George Foreman, right, sent Joe Frazier to the canvas six times in less than two rounds to claim Frazier's heavyweight championship in a bout at Kingston, Jamaica, on Jan. 22, 1973. Foreman, who was 24 at the time, would retire in 1977 but come back to win a share of the title in 1994 at age 45.
January 22, 2013
Monday was a uniquely convergent day for the reverend George Foreman. He watched Barack Obama's second inauguration, spent time reflecting on the legacy of Martin Luther King, whom he called a "a hero," and took phone calls from people who remembered it was also the 40th anniversary of the "Sunshine Showdown," which completed his ascent from the mean streets of Houston's Fifth Ward to the world heavyweight boxing championship.
Foreman's first professional fight had been in 1969, not long after he'd won the Olympic gold medal. His 81st and last, at the end of a second comeback, didn't occur until 28 years later, in 1997. But the memories of his claiming Smokin' Joe Frazier's belt with a second-round technical knockout in Kingston, Jamaica, on Jan. 22, 1973, trump all the others. He can't forget that day for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is because nobody will ever let him.
"I'm happy about that," Foreman said, "As the years go by, there are some people who participate in great events that seem to fade away. But this boxing match keeps people from all over the world calling me and questioning me."
Blast from the past: George Foreman's biggest hits
Both fighters were unbeaten - Foreman at 37-0 with 34 knockouts, Frazier at 29-0 with 25 KOs. The more famous and more experienced Frazier went off as a 3-1 favorite, only to get floored six times before referee Arthur Mercante decided he'd suffered enough punishment and Howard Cosell made his famous "down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier" call.
Once a dead-end kid, Foreman had climbed to the mountaintop. Only 24, he would never want for anything again.
Trying to handle fame
In 1973, being the undisputed world heavyweight champion still meant more than almost anything in sports.
"But I didn't really know anything about being champion," Foreman said. "Once you get in that ring, it's a scary moment. You feel the (ghosts) of all the great fighters from the past. With the win, everything in your life changes. You can't step back to who you were before or how you felt about things. To this day, I still feel like I'm in that moment. You know, it's a big step to greatness, and I took the step with that fight."
He admits he never expected to keep sending Frazier to the canvas.
"I didn't realize until years after that I was bigger than Joe Frazier," Foreman said. "He had everyone so afraid that when the bell rang, you immediately stepped backward. We all assumed Joe was bigger that us because he fought like a giant. I was afraid when I stepped into the ring with him. After that first knockdown, I told myself, 'Boy, you're in for some trouble now. He's going to get up and kill you.' And when I knocked him down again, I thought I'd better get this over before he really does kill me."
Instead, Frazier never answered, and Foreman's place in history was secure.
"You don't beat Joe Frazier," he said, "and not have people callin' you great."
Over the next year and a half, Foreman would be part of three more memorable bouts, culminating with the "Rumble in the Jungle," his fabled battle against Muhammad Ali in Zaire on Oct. 30, 1974. There, Ali unveiled his "rope-a-dope" tactic to exhaust Foreman, eventually winning with an eighth-round knockout. But Foreman still believes he was the victim of a quick count.
"I'm famous for that fight, too," Foreman said, chuckling. "I ask people if they remember I was the 'dope' in the 'rope-a-dope.' "
Foreman never would get a rematch with Ali, but he did beat Frazier a second time to reclaim part of the heavyweight championship. He and Frazier had become close friends by then, and Foreman said the rematch "wasn't much fun" because of it. But because he believed he'd been wronged in Zaire - "I had lots of excuses," he said - he took the 1976 Frazier fight "to get back my title. Nothing was going to get in my (way). I grieved over that loss for a long time."
He retired for the first time after Jimmy Young took a 12-round decision from him in 1977 but resumed his career after a decade-long respite, having become an ordained minister in the interim. With a 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer in 1994, he was a world champion again at the age of 45, although the title by that juncture was hardly undisputed. He retired for good in 1997 with a 76-5 record.
When he's not traveling, Foreman stays active in a variety of businesses and still preaches each weekend at the Church of Lord Jesus Christ, which he founded three decades ago on the city's north side. He turned 64 on Jan. 10. Three of his eight grandchildren were among those present for the celebration, which he called "everything I could have dreamed of. Give me more of the same next year."
Asked about his health, Foreman replied, "super duper." Frazier, however, died of liver cancer at 67 in late 2011, while Ali, who turned 71 last week, has been debilitated by Parkinson's disease for many years, an almost certain byproduct of his boxing career.
"If I'd know how important he was," Foreman said of Ali, "I wouldn't have hit him so hard. But oh man, what a quick right he had. Quickest right hand ever."
Foreman watched Obama's inauguration festivities on television, taking special note of the thousands of tiny American flags people were waving. Foreman, after all, had famously held up two little flags of his own in the ring after he won the gold medal in the heavyweight class at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, a gesture that set badly with many African-Americans during those also divisive times.
"People jumped all over me, but I told them, 'l love my country,' and I still do," Foreman said. "The Job Corps gave me a chance, gave me the opportunity to get everything I have today. I learned to box while I was in the Job Corps. And look at Obama. Look at what (he achieved). I'm just happy that so many people are happy today.
"It's a great day. But I think it's going to take another 100 or more years for everyone to realize just how great a day it is."
Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/article/Foreman-recalls-stunning-domination-of-Frazier-40-4212179.php#ixzz2KJXuOpoB