By Tom Gray
“If people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all”
Joe Frazier was still champion!
When the famous ego of Muhammad Ali acquiesced that burned deep within his soul.
Ali’s first loss came via unanimous decision after fifteen spectacular rounds and one unforgettable punch on March 8th, 1971. With two minutes of The Fight remaining the red tassels of Ali’s boxing boots shot into the air like mini fireworks as his head struck the canvas.
The signature left hook of Joe Frazier had landed - flush.
The Greatest convalesced, closing out the year with wins over Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis and Jurgen Blin. Between sparks of genius he looked flat and disinterested, merely imitating the great fighter he had been at his peak. During the Mathis bout Ali resorted to literally tapping his opponent’s head to avoid securing a stoppage win.
The crowd booed and boxing writers prepared Muhammad Ali’s obituary.
Meanwhile, Joe Frazier had taken a sabbatical and focused on performing with his band, The Knockouts. When the champion did return, in early 1972, the opposition was as bad as his singing with Terry Daniels and Ron Stander providing scant resistance. Ali, sensing that Frazier’s hunger was diminishing as quickly as his own popularity, upped his schedule in a bid to cement himself as The People’s Champion.
From Tokyo to Vancouver. From Las Vegas to Dublin. From New York to Lake Tahoe. Aside from his time as a novice professional the year of 1972 was the most active period of Muhammad Ali’s fighting career as he began his crusade to recapture The Heavyweight Championship of the World.
Mac Foster - April 1st, Tokyo, Japan
At 6ft 2in and 211lbs Mac “The Knife” Foster would intimidate most heavyweights but his record of 28-1 (28KO’s) had many of them running for the hills.
The savvy boxer from Fresno, California was actually number one contender before being stopped inside six rounds by Jerry Quarry in 1970. He was only twenty seven years of age and a very live opponent despite never having ventured past the eighth round in his career.
Ali, overweight at 226lbs, predicted a fifth round knockout but could not deliver, despite hurting his man on several occasions. Foster, an ex-marine, did have success to the body but The Greatest had reduced proceedings to a sparring session by the midway point and took an easy fifteen round decision.
The contest took place at the Budokan Arena in Japan and was the first heavyweight attraction ever staged in the Far East. The venue had been built for the 1964 Summer Olympics and was used exclusively for the Karate competition.
Although Ali had fought several times in Europe this was his first showing in such an exotic locale with Zaire, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia to follow. The next significant heavyweight bout staged in Tokyo would be Mike Tyson’s destruction of Tony Tubbs some sixteen years later.
In 1973 Foster was defeated by Joe Bugner, then the European champion, and his time as a legitimate contender was over. He sought out work as a sparring partner, for George Foreman amongst others, and finally retired in 1976.
Mac Foster passed away in July 2010 from MRSA, he was sixty eight years old.
George Chuvalo II - May 1st, Vancouver, Canada
Ali entered his rematch with “The Toronto Hard Rock” determined to be the first man to knock him off his feet which was ambitious to say the least.
Chuvalo had absorbed Ali’s best artillery for fifteen rounds, in an unsuccessful 1966 world title challenge, and seemed oblivious to pain. Legendary former champion, Rocky Marciano, once said that if all fights ended with one man standing then Chuvalo would never lose.
Still, in the six years since the first encounter cracks had begun to appear in the Canadian’s resistance. He was thirty four years of age, past his best and had been stopped by both George Foreman and Joe Frazier in one sided beat downs.
Frazier had literally knocked Chuvalo’s eye ball out of the socket and an emergency operation was performed to repair the damage.
Regardless Chuvalo was intent on continuing his career and as a result his manager, Irv Ungerman, vowed to stand by him but refused commission - an act of kindness rarely seen in the sport, then or now.
Ali, weighing ten pounds less than he had for Foster, wore his game face from the start but could not fulfil his promise. The pattern was established in round one when a ferocious right uppercut landed flush and Chuvalo barely blinked.
The fight came to life in round five when Ali, after absorbing a big shot, stood stationary in a corner and dared his opponent to hit him for over a minute. In the sixth Ali let fly with everything in the arsenal, scoring dozens of punches but Chuvalo was going nowhere.
The twelve rounder, scored widely in Ali’s favour, was contested for the NABF heavyweight crown. In an interview immediately afterwards Ali said; “A true champion should fight every month – no tricks and no gimmicks."
This was the final loss of Chuvalo’s career and his last real crack at the big time. He won seven straight contests, all by stoppage, before retiring for good in 1978.
Jerry Quarry II - June 27th, Las Vegas, USA
A blockbuster left hook separated Quarry from his senses before he hit the canvas and the crowd roared. The victor, by contrast, declined to celebrate, displaying the class and courtesy of a true professional. Whether in combat, or repose, Bob Foster was always the gentleman.
Mike Quarry, not Jerry, had challenged Foster for the undisputed light heavyweight crown and fell victim to a brutal fourth round knockout. His older brother, Jerry, was understandably devastated and the night wasn’t about to get any better as he prepared to take on a focused Muhammad Ali in the main event.
The two had met in 1970 with Quarry losing on cuts after three rounds. Ali, having just completed a forty two month lay-off, had difficulty with his timing and the crafty Californian had managed to exploit some understandable ring rust. Two years on the rust had vanished and Quarry had an entirely different proposition to deal with.
Ali, weighing a trim 216lbs, was in fabulous form and landed at will throughout a one sided encounter. The famous jab set up a kaleidoscope of power shots as crosses, hooks and uppercuts nailed Quarry with alarming regularity. The former champion also found time to taunt his man and feigned being hurt whenever he took a punch.
The bout ended in round seven after Ali landed a brilliant right uppercut, left hook combination which sent Quarry stumbling into the referee’s waiting arms.
Ali humorously labelled the show “The Soul Brothers vs. The Quarry Brothers”. It was his first fight in Las Vegas for seven years and arguably the finest performance he ever gave in a non-title bout.
Quarry passed away in 1999 after a long battle with boxing related dementia. Tragically, his brother Mike also succumbed to the same illness in 2006 – a stark reminder of the risks which occupy the sport.
Alvin Lewis – July 19th, Dublin, Ireland
In the summer of 1972 Muhammad Ali arrived in Dublin and famously announced that an Irishman, Abe Grady, was his great grandfather. The statement, which was true, captured the hearts of locals and the former champion was anointed with hero status long before he entered the ring at Croke Park.
Alvin Lewis (AKA - Al “Blue” Lewis), was a big hitting ex con who fought out of Detroit. At 223lbs he more than matched Ali for size and a year earlier had dented the heavyweight icon’s ribs in a Miami Beach sparring session.
Now the 6ft 3in colossus had the opportunity to do it for real.
Ali, outweighed by six pounds, started slowly but sparkled in the fourth when his jab set up a bursting straight right hand. Locked in on the target The Greatest fired an identical shot in the fifth and dropped Lewis heavily. The stricken fighter managed to find his feet but was lucky to survive the session.
Ali only got sharper and referee, Lew Eskin, stopped the contest in round eleven when Lewis began tottering after a light shot to the head.
Unfortunately for the promoters hundreds of fans crashed the gate in apparent derision at the prices which were being charged and the show lost a fortune.
Despite the action taking place within a very small ring (measured at sixteen feet) the round card girls persistently exceeded the sixty second rest period much to the chagrin of veteran trainer, Angelo Dundee, who can be seen screaming in their direction.
The career of Alvin Lewis ended abruptly when he was blinded in one eye by a spray of battery acid while tending to someone’s car in 1973. He retired with a respectable record of 30-6 (19KO’s).
Floyd Patterson II - Sept 20th, New York, USA
When Ali faced Floyd Patterson in a 1965 title defence it was arguably the most hate fuelled encounter in heavyweight championship history.
During the build-up Patterson referred to Ali as Cassius Clay and publicly berated his Muslim affiliation with abandon. Ali, far from innocent, labelled Patterson an Uncle Tom, ridiculed his ability as a fighter and tortured him in the ring over twelve painful rounds before the referee mercifully intervened.
What a difference seven years can make.
Before the rematch Ali invited Patterson to his camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania and was beyond cordial in his presence. It was even reported that the former champion now allowed Patterson to address him as Cassius Clay without complaint.
Ernie Terrell, on hearing that rumour, must have felt seriously hard done by.
Coming in Patterson had won nine straight and scored five stoppages. At thirty seven years of age he weighed 188lbs (almost identical to his heyday) and was in remarkable condition. Still, Ali was 30lbs heavier, three inches taller and had a functional seven inch reach advantage.
Patterson tried his heart out for the first four rounds and let his hands go whenever he could as Ali slipped between first and second gear, posturing more than punching. Sensing urgency, Ali opened up in round six, immediately cutting the former two time champion’s eye with a combination. He continued with the assault and the doctor had seen enough at the end of round seven.
Over seventeen thousand fans paid over half a million dollars to witness the two former champions do battle at Madison Square Garden. There was a curious delay to the main event when both men entered the ring with identical white shorts and refused to make a change. The announcers were forced to identify them by the colour of their boxing boots.
Patterson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 and served as New York State Athletic Commissioner 1995-1998. A gentleman within a cruel business, he passed away in 2006 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer.
Bob Foster - November 21st, Stateline, USA
Bob Foster reigned as light heavyweight king for four years, defended twelve times and like most great fighters, relished new challenges. Unfortunately for the discontent champion the cruiserweight division had not been invented and there were no easy options at heavyweight.
That, however, did not stop him from trying.
Foster was knocked out by Ernie Terrell in 1964, defeated on points by Zora Folley the following year and crunched inside two rounds by a rampaging Joe Frazier in a 1970 title fight. Surely it was time for the Albuquerque law officer to remain firmly within light heavyweight jurisdiction?
Maybe, but a shot at Muhammad Ali and a career high pay day of $125,000 convinced him otherwise.
Years later Michael Spinks and Roy Jones could utilize modern physical science to undergo the necessary metamorphosis from light heavyweight to heavyweight. In Foster’s day he added five or six pounds, jumped in at the deep end and hoped for the best. When he entered the ring against Muhammad Ali he was at a forty one pound weight disadvantage (180 to 221lbs).
Despite his short comings Bob Foster became the first man to cut Muhammad Ali in a prize fight when he opened a gash under the former champion’s left eye in round five. His success was short lived, however, as the sight of his own blood seemed to infuriate Ali who immediately scored the first of eight knockdowns.
Unlike any light heavyweight on earth, Ali was able to mock Foster’s punching power and famed referee, Mills Lane, stopped the one sided contest in round eight.
This unique event took place at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel in Stateline, Nevada at an altitude of 6200 ft. Ali had donned an oxygen mask during portions of his training and admitted to feeling laboured throughout the bout.
Foster gave up the light heavyweight title two years later, retired for good in 1978 and embarked on a new career as a detective. Still residing in Albuquerque, he was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1990 and remains, arguably, the greatest 175lb fighter who ever lived.
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