Frazier vs. Foreman - On the Sunshine Island, January 22, 1973
goes Frazier!" Howard Cosell shouted, stunned surprise in his famous
drawling sportscaster voice, even though he had picked the underdog
Foreman to defeat the Champ. He said it a second, "Down goes Frazier!"
and a third time "Down goes Frazier!" In those three straightforward
words, Cosell summed up the story of the January 22, 1973 title fight
in Kingston. The battle that drew 36,000 fans to the National Stadium
and was billed to be a contest between two formidable opponents, with
3-1 odds in Frazier's favour, became a one man fight that ended by knockout
at 1:35 in the second round. Big George Foreman, 24 years old, 6 ft.
3 inch, 217-lb. slugger from Marshall, Texas, was the Heavyweight Champion
of the World.
Round Two. Frazier emerged on the attack and was met with a left and a right to the jaw that dropped him again. After the mandatory eight count, he stood, dazed, flailing his punches and stumbling onto a right that lifted him off the floor and send him packing to the mat with a leg bent at an inopportune angle. Foreman called out to him, "Stay down, Joe. You've had it." He looked over to Frazier's corner, expecting to see the towel tossed, but Frazier, with the will of a champion, pulled himself up once more. Just as Foreman was forced to move in for the kill, the referee, Arthur Mercante, seeing Frazier's sagging figure, blood dripping from his mouth, called it at 1:35. The difference in height and reach between the two men was important as Foreman used his longer reach to great advantage he simply did not give Smokin' Joe time to gather steam. Foreman knocked Frazier down a total of six times, three in each round, in a fight that ranks amongst one of the top feats in boxing history.
Gate proceeds were $370,000 with another 3 million earned from television coverage. Foreman was guaranteed 20% of the gate and Frazier 42%. When asked about a rematch, Foreman, displaying poise and a sense of celebrity for which he would later become well known, simply stated "I don't know how long I'll be the champion we only borrow the title you know...." Having been tremendously welcomed by the Jamaican people (who were not happy with Frazier, the man who had defeated Ali) Big George said he'd be happy to defend his title in Jamaica a statement that must have set the heart of Jamaican businessman and fight promoter extraordinaire Lucien Chen, owner of Track Price Plus, who had guaranteed the promotion of this fight, racing. Chen had hoped to make Kingston into a fight centre. Sadly, this was never realised due to the high cost of financing such events, made even more difficult today by the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar and the skyrocketing purses of title fights. (Lennox Lewis was made something close to US$20 million for his most recent fight in Atlanta).
Today, however, Chen is extremely proud of his efforts at bringing the Frazier-Foreman fight to Jamaica. No stranger to title fight promotion, Chen had promoted a few other title fights prior to the 1973 one. In fact, he was the first to organise the staging of a title fight in the West Indies with the Bunny Grant vs. Percy Hales and Hayles vs. Carlos Fernandez fights, both held in the 1960s. Chen got involved in the Frazier-Foreman project at the urging of then Prime Minister Michael Manley and his brother, Douglas. He negotiated but at a cost. Chen still remembers the tag of US$300,000 as too steep. US$300,000 was higher than had ever been paid for the matchmaking of the fight alone). The enigmatic Chen also recalls with a smile how his odds and those of Vegas differed. Jamaicans seemed to favour the underdog Foreman, whose punches in training alone, Chen said, "sounded like tornadoes" and whose build was larger and heavier than the Champ Frazier. So with Vegas odds at 8-1, Chen gave odds at 4-1, much to the consternation of famed odds-maker Jimmy the Greek. In the end, however, the promoters lost a good deal of money and the fight itself was memorable for being a whirlwind many who arrived a few minutes late wound up missing the less than two minute title fight.
As for Frazier, he continued his lifelong battle with his nemesis Ali th two began to trade insults from before their first famous fight in 1971. Ali, never one to shy away from controversy, often called Frazier a gorilla and an Uncle Tom. They fought two more times, in January 1974 at Madison Square Garden, which Ali won by decision, and in October 1975 in the Philippines. This battle, billed as the "Thrilla in Manila," has been called the greatest boxing bout in history. It lasted 14 rounds and at the end both fighters were battered beyond recognition. Ali later said it was the closest he had ever come to dying. Frazier's trainer refused to let him come out to fight the 15th round so Ali won once more. Frazier retired after his next fight when he was knocked out by Foreman in the 5th round in 1976. Five years later, he came out of retirement and drew with former convict, Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings, to end his career with a 32-4-1 record. He now lives in Philadelphia, suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes and he and Ali (who is now suffering from Parkinson's disease) continue to trade insults and apologies.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted January 13, 2003.
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