38 Years Ago Today: George Foreman Brutalises Joe Frazier To Capture World Heavyweight Crown

By James Slater: Not since the fearsome Charles “Sonny” Liston had dispatched Floyd Patterson almost ten years earlier, had a heavyweight title challenger so quickly and brutally relieved a defending champion of his crown.

Exactly 38 years ago today, a young and undefeated fighter from Texas named George Foreman met a near 3-1 betting favourite in the form of the likewise unbeaten “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, as the Philadelphia warrior attempted to defend his world title for a fifth time. The two punchers met in Kingston, Jamaica and those fans who witnessed the fight saw a shockingly violent affair, where the 24-year-old challenger with the 37-0 record utterly annihilated the 29-0 world ruler.

Expected to have too much for the unbeaten but largely untested Foreman, Frazier was instead knocked down three times in the 1st-round and another three times in the 2nd-round. The final knockdown Foreman scored literally lifted Joe clean off his feet. Had the world ever seen a more freakishly powerful heavyweight?

Before the fight, when he was awaiting the first bell and was giving Frazier his best attempt at a mean stare-down, Foreman, as he later confessed, was standing on shaky legs. So afraid of the formidable fighting talents of Frazier was he, the former street mugger was unsure of himself and his chances of winning.

“I had seen a lot of Joe Frazier from having fought on his under-card so many times,” Foreman recalled years later. “I knew that there was no way you could hurt him. I remembered Jerry Quarry fighting Frazier, and he was putting it on Frazier like nothing. But Frazier just went back to the corner and went, ‘oooh!’ as though he liked it! Joe Frazier was like a machine. If you hit him, he liked it. If you missed him, he got angry and came after you.”

Foreman, though, had done all the pre-fight talking - “ I was telling everybody what I was gonna do, so how could I back out?,” as he put it himself - and now he had to walk the walk. And did he ever!

The fight was a complete mismatch from the first bell. Frazier, so much the shorter man, had no chance against the lethal howitzers that kept coming and coming and coming. Frazier, completely unable to get into any kind of rhythm (Joe would not “smoke” on this night), was as aggressive as ever, but his straight ahead advances simply made him a lamb to the slaughter Foreman found remarkably easy to administer. It all looked so effortless for the young Texan monster.

So much so that afterwards, after the shock of seeing the man who had taken Muhammad Ali’s unbeaten record bounced around like a basketball for 5-and-a-half minutes had subsided, people wondered if Foreman was as good as he looked. Was Frazier a shot fighter, ready for the taking, with “Big” George merely the man who was in the right place at the right time? We wouldn’t be sure for a long time, but today there is no questioning Foreman’s greatness, nor is there any way we can call his win a win over a spent force. Frazier’s sheer hell of a fight with Ali over two years after Jamaica proved Joe could still smoke.

What made Foreman’s win so easy was the sheer styles of the two men. Simply put, Joe was made for George. That, along with Foreman’s uncommon punching power saw to it that Frazier lost and lost so badly.

The performance Foreman put on 38 years ago shocked, thrilled, excited, livened up and just plain shook up the heavyweight division. New promoter Don King had made his first big venture into the sport (he famously arrived at the Kingston fight in Frazier’s limo and left in George’s! “Always leave with the champion,” King quipped later) and, more importantly, we had a new breed of heavyweight - a fighter who appeared set for a long and dominant reign. The times had changed. How could “small,” less powerful heavyweights like Frazier, Ali and all the others cope with the raw strength and power of the invincible-looking Foreman?

As we know, though, the times hadn’t changed all that much; as Ali’s sheer boxing brilliance proved 21 months later in the African jungle. But for a while, in 1973 and 1974, fans wondered if sheer brute force would rule over the heavyweight division for a good many years.

How we could use a heavyweight arrival as dramatic today.

Article posted on 22.01.2011

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