World Heavyweight Champion: 1973-74
The record books show that George Foreman held the heavyweight title for less than two years, and made just two successful defences. These bald statistics don’t do him justice. When fans play the ‘all-time greatest’ game, he would certainly rank above many who have worn the crown for longer and fought off many more challenges.
One of seven children born to a railroad construction worker, Foreman was a high school drop-out and a delinquent until serendipity took him into boxing. His good fortune came when he joined the Job Corps at the age of 17. This organisation took kids from the ghettoes who were in danger of going seriously off the rails and gave them some marketable skills, in Foreman’s case bricklaying and carpentry. ‘Hell of a fighter’
It was there that he came to the attention of Nick ‘Doc’ Broadus, who took one look at Foreman’s 6ft 3in muscular physique and decided that he would make a hell of a fighter. He was right.
A perfect amateur record culminated in Olympic gold at Mexico ‘68, and he turned professional the following year. From then until his meeting with Frazier in January 1973, Foreman had 37 straight wins, 34 of them inside the distance. Some of his opponents were second-raters but there were some quality scalps in there too. Besides, he could do no more than knock over whoever was put up in front of him.
Foreman climbed into the ring with Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, on 22 January 1973. The day before the fight Foreman had celebrated his 25th birthday. It had been a significant day for Frazier too, for he had agreed terms for an eagerly-awaited rematch with Muhammad Ali.
Frazier’s reputation destroyed
Foreman was to reduce that clash from a title fight to an eliminator in four-and-a-half devastating minutes. In that time he made a mockery of Frazier’s reputation as the iron man of the ring. He clubbed Smokin’ Joe to the canvas no less than six times, confirming to those who had any lingering doubts about his awesome punching power in both fists. He did to Frazier what Frazier had done to so many: shrugged off whatever his opponent threw at him and kept going forward. By the end, Frazier was wobbling around the ring like a frail old man.
While others immediately began mapping out future contests, Foreman simply wanted to let the magnitude of his achievement sink in. A bullish Frazier said he’d got his tactics all wrong. He would be back to reclaim his title with a better game plan. Representatives from Ali’s camp said that Frazier had been beaten in the 17th round, not the second. They maintained that Frazier had not fully recovered from the gruelling 15-round battle with their man. In other words, Foreman had Ali to thank for softening Frazier up in their titanic battle almost two years earlier. Undermining the new champion’s performance in this way was grossly unfair.
Two quickfire defences followed over the next 14 months. Jose Roman was put away in the first round and Ken Norton lasted until the second.
Next up was Muhammad Ali. Ali had trained his sights on Foreman after avenging his defeat by Frazier in January 1974. Ali-Foreman was set for October of that year. Fresh in the mind was the champion’s demolition job on Frazier and Norton, both of whom had beaten Ali. Added to that, when the two men climbed into the ring Ali would have turned 32. Surely there was no way he could get the better of Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. Could he?
Born: Marshall, Texas, USA. January 10 1949
Height: 6’3’ Weight: 224lbs
World Heavyweight Champion: 1973-74 1994-97
Olympic gold medal 1968
Record: Won 76 (68 Kos) Lost 5
In November 1994 Foreman won the WBA and IBF versions of the heavyweight title.
Underdog Foreman rocks Frazier
George Foreman astonished the boxing world and overturned odds of 3-1 when he took the world title from Joe Frazier in January 1973. The fight was meant to be a routine defence for Smokin’ Joe, prior to another meeting with Ali. But in less than two rounds boxing had a new heavyweight champion.
Two months after winning the heavyweight crown, Foreman holds court at the Hertford Club, London. He shows off the weapons which dumped Frazier on the canvas six times and brought him the title.