 1994, he got another shot at his old title and knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round, becoming heavyweight champion once again at 45 years old. Big George relinquished his crown in 1996 and fought three more times, retiring for good after a controversial loss to Shannon Briggs in 1997. His record 76-5, 68 by knockout. Foreman now divides his time between his family, commentating for HBO and selling the George Foreman grill.
As for Frazier, he continued his lifelong battle with his nemesis Ali th two began to trade insults from before their first famous fight in 1971. Ali, never one to shy away from controversy, often called Frazier a gorilla and an Uncle Tom. They fought two more times, in January 1974 at Madison Square Garden, which Ali won by decision, and in October 1975 in the Philippines. This battle, billed as the “Thrilla in Manila,” has been called the greatest boxing bout in history. It lasted 14 rounds and at the end both fighters were battered beyond recognition. Ali later said it was the closest he had ever come to dying. Frazier’s trainer refused to let him come out to fight the 15th round so Ali won once more. Frazier retired after his next fight when he was knocked out by Foreman in the 5th round in 1976. Five years later, he came out of retirement and drew with former convict, Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings, to end his career with a 32-4-1 record. He now lives in Philadelphia, suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes and he and Ali (who is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease) continue to trade insults and apologies.
The Undercards for the Frazier-Foreman bout were as follows:
Lightweight: Jamaican Percy Hayles kayoed Canada’s Al Ford in 12.
Welterweight: Jamaica’s Bunny Grant stopping Philadephia’s Mario Saurennann in 8.
Middleweight: Philadelphia’s Willie Monroe stopping Trinidad’s Roy Lee in 1
Heavyweight: Philadelphia’s Billy Moleman Williams beat Jamaica’s Carl Baker in 6.
Evans, A. “Frazier v Foreman: Man against Monster” http://www.secondsout.com/legends/legends_41181.asp, Earlman, J (2000). “They Never Come Back” – http://www.float-like-a-butterfly. de/comebe.htm. Loubet, N. (April, 1973). “Foreman’s Kayo of Frazier One of Top Feats in Boxing History,” in The Ring, pp. 6-9, 32. Sielski, M. “Frazier Battled Ali in Timeless Trilogy” http://espn. go.com/classic/biography/s/Frazier_Joe.html, http://www.hickoksports.com/biograph/frazierjoe.shtml, http://www.hickoksports. com/biograph/foremangeo.shtml, http://www.ibhof.com/frazier.htm.
Coming January 27: