Heavyweight legend George Foreman saw to it that HBO’s coverage of world championship boxing got underway with one heck of a bang. It was of course 48 long years ago today when a 24-year-old Foreman challenged heavyweight king Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica (this the first fight HBO ever covered). Foreman was 37-0, with most of his wins coming via KO, yet he was a stiff underdog against 29-year-old Frazier, who was also perfect, at 29-0.
The fight, dubbed “The Sunshine Showdown,” was meant to be a “tune-up” affair for Frazier, ahead of his anticipated rematch with Muhammad Ali. Frazier had peaked with his historic 15 round decision win over Ali in the celebrated “Fight Of The Century” a little under two years before. Against powerful Texan monster Foreman, “Smokin’ Joe” found out how hard it can be coming back down from the mountain top. And “Big George” literally shoved Frazier off the top in a violent and shocking fashion.
Fans of a certain age can still see Frazier being lifted clean off the canvas by Foreman’s thundering uppercut. They can still hear the words of commentator Howard Cosell ringing in their ears: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” Cosell bellowed into the microphone as Foreman smashed the defending champion to the mat again and again. Frazier kept getting back up, six times in total, yet his senses had been obliterated. After having logged two successful defences of the undisputed title, Frazier having become THE world heavyweight champ with the win over Ali, Joe’s reign had come to a shuddering halt.
Frazier still had a good amount of fight in him – as he showed in the third, exhausting and savage war with Ali – but Joe would never again wear the heavyweight crown. Frazier didn’t have to fight Foreman, and this voluntary defence has to go down as one of the most catastrophic decisions in heavyweight boxing history.
Often the question is asked, would Foreman have done what he did to Frazier if Joe had not been through hell in beating Ali in March of 1971? Had Ali taken too much out of Frazier, even in losing to him? Had Foreman faced Frazier at the perfect time? In terms of the styles of the two men, it does seem fair to say that Foreman would always have had the beating of Frazier – styles really do make fights.
Foreman’s arrival really did send shockwaves around the world. To many people, the knockout of Frazier remains Foreman’s most impressive display of raw power. However, as we all know, Foreman really was just getting started that day in January in 1973. Foreman had decades of ring time ahead of him!