Written by John Raspanti Yes, it was different back then.
Championship fights were 15 rounds. Contenders fought contenders.
Promoters did not exploit world titles.
But I heard a boxing executive say once, “Attaching a title brings more notice and importance to a fight.”
Titles are supposed to be prestigious.
World championship fights meant something. Titles weren’t trinkets for giving out on a whim. Winning them was a dream come true for most.
That was then. Not so much now.
In May 1973, the seemingly indestructible Mr George Foreman was the king of the heavyweights.
Foreman had fought 38 times, scoring 35 knockouts. In January 1973, he annihilated Joe Frazier (victim number 35) in Kingston, Jamaica.
Frazier entered the ring, a 3 1/2 to 1 favorite. He exited, unsure of where he was, after being bounced around like a beach ball – six times in total.
“I didn’t want to hurt him anymore,” said an emotional Foreman to an AP reporter after the fight. “I kept begging Yancey Durham to stop it.”
Frazier was the man who put “The Greatest” on his butt in 1971. His left hook was already legendary. Just ask Ali. His gutsy performance was a masterclass.
Going into his bout with Frazier, the so-called boxing experts weren’t sure about Foreman. His resume seemed padded with easy fights, they said.
The old cliché, “styles make fights”, was in play in Jamaica.
Foreman set up Frazier with his telephone pole-like jab. His powerful hooks couldn’t miss. Frazier always started slow. No fire yet, no smoke. Not enough time.
Two rounds and done.
Ranked behind Frazier was Ken Norton–he of the awkward but effective style.
Norton was riding high after upsetting Ali in San Diego.
Howard Cosell had mentioned then that Ali had “trained in the parking lot,” but Norton’s style would always trouble Ali.
Ranked third was Ali. A broken jaw against Norton had shut him up for a minute, but now he was talking about his rematch with the ex-marine—set for September. Whispers were floating in boxing circles that Ali was over-the-hill. He had to win.
Former WBA heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell was next in the rankings. After stepping away from boxing for three years, Terrell had notched six wins in succession (one of which was a knockout of Norton conqueror Jose Luis Garcia). That streak would end soon.
Underrated Jimmy Ellis held the fifth spot. Ellis had lost to Frazier and his childhood friend Ali. A month later, he was fighting Earnie Shavers at Madison Square Garden. Shavers had a brick in his right hand. That brick knocked out Ellis in the opening stanza.
Popular Jerry Quarry was next on the list. Quarry threw hands five times in 1973. He won them all, including a blistering knockout of Shavers in December.
Ron Lye was a busy fighter that year. He boxed nine times (yes). His only blemish was a draw with Gregorio Peralta.
Oscar Bonavena held down the eighth spot. Still tough as a tank, “Ringo” had engaged in 60 fights. He had given Ali (and Frazier) hell.
Jose Roman, number nine, was knocked into tomorrow land later in the year by Foreman.
Rounding out the top ten was the likable Joe Bugner. The big Brit fell short against the greats in the division, but his career was worthwhile.
Quite a deep list.
Four Hall of Famers.
Quarry, Ellis, Terrell, Lyle, and Bonavena were excellent fighters.
That was then.
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