By Thomas Hauser

Bob Foster, who died on 21 November at age 77, was one of the greatest, hardest-hitting light-heavyweight champions ever. He won the title with a one-punch, fourth-round knockout of Dick Tiger in 1968, and held it until announcing his retirement six years later. During his reign, he challenged Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali but was knocked out both times. He couldn’t take a heavyweight punch. 

But he had one.

Ali-Foster was particularly memorable. The bout took place in Stateline, Nevada, on 21 November 1972. Outweighed by 41 pounds, Foster was knocked down seven times before being counted out in the eighth round. But in the fifth round, he did something that no one had been able to do before. He cut Ali - a gash on the left eyelid that required five stitches to close. 

[Photo credit: Washington Post]

“The fight was in a nightclub,” Foster reminisced when we talked years ago. “You go up in the ring, and there are people sitting there, eating dinner, having drinks all around you. But once the fight started, it was him and me and the referee. It didn’t feel that different. My strategy going in was to hit him with jabs, because I had a stiff jab that would bust anybody up. That’s all I wanted to do. Jab, jab, jab, until I could drop the bomb. But Ali never stood in one place. The first round, I couldn’t catch him. I couldn’t see his hands at all. They say he slowed down after the layoff, but the guy was still just too fast. At the end of the round, I went back to my corner. My trainer, Billy Edwards, asked, ‘Bobby, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I can’t catch this guy.’ So Billy told me to counterpunch, and that’s what I did. When Ali jabbed, I jabbed, and after a while I began to connect.”

“Busting him up is what I remember most about the fight,” Foster continued. “It wasn’t one punch. It was a lot of jabs that got the skin raw and finally cut him. I like to think that back then I had the hardest jab in boxing. I stopped a lot of guys with it by ripping them open in three or four rounds. I figured I could beat Ali. But what happened was, his weight wore me down.”

In 1986, Foster was in Las Vegas for the rematch between Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks. Ali was there too.

“I walked over to Ali and said, ‘How are you, champ?’” Foster recalled. “But he didn’t recognize me.”

Ali Foster

[Photo credit: Ring TV online]

Muhammad Ali fought fifty different opponents in his 61 professional fights. Twenty-nine of them have now predeceased him.

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The last quarter of 2016 has seen a flurry of activity in the middleweight division.

Gennady Golovkin, who’s widely regarded as the #1 middleweight in the world, retained his crown with an eighth-round stoppage of David Lemieux. Canelo Alvarez seized the WBC’s middleweight (or is it 155-pound?) title with a unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto. And two more middleweight belts will be fought over this month in bouts to be televised by BoxNation.

On 5 December, Danny Jacobs will defend his version of the WBA title against Peter Quillin. Each man has a questionable chin, with Jacobs’ being the more questionable. Both have been kept away from punchers. Quillin has fought the slightly better opposition.

Two weeks later, on 19 December, Andy Lee (who retained his title on a draw against Quillin earlier this year) will defend his WBO belt against Billy Joe Saunders.

Andy Lee v Billy Joe Saunders

There will be the usual pre-fight rituals in the days and weeks ahead: press conferences, weigh-ins, and enough media releases emailed out to shut down a mid-sized Internet service provider. Meanwhile, we’re likely to see a lot of yawns from the fighters. Some of these yawns will be from boredom; others from tension and being tired. 

The nights get longer for a fighter during the week of a fight. He sleeps more fitfully as the big night approaches. Some boxers spend so much time dreading a fight that there’s relief when the bell for round one rings. But Andy Lee has his own perspective, saying, “I love fight week. The hard training is over. There’s lots of excitement. Fight week is what I’m in this game for.”

***

Freddie Roach was in Miguel Cotto’s corner for Cotto’s recent loss to Canelo Alvarez. It hurt, but not as much as some of the other losses that Roach has suffered.

“The most painful loss that I experienced as a trainer,” Roach said recently, “was Manny [Pacquiao] getting knocked out by [Juan Manuel] Marquez. I thought he was dead. That one scared me. And the Mayweather fight disappointed me a lot. I wanted that fight called off because of Manny’s shoulder. It interfered with Manny’s training, and a bad shoulder is a bad shoulder. But Manny was getting better, and fighters go into fights with injuries all the time. In fact, when I was warming Manny up in the dressing room, I was pleased. There was some pop to his punches. He looked good. Then, in the fight, the shoulder started bothering him and he couldn’t do what either of us wanted him to do. Losing to Mayweather sucked.”

Manny Roach

***

And a quick quiz for boxing fans . . . The 1952 light-heavyweight championship fight at Yankee Stadium in New York between Sugar Ray Robinson and Joey Maxim was an oddity in that the fight had two referees. Who were they and why were there two of them?

Answer: Ruby Goldstein was the referee initially assigned to the fight. But after ten rounds, he collapsed in the 104-degree heat and was replaced by Ray Miller. Robinson (who was comfortably ahead on all three scorecards) collapsed in his corner after the thirteenth round, and Maxim was declared the winner by knockout.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com His most recent book – The Baker’s Tale: Ruby Spriggs and the Legacy of Charles Dickens - was published by Counterpoint Press.