50 Years Ago: When George Foreman Almost Killed Joe Roman In Maiden Title Defence

By James Slater - 09/01/2023 - Comments

George Foreman made an all-mighty splash in January of 1973, this when the unbeaten but some said ordinary and basic Texan slugger ruined Joe Frazier inside just a couple of rounds to take (see rip) the world heavyweight title. Foreman, who looked for all the world like a man tearing a tree from its roots, scored six knockdowns inside as many minutes, Frazier never really knowing what had hit him, or what had run him over!

Foreman looked set for a long reign as heavyweight boss. It would, though, be eight months before the 24 year old former Olympian got down to work defending the crown. And when Foreman did sign up for his maiden title defence, fans were less than impressed with the challenger Big George and his team picked.

Joe “King” Roman was the fall guy masquerading as a world title challenger. It wasn’t that Roman was an especially bad or poor fighter, it was simply a case of the Puerto Rican being too small at a little over 5’10,” and the fact that Roman had been stopped a bunch of times, by guys who were nothing like the sheer destructive force the recently crowned heavyweight champion was.

Also, Roman didn’t help his cause any by foolishly angering the brooding, scowling Foreman (who was at this time many years and experiences away from becoming the smiling, self-deprecating hero we all love so much today). Roman got in Foreman’s face as the two stood in ring centre in Tokyo, Japan, the difference in size between the two fighters abundantly clear.

And Foreman made Roman pay for his disrespect. Nastily. After a ten-count had been tolled in tribute to the recently deceased Yank Durham, Foreman set about Roman. It wasn’t pretty but the raw power unleashed by the rampaging champion was certainly eye-catching.

An uppercut to the body lifted Roman off the floor the way Foreman’s uppercut to Frazier’s chin had sent “Smokin’ Joe” airborne. The “fight” was as good as over. Foreman decked Roman with a left to the head, and then, when Roman was sat down, a possessed Foreman belted him with another uppercut. Some officials might have lowered the boom by way of issuing a DQ, but Jay Edson declined.

Roman made it to his feet, only to be blasted back down by another right uppercut to the head, this one a legal blow. Somehow, Roman got up once again, only to be completely wiped put by yet another nuclear right uppercut.

It was over. It never should have begun. Roman, who said post-fight that Foreman was “the dirtiest fighter in the world,” could have lost a whole lot more than just the “fight.” Long before modern day heavyweight banger Deontay Wilder said in tasteless fashion how he wanted “a body on my record,” Foreman looked close to getting one in what was the first heavyweight title fight to take place in Asia.

Yes, Big George really was a bad man in the 1970s. Now, after the Roman slaughter, an impressive 39-0(36), Foreman looked unbeatable. Had it not been for the incomparable Muhammad Ali, he may well have been.

Roman soldiered on until 1981, finally retiring with a hard-earned 54-27-4(27) record. Today, 76 year old Roman has an up and down career he can look back on. Thankfully.