47 years ago, a 3/1 underdog scored six knockdowns in just over five-minutes to devastatingly alter the heavyweight landscape.
It was billed as “The Sunshine Showdown” (this really one of the worst taglines attached to the great heavyweight rumbles of the 1970s; a time when all the big ones had a catchphrase), but only one man was seeing anything bright at the end of the short fight that took place in Kingston, Jamaica on January 22nd, 1973. New champion George Foreman.
Actually, two men had a lot to smile about after Foreman had bounced a previously unbeaten Joe Frazier to shockingly violent defeat: George and the emerging Don King. King was a figure of intrigue at ringside, his beaming face and his vocal personality devouring almost anything it came into contact with over that big fight event (King arriving with Frazier and, famously, as would prove to be his own unique and morally uncaring and pitiless way, leaving with Foreman: “you always leave with the champ,” King would later boast before the world, quite shamelessly).
But King’s future dominance was not yet secure. Foreman’s, it seemed, was. How could ANY heavyweight be expected to live with the sheer power, strength and lethal punching ability that Foreman had? No-one, not even the great former champ Muhammad Ali (who had been beaten, quite soundly, by Frazier) had a hope or a prayer against the new world order.
That’s how it felt back then, almost fifty years ago. Amazingly, as we all have the comfort of knowing today, Foreman was not the chew you up and spit you out monster he seemed to be back then, when his glower and his stare was Sonny Liston enough to stiffen any fighter’s legs. No, George, as he later came to find out himself, some four-and-a-bit years after turning Joe Frazier into a yo-yo, was actually a nice guy, a loving person who wanted to help others as much as he could. Foreman was also a flawed fighter in his youth.
And Ali, the master of all heavyweight eras, reaffirmed his greatness in severely humbling Foreman (as he had Liston, Foreman’s idol) less than two years after “Big George” had so brutally taken out his fiercest ring rival. But on this evening 47 years ago, Frazier and Ali seemed all but finished, while Foreman seemed like a wickedly powerful fighter who was destined to reign as long as he wanted to.
And as for that jovial fellow at ringside with the odd hairstyle, well, who knew!
Foreman, Frazier, Ali and King. A trio of fighters and a promoter who collectively lit up the 1970s heavyweight era in unforgettable style.