Time in a Hurry—Foreman Was Never Better

By Michael Schmidt on January 17, 2013
Time in a Hurry—Foreman Was Never Better
What excitement to be if another great American Heavyweight were to appear and rise up.

Something special was taking place. All those fantasy dream fights of who would have won, Frazier or Marciano, Frazier or Dempsey, were being shunted aside…

Where does the time fly! January 22nd, 1973, Kingston, Jamaica. Forty years gone by as the anniversary of George Foreman winning the Heavyweight Championship of the world against Joe Frazier! It goes by in a fistic flash and it sure did that particular night as George Foreman, at his very peak, and probably never, ever, any better than that night, destroyed defending Champion Joe Frazier.

My brother and I often talk of that night. He is of the firm opinion that Foreman on that night was possibly the best big man that ever was and that on that night it was hard to fathom who could have kept up with George Foreman.

We watched the fight with Dear Old Pops, may he rest peacefully, by way of closed circuit television. Dear Old Pops took us pretty well to all of the closed circuit fights and some live pro shows down the road at Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens with the likes of Clyde Gray, George Chuvalo,  Gary Summerhays, and Nicky Furlano. The arenas were usually packed for those closed circuit fights and back then the patrons, most of whom, including Dear Old Pops, had more than their share of “pops” and were hardcore boxing fans. They knew their boxing and knew it dating far back. There was a comradeship of good time to those events. The shows were electric in atmosphere and God forbid if there was any closed circuit broadcast issues or interruptions. Things could get nasty in a hurry. Hell, that was part of the fun as long as the screen got sorted out in time!

Harrison Reese, a local amateur Light Heavy standout and HUGE Frazier fan was, pre-fight, telling everybody and anybody he had a few hundred bucks on Frazier to destroy Foreman. The live amateur card was done, the lights went out and a huge screen draped down from the rafters. Fight time. Pre-fight and Yank Durham, Champion Joe’s trainer, was talking about Joe stopping Foreman in the first round and a “You better believe it” from the Champ Frazier. We did not know much about Foreman other than he was big and by the record, 37-0 with 34 knockouts, looked like he could hit. He had certainly made short work of Boone Kirkman, George Chuvalo, and Chuck Wepner—but then they were not Joe Frazier. No sir, they were not Joe Frazier! We also knew that there was NOBODY in the crowd expecting anything but a big Frazier win. Kenny Norton, a Frazier sparring partner at the time, did not have Foreman lasting five rounds as pre-fight he had commented “he (Foreman) stinks.” The only person who seemed to have Foreman winning was Howard Cosell who believed that a whole lot of people would be shocked the following day. Shocking it was. It was not a fight. It was a mugging the likes that had not been seen in its brief but violent nature since Liston destroyed Patterson.

Before the bell for the first round a wealth of fistic talent by way of Sandy and Dick Sadler and the Old Mongoose, Archie Moore, scurried out of Foreman’s ring corner. Foreman, in complete disrespect of Champion Frazier, launched a massive missing lead right hand immediately off the sound of the bell. Dear Old Pops: “Whoa I like that fucker—sometimes you can get lucky with that, right off the bell.” Dear Old Pops always liked that right hand lead off the bell. In his mind it was the first message that you had “balls” because everybody knew it was a sin to start off with that devil risk lead right hand shot. 

A few seconds in and Foreman had cranked off two big right hand uppercuts, Moore style, aiming towards Frazier’s heart and short rib section. Foreman was pushing Frazier back as if Frazier was a small heavy bag to reset for another big shot!  That first knockdown, I still recall, as being a glancing shot off Frazier’s temple. Joe got up and Big George was going to pay for that and pay for it big because up to that point Frazier was slinging big left hooks and one was bound to find its mark. The second knockdown was the one. We knew at that point that something special was taking place. Frazier, and all those fantasy dream fights of who would have won, Frazier or Marciano, Frazier or Dempsey, were being shunted aside as Foreman landed a massive uppercut with about seventeen seconds left in the first. Six knockdowns in total and before the end of two rounds and who could forget as iconic a fight broadcast comment as that soothsayer of the night, Howard Cosell shouting, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” Arthur Mercante, as good a ref as possibly there ever was, gave the undefeated Champ Frazier every possible chance and how Frazier got up, shot after shot, is testimony of the greatness that was within. Smokin’ Joe Frazier! 

Former Champ Frazier appeared on the Dick Cavett Show a few weeks after that shocking loss. Cavett had a soft spot for fighters and for Joe. As for Frazier he showed on the Cavett show, as he always did, what a Champion was in and out of the ring. There were no excuses and his was that of a dignified champ. Foreman would go on, soon enough, to destroy Ken Norton but even in that destruction he did not exhibit the same stance and balance, the same economy of rifle shot jab. His form was already slipping. As for us, well we were still recovering from the fact that we would never see Ali vs. Frazier number two. Number one was the biggest sporting production EVER and it was all gone by way of this Foreman.

Yes, time gone by in a forty-year hurry. What excitement to be if another great American Heavyweight were to rise up. Excitement like those good old closed circuit days! Could we possibly expect such a thing!

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  1. Mike Schmidt 02:04pm, 01/21/2013

    “Scambuga”—superb Joe—your really bringing it back now. A great pre-fight line by Joe in terms of an early ending “If George wants to trip coming into the ring, well, that’s okay too if you know what I mean.!!!!”

  2. Jethro Tull 04:02am, 01/21/2013

    “It was a mugging the likes that had not been seen in its brief but violent nature since Liston destroyed Patterson.”

    The comparison is fair.

    Really, the fight was between two men from different divisions, just like Liston vs Patterson was.

    Frazier’s chin was a lot harder than Patterson’s was but he was still a cruiserweight while Big George was a heavyweight.

    Yes, George got away with shoving Frazier early but the fact is that you can’t smoke Big George. He eats short, tank-like swarming fighters for breakfast.

    I’ve got this fight on tape and it’s telling that Don Dunphy noted that Frazier rarely won the first round. You can’t stand right in front of a puncher like Foreman and he was going to be in trouble as soon as Foreman hit him with a good shot.

  3. raxman 04:26pm, 01/20/2013

    i must be the only person on this site that absolutely hates the way foreman was allowed to push frazier back. i never got more joy than when those points were taken off amir khan for doing the same thing. as far as this fight goes it probably wouldn’t have made a difference as typically brawlers like frazier get smashed by sluggers like foreman and as many of you have said this was hardly joe from a couple of years earlier- but still… frazier’s place to be was on foreman’s chest and the rules say you can’t push off. foreman has the option of infighting, stepping off or even tying up, but to push frazier back out to foreman’s long punching range is just wrong

  4. Mike Casey 08:31am, 01/20/2013

    I won’t pretend to be wise after the event. I thought Joe would beat George in Kingston. But Frazier’s conditioning was poor, He weighed around 205 for Ellis and likewise for the first Ali fight, but Joe never hit that weight again. He was 215 for Daniels, 217 for Stander and 214 for Foreman. I think a part of Joe believed that there were no more mountains to climb after winning ‘The Fight of the Century’ against Ali. That being said, the Foreman who decimated Frazier and Ken Norton was indeed a wrecking ball!

  5. Joe 06:21am, 01/18/2013

    That “scambuga” can punch…... (another Smokeism)

  6. Joe 06:14am, 01/18/2013

    “You Better Believe It”  - Classic Smoke

  7. Mike Schmidt 05:30am, 01/18/2013

    Thanks Matt. Eric you are bang on the buck on your comments. Frazier was a fighting machine—heavy Henry Armstrong—the first Ali took a huge chunk out of Frazier—there was such a drastic difference afterwards—Bugner shook him to the foundations with a shot…..having said all of that Big George came back shortly after this one and destroyed Ken Norton. Smokin’ Joe I prefer to remember that magical night in 1971 and his Fight of the Year Quarry numero uno.

  8. Matt McGrain 01:55am, 01/18/2013

    Your old man sounds like a great fellow. I would loved to have heard his rebuttle to my objections to his impressions of George.  Thanks for sharing the memory.

  9. Eric 06:41pm, 01/17/2013

    If you look at Frazier’s previous title defense against Ron Stander, then maybe this defeat isn’t as shocking as it seems. Even sloppy club fighter Stander shook Frazier and even bulled him around a bit before Frazier chopped him up in the fourth. Frazier had allowed his weight to creep up to 217 against Stander and he was just a shade lighter at 214 for Foreman. Foreman, at 217lbs was in peak form, while Joe, almost 10lbs heavier than he was for Ali, was sporting flab on his chest and midsection. Frazier peaked on that March night of 1971, and wouldn’t ever regain that kind of physical or mental peak again. For all intent and purposes Frazier was through being a fighter after the first Ali fight. Frazier would return after the Foreman fiasco to have a tougher than expected fight with Bugner that went the distance, before being decisioned pretty easily by Ali in their rematch. Afterwards, Frazier would only show occasional flashes of his former self by beating past opponents like Jimmy Ellis & Jerry Quarry who both were even more past it than Frazier at the time. One more go at George and this time the 5’11” Frazier was just as heavy as Foreman at 224lbs. Overweight and his head shaven, Frazier not only didn’t look like the circa 1971 Frazier, but he didn’t fight or punch like him either. Maybe few heavyweights could have beaten Foreman on that January night of 1973, but the Frazier that fought Ali in March of 1971 might have done much better than the ‘73 version.

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