Sheriff Foster: The King with the Killer Punch

By Mike Casey on November 23, 2015
Sheriff Foster: The King with the Killer Punch
A tall and intimidating figure, Bob Foster was a smart boxer and a terrific puncher.

Life has finally shot the sheriff, but I don’t doubt that he will rest in peace and be fondly remembered…

He was the deputy sheriff of the Albuquerque Police Department in New Mexico but the undisputed sheriff of the world during his explosive reign as light heavyweight champion between 1968 and 1974. Bob Foster, who passed away on November 21 at the age of 77, was one of the greatest of all the 175-pound champions, making a record 14 successful defenses of his crown in an era when such statistics were far more meaningful and carried far greater substance.

A tall and intimidating figure, Foster was a smart boxer and a terrific puncher. Like his great predecessor, Bob Fitzsimmons, Foster’s extruded physique and tremendous power made him a freak and almost a misfit of his own weight division. Many of his challengers couldn’t even get past his reach and were bombed into submission by Bob’s awesome left hook and slashing right crosses.

The left hook with which Foster deprived Dick Tiger of the championship in the fourth round in 1968 was one of the greatest I have ever seen. It was a devastating, lightning strike out of nowhere that sat Dick down like an obedient dog and toppled him back for the full count. Watch that punch on the film and it is almost too fast to follow. Never before had the great Tiger been knocked out for the count in his illustrious career and only once before had he been decked, briefly so by Emile Griffith.

An equally thunderous and perfectly timed left hook sent Mike Quarry into dreamland, also in the fourth round, at Las Vegas in 1972. So distressed was older brother Jerry Quarry at seeing the effect of that blow that he was already a beaten man when he faced Muhammad Ali a short time later in the evening’s main event.

Three months after the chilling knockout of Mike Quarry, Foster traveled to London to defend his title against southpaw Chris Finnegan at the Empire Pool, Wembley. I saw that great fight and will never forget it. The spirited Finnegan held no fear of big Bob and actually seemed to be taking control of the fight around the midway point. But the deadly Foster could lower the boom at any time and knocked out Finnegan with one sudden left hook in the fourteenth round.

Earlier in his reign, in January 1969, Bob blitzed New Jersey slugger Frank DePaula in one round at Madison Square Garden. The colorful DePaula, who would be shot to death a year later, had secured his chance in the 1968 fight of the year against former champion, Dick Tiger. Dick won a unanimous decision in a memorable brawl that saw DePaula score two second round knockdowns before being decked himself twice in the third.

The rangy Foster had no intention of getting himself into that kind of slugfest, but suddenly he found himself on the floor in the opening round from a DePaula left that looked more like a shove. Foster’s calmness was impressive as Frank’s fans cheered wildly. Bob took the mandatory eight-count and then set about coolly chopping DePaula down. A hard right followed by a vicious left hook produced a delayed knockdown where Frank seemed to freeze on his feet before dropping to the canvas. He gamely arose but was soon knocked over again by a whistling right.

This time DePaula wobbled badly when he made it to his feet and Foster wasted no more time. A left jab and then a short, cracking right to the jaw sent Frank down for a third time and prompted referee Johnny LoBianco to stop the fight at the 2:17 mark.

After sampling Foster’s power, DePaula said: “I wasn’t hurt. My feet went from under me. I don’t like that three-knockdown rule. I took better punches than that from Tiger and didn’t go down.”

A man often says things like that after getting knocked around by a puncher like Bob Foster.

Like ducks in a shooting gallery, Foster’s line of challengers kept getting shot down. Roger Rouse, Mark Tessman, Hal (TNT) Carroll, Tommy Hicks, Brian Kelly and Vicente Rondon were all ruthlessly dispatched inside schedule. Ohio’s Ray Anderson survived the full 15 rounds with Bob but only after doing a good impression of a roadrunner.

Late in Bob’s reign, hardy South African Pierre Fourie twice took Foster the 15 rounds, but the only real blemish on Foster’s great reign came in his final defense when he was awarded a hotly disputed draw with Argentina’s tough Jorge Ahumada in Foster’s hometown of Albuquerque. But Bob was pretty much at the end of the trail by then and should have adhered to his decision to retire.

He came back to win five fights in a row, but lost his last two to Mustafa Wasajja and Bob Hazelton.

Transition

Unlike Bob Fitzsimmons, Foster could never make a successful transition to the heavyweights. When he was young and inexperienced, he was bested by Doug Jones, ErnieTerrell and Zora Folley.

When Bob reached his prime, his only realistic targets at the higher weight were two titans in Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Both men swept Foster aside, but that was no disgrace. Michael Spinks won the heavyweight championship from the aging and fading Larry Holmes and even then disputably so. Foster, by contrast, was crushed in two rounds by a Frazier at the peak of his powers in 1970 and overwhelmed by a still very formidable Ali in 1972. But Bob never gave up against Muhammad, trying again and again to blow him down with those monster shots that shattered the light heavyweights of the day.

Even as a raw youngster, Bob Foster’s talent and tenacity were clearly apparent. Young fighters learned the hard way in his era. He was mixing with the best virtually right from the start of his career and never got disheartened by the clobberings he took from bigger and wiser opponents. Bob showed immense courage in only his tenth fight against the seasoned Doug Jones. Down and almost out in the first round, Foster bravely rallied in the following rounds and brought the crowd to its feet as he cut loose with hard punches to have Jones in trouble. Having had only three days to train for the fight, Bob eventually succumbed to Doug’s pressure in the eighth round, but the skinny youngster had marked his territory as one to watch for the future.

Bob never could stop picking on the heavyweights, but gradually he found his natural domain and began to shoot for the light heavyweight championship. It was a sensible decision. Only one man ever got the better of him at that weight and that was the great Peruvian, Mauro Mina, who unanimously outpointed the younger Foster in Lima in 1963. What a shame that Mina had to retire in 1965 because of eye troubles. A championship match between Bob and Mauro would have been a contest to savor.

Foster made a big statement of intent in December 1964 when he stopped the eternally tough Henry Hank in nine rounds at Norfolk, Virginia. Bob gave all the credit for that victory to one of the great cuties of the game, middleweight Holly Mims. “With Holly telling me what to do, I knew I’d take Hank out,” Foster said. “I’ve been working out with Holly and he kept coming in at me the same way Hank does. Holly said if I could get to him with a left, I could get to Hank. I hit Holly with the left, I hit Hank too.”

Mims was pleased to have contributed and said: “Bobby did it perfectly. Hank and I split a couple of decisions in 1959 and I had a good idea of how to lick him. I told Bobby how Henry likes to bore in with his left shoulder, hands down low, and how that makes him open on his right side for a left hook. That’s all Bobby needed, a little know-how.”

Foster beat Hank again in 1965, but it was in 1967 that Bob began a sustained and serious run to the light heavyweight championship. A second round knockout of Andres Selpa, who had compiled an astonishing 135-47-29 record, was followed by a crushing third round triumph over long-time contender Eddie Cotton.

Big Bob was out to bag himself a Tiger and did so on May 24, 1968, with that spectacular one-punch finish at Madison Square Garden.

Absolute

Bob’s belief in himself was always absolute and he wasn’t shy about appearing arrogant and big-headed. Asked if he would have beaten Michael Spinks, Foster had no doubts. “There was too much amateur in him,” was his explanation.

Foster could often be scathing in his choice of words when provoked. After bombing out Vicente Rondon in two rounds, the champion vented his spleen on both Rondon and the WBA.

It was undoubtedly the sweetest victory of Bob’s career. The WBA had stripped him of his championship in late 1970, shortly after his knockout loss to Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title. Rondon knocked out Jimmy Dupree in six rounds for the WBA belt in February 1971 and then saw off the challenges of Piero Del Papa, Eddie Jones, Gomeo Brennan and Doyle Baird before a unification showdown with Foster at the Convention Center in Miami Beach in April 1972.

‘Showdown,’ if we’re being candid, was a poor choice of word. Rondon froze completely and was smashed to the canvas twice before being stopped in the second round. Was Bob pleased to end it quickly? Not on your life. “Two rounds wasn’t enough,” he barked. “I wanted to punish Rondon for 15 rounds to beat the dumbest, scaredest boxer I’ve ever seen until his eyes were swollen shut.  Rondon pressed me and any light heavy who presses Bob Foster should get an immediate mental examination.”

Rondon weighed in for the short-lived affair two pounds over the limit at 177, but the Miami Beach Commission decided to call it 175 after Rondon’s manager Felix Zabala claimed that the scales were misbehaving. It transpired that Rondon had needed time in a steam bath just to get to 177 after originally weighing 183.

These shenanigans didn’t put Foster in a charitable mood. “The WBA let a heavyweight fight for the light heavy title,” Bob said. “Now ain’t that sportsmanlike?”

It wasn’t a good thing to upset Robert Lloyd Foster. He could hit you very, very hard.

Life has finally shot the sheriff, but I don’t doubt that he will rest in peace and be fondly remembered.

Mike Casey is a Boxing.com writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Bob Foster KO's



Tiger vs Foster



Bob Foster v.s Ernie Terrell Boxing



Bob Foster vs Frank DePaula



Bob Foster v.s Andy Kendall



Joe Frazier vs Bob Foster



Bob Foster KO2 Vicente Rondon



Bob Foster -vs- Mike Quarry 6/27/72 part 1



Bob Foster -vs- Mike Quarry 6/27/72 part 2



Chris Finnegan vs Bob Foster



Muhammad Ali - Bob Foster. 1972 11 21



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  1. Jethro's Flute 03:58pm, 11/27/2015

    “Jethro….been reading your posts….and you know your stuff…..
    Reason I’d put Foster in the same sentence as Fitzimmons and Tunney…is because he was that good.

    Probably the least appreciated ...really fkn good fighter…of his time”

    Bikermike, your post is bollocks. Foster was superb, Tunney was superb though how superb is hard to really tell as the footage available is not great, for obvious reasons.

    Fitzsimmons is not the bar because the footage available is only slightly more than zero. Who says Foster, Spinks, Moore, Charles et all wouldn’t have knocked him out in the first round?

    There was no light-heavyweight division at the time when Fitzsimmons won the heavyweight championship from the first boxer to hold the title under the Marquis of Queensberry rules.

    To say for definite that he was comparable to the other two is myth-making bollocks.

  2. bikermike 03:54pm, 11/27/2015

    Foster had mastered the art of turning his body…to deliver herculean power at the end of his short punches.

    His shoulder rolls and ‘feints’ allowed him to move in where his ‘tentative opponent walked into his left….or right…
    Foster was a gift to Boxing in his time…but lt heavy didn’t pay much

    That Michael Spinks made so much ...as a Lt Heavy ...must have burned Foster…’

  3. bikermike 03:47pm, 11/27/2015

    Michael Spinks is in the top five Lt Heavyweights of all time…..and the first Lt Heavyweight Champion to win the HeavyWeight Championship .by fighting the Heavy WEIGHT CHAMPION ....LARRY HOLMES…...First one kinda smelled like three day old relatives visiting/..fish

    Second one…..as if there should have been one…........went to Spinks…

    ‘’‘all I got to say

  4. bikermike 03:41pm, 11/27/2015

    I’m not say’n it was intentional….but Thomas…‘HIT MAN ” Hearns….had a remarkably similar approach to his trade…!!

  5. bikermike 03:38pm, 11/27/2015

    see Fitsziimmons is the bar…had the Middleweight TITLE…challenge HW Champion Jim Corbette….and went to win the Lt Heavyweight Title after that…..Fought ‘em all ...tuff fkr..!!

  6. bikermike 03:22pm, 11/27/2015

    Jethro….been reading your posts….and you know your stuff…..
    Reason I’d put Foster in the same sentence as Fitzimmons and Tunney…is because he was that good.

    Probably the least appreciated ...really fkn good fighter…of his time

  7. bikermike 02:53pm, 11/27/2015

    My fear ...is that BOB FOSTER,,,,will remembered for his historical challenge of a Light Hvy challenge to two of the best HVY WT Champions of all time…ALI…and Frazier,
    Spinks faced Holmes…twice….and was not awarded the decision,......ok…FIRST ONE WAS FOGGY…..SECOND WAS SPINKS !!....Holmes shudn’t have lost on points…..but Spinks kinda took it….

    Spinks vs Tyson ...and Holmes vs Tyson….Folks don’t see these kind of ‘’‘’‘’‘rated fighters….vs rated fighters….or championship matches

  8. bikermike 02:40pm, 11/27/2015

    This thing between FOSTER /SPINKS

    Foster ..beat the shit out of any and all who wanted to fight middleweight…super middleweight..and lt heavyweight….weightts…..and do well…..but the money was in HEAVY WEIGHTS…...AND WELTER WEIGHTS..

    FOSTER HAD TO SMASH HIMSELF INTO THE TELEVISION VIEWERSHIP; OF HIS TIME…MAngement was brave…

  9. bikermike 02:23pm, 11/27/2015

    Ali remarked….when questioned by interviewer….HOWARD COSSELL ....about the obvious mark on his usually clean and pretty face…....“I’m human”......a left handed back door compliment to Foster…

  10. bikermike 02:19pm, 11/27/2015

    Spinks fought Holmes ...twice…close fights…but some elbow ‘defence’ by HOLMES…

    Holmes didn’t overwhelm Spinks….like Ali..and Frazier overwhelmed Foster

    Matter of fact…Foster was the first to ‘mar’ Ali….marked by constant lefts from Foster

  11. Jethro's Flute 02:13pm, 11/27/2015

    “Fitzimmons?”

    Precisely why should Bob Fitzsimmons be ranked anywhere near where Bob Foster is?

    What footage is there of him that you can decide how good he was?

  12. bikermike 02:11pm, 11/27/2015

    Mike Casey ....what he said !!
    Foster will always be named for the top three….Foster…Fitzimmons…Tunney…tied….and Archie Moore…

  13. bikermike 02:06pm, 11/27/2015

    see,,,the object of the article ...was to bring fight fans..who may wish to know BOXING HISTORY…...more than what happened when last month’s toilet paper ran out….
    Bob Foster is on that stone ...somewhere,,,that proclaims THIS IS THE LIST OF THE THE TUFFEST MO FKRS OF HIS WEIGHT AND TIME…..EVER !!!

  14. bikermike 01:58pm, 11/27/2015

    my only thing…that gives me loose bowels…when ‘Da Bull..and MIKE CASEY’.....Insist that leonard beat HAGLER

    BUt….maybe I eat too much anyway

  15. bikermike 01:53pm, 11/27/2015

    not a hearbeat of disrespect to BOB FOSTER

  16. bikermike 01:51pm, 11/27/2015

    see…..Michael Spinks…..and those who challenged to fight him….was like the song…....The Path was Deep; and Wide from footsteps to our cabin…....

    Lots of guys faced Michael Spinks….and Michael Spinks beat damned near all of them

  17. bikermike 01:44pm, 11/27/2015

    one of the positive moments ......lately…...in my day, is to capture the moments that Mike Casey puts forward..

    Bob Foster is just one of dozens he’s presented…me…being an old fuk

    ....agreed with his articles…...but for those who do not believe there was life on earth….before you were born

    ....see Mike Casey ...and joe louis vs max baer…( Baer ....with two broken hands)

  18. Mike Casey 02:22am, 11/27/2015

    Thanks Bikermike.

  19. bikermike 03:49pm, 11/26/2015

    Our prayers and sympathies to the Family and friends of the late, GREAT, Bob Foster.  He will be remembered respectfully and kindly.  Rest in Peace Champ

  20. bikermike 03:41pm, 11/26/2015

    Great read Mr Casey…..thank you

  21. Mike Casey 02:23am, 11/26/2015

    Nicely put, Jethro - thanks for your thoughts.

  22. Jethro's Flute 01:03pm, 11/25/2015

    “Asked if he would have beaten Michael Spinks, Foster had no doubts. “There was too much amateur in him,” was his explanation.”

    That was needlessly unkind of Foster but he was a great fighter, as was Spinks.

    I’ve got a number of his fights on tape from years gone by and he was one of my favourite fighters to watch on video.

    I saw his passing in the Times. Sorry to hear that he had gone.

    R.I.P. mate

  23. Mike Casey 09:42am, 11/24/2015

    Monzon and Hagler played it exactly right. No biting off more than they could chew, no ridiculous career moves into dangerous territory just to satisfy the curiosity of a few. That’s why their magnificent records endure.

  24. Eric 09:15am, 11/24/2015

    I don’t remember any demand for King Carlos to move up in weight and challenge Bob The Beast. Even the great Monzon knew that move would have been a huge mistake. Same thing with Hagler and Michael Spinks. All this talk about GGG moving up in weight nowadays to prove himself while two of the greatest 160lbers of all-time stayed put and weren’t about to move up and get annihilated by two of best punchers in light heavyweight history.

  25. Mike Casey 04:16am, 11/24/2015

    Very interesting, Bob, and thank you for the detail. Boxing is a tough old life at any level and I think a great many people who are only on the fringe of it tend to forget that these men are human like the rest of us and never forget unpleasant things.

  26. Bob 03:17am, 11/24/2015

    Foster was a hard man, but a decent soul. I was talking with him late at night at the bar at the Hall of Fame weekend about 20 years ago. He was drinking something brown, probably bourbon, but was not intoxicated. He was taking hard drags from a cigarette and speaking openly and honestly about being a cop in Albuquerque. He went easy on Johnny Tapia, explaining that he came from the humblest of beginnings. When he spoke of knocking out Mike Quarry, he said he got very nervous because he thought Quarry might have been fatally injured when he saw his eyes roll back as Quarry hit the floor. Foster went to his corner and told his trainer, “I think I might have killed him.” The trainer replied, “Business is business.”  I’m not an armchair psychologist, but something in his delivery suggested to me that that response always bothered Foster, although he might not have even realized it. Terrific tribute to a great champion and a fine man.

  27. peter 02:47am, 11/24/2015

    @ Mullins Flat—“Funny enough, you can see Saddler, Moore, Burley, Liston in him, maybe a bit of Langford too, it all seems connected.”—Excellent connection!!!

  28. Mike Casey 01:20am, 11/24/2015

    Thanks for your memories, Mullins - and I miss Danny Lopez too!

  29. Mullins Flat 12:18am, 11/24/2015

    Growing up there were fighters that required attention in my household. I was grateful for this because it was an opportunity to spend rare time with my soldier father.  Alongside Ali, Arguello, Monzon and Duran, Foster was the the center of a lot of family time. Strange isn’t it how much culture has changed? Where have you gone Danny Little Red Lopez?

    The Sheriff of Albuquerque was big, mean, freakish in wingspan and blessed with a god-like ablility to conjure the abyss. Indeed, the witnessing of top fighters, some elite, put to sleep for long stretches of time with a single punch, still seems unwordly and hard to comprehend. Hatton /Paquiao x2 rinse repeat…The head hitch, shoulder shrug after delivering the Quarry hook is, to this day, one of the most frightening, casual gestures I’ve ever seen. Certainly the knockouts of Dick Tiger and Mike Quarry are forever part of boxing’s KO pantheon.

    But the joy in the last day of re-watching his fights has been the wonder of his gorgeous technique. His classic, off-center stance, his balance, a defence utilizing hand parries, slips, dips, shoulder rolls and head control; his sublime footwork, so economical in his ability to cut off the ring, which allowed him to be a master of distance. He was a superb technician and that is without considering the all time offensive tools, the all time intimidation.  Funny enough, you can see Saddler, Moore, Burley, Liston in him, maybe a bit of Langford too, it all seems connected. I’ll stop here but those 50/60’s guys had a quality all their own. RIP Champ!

  30. Mike Silver 09:54pm, 11/23/2015

    I am not surprised there is so little reporting about Foster’s career on the boxing web sites. His career was over by 1974. Many who write on the sites are under 40 and have little knowledge or interest in the old time greats. It’s all ancient history to them. You can tell by the number of responses to great articles such as this that most of today’s fans aren’t interested either. But any inane article mentioning Floyd or Manny will generate thousands of hits.

  31. Darrell 04:55pm, 11/23/2015

    Bob Foster always seemed intimidating.  Tall, long reach, knockout reputation, an all business look on his face, he had to be terrifying to any light-heavyweight opponent.

    What little coverage we got of the American boxing scene down under (very early 70’s) and as a kid just getting into boxing, he was definitely one to look up to.

  32. Your Name 02:50pm, 11/23/2015

    Great tribute, Mike!  Bob was a tremendous light heavy and #2 behind Archie Moore on my all-time list.  I would have loved to see them fight in their prime, along with Ezzard Charles and Gene Tunney against either of them. I saw Bob fight Ray Anderson live, and I think Ray is still running! I was lucky enough to meet Bob several times at the IBHOF inductions in Canastota and he was extremely pleasant and a gentleman.  RIP champ.

  33. GlennR 12:34pm, 11/23/2015

    “There was too much amateur in him,”
    Nice one Bob

    What a fighter, probably my favourite LHW of all time.

  34. peter 12:28pm, 11/23/2015

    Thank you, Mike Casey. I was happy to see that the NYT also saw fit to print a lengthy obit honoring Foster. I’m disappointed, however, at the lack of interest from readers on this boxing site about Foster’s passing.

  35. Mike Casey 11:30am, 11/23/2015

    True!

  36. Eric 10:13am, 11/23/2015

    Mike Casey… Ellis, like Floyd, stood up under the shots of Bonavena & Chuvalo, two legit 200lb+ heavyweights who had respectable power, but Foster had enough power to possibly trouble both “heavyweights.” Floyd and Ellis weren’t legit 200lbers like Frazier or Ali. I think Foster would have had a better shot at beating Ellis than Floyd, Floyd’s own punching power and speed might have been too much for Bob. Either way Foster would have been a live underdog in a fight with Ellis or Patterson.

  37. Don from Prov 10:11am, 11/23/2015

    Very good read.  I think that when most of us who are of a “certain age” talk about devastating knockouts, what Bob Foster did to Quarry and Tiger is always in the conversation.  I like Eric’s list of fighters Foster would have faced if he had been a little younger.  Spinks vs. Foster—wow, IMO.

  38. Mike Casey 09:36am, 11/23/2015

    Now there’s an interesting thought, Eric - Foster v Ellis! I think Bob would have stood an excellent chance there. Foster against Michael Spinks would have been a really intriguing fight too. I get Bob’s point about Michael looking ‘amateur’, but he was such a funky and tricky so-and-so.

  39. Eric 09:25am, 11/23/2015

    Oops. That Ali fight was 43 years ago. I had a senior moment on that one.

  40. Eric 08:44am, 11/23/2015

    Bob Foster weighed just 180lbs when he fought Ali 42 years ago while Ali weighed in at 221lbs. Foster also fought Ali on the same day that he would pass on November 21. The finish to the Andy Kendall fight looked like a mugging. Foster just had too much power and size for the light heavies but those shots that decimated fighters like Kendall & Quarry had little effect on a tank like Frazier or a much larger Ali. If Foster had been born a tad later it would have been interesting how he would have fared against light heavies like Conteh, Galindez, Saad, Spinks, Eddie Gregory, James Scott, Qawi, Marvin Johnson, etc. Spinks fought more talented opposition and that is why I rank Spinks at #4 and Bob at #5 on my list of all-time light heavies. Always wondered why Foster didn’t take a shot at Jimmy Ellis when Ellis held a version of the heavyweight title. Bob would have certainly fared better against smaller heavies like Ellis or Floyd Patterson than taking on a monster like Frazier.

  41. oldschool 08:28am, 11/23/2015

    Terrific tribute. Some of the tributes I read had some inaccurate facts. Also, I don’t like seeing the WBA/WBC references rather than “Lineal” titleholder.

  42. Clarence George 07:59am, 11/23/2015

    As was I (and I had the same reaction when Fullmer died).  But maybe we shouldn’t have been, given the contempt for boxing history so prevalent today.

  43. Mike Casey 07:43am, 11/23/2015

    You know, Clarence, I checked out the other sites for Foster tributes (I was a great fan of Bob) and I was very surprised at how little I found.

  44. Clarence George 07:25am, 11/23/2015

    The best Foster tribute I’ve read, Mike, and by far.  Use of the word “extruded” an added bonus.  Also like, “Life has finally shot the sheriff.”

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