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“I Was ****y . . . But Damn, I was Good!”
The Bob Foster Story
By chris cozzone
Not only is Bob Foster the greatest fighter to ever come out of New Mexico, but this Hall of Famer is considered by many to be the greatest light heavyweight in the history of sport.
In a career that spanned 65 fights and 17 years, Bob Foster punched his way to the light heavyweight championship, then defended his undisputed title a record number of times for his class—14 times—between ’69 and ’73. Whereas most world champions nowadays balk at giving up 4 or 5 pounds, let alone 40, Foster was a risk-taker, taking the leap into the heavyweight division to fight the era’s giants: guys like Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. The only losses on his record are to heavyweights. As a light heavy, Foster was untouchable.
Foster retired undefeated in 1974, then returned to the ring for seven fights before he called it quits for good in ’78. His record was 56-8-1, with 46 knockouts.
Foster took up a career in law enforcement after he was finished with boxing. Now 63 years old, Foster continues to work and live in Albuquerque, his hometown . . . .
"Where’d that skinny little S.O.B. learn to punch . . . ?"
When Bob Foster was in high school, he got into a fight and with a single punch, and fractured the other kid’s skull. It got him kicked out of school.
“I had to go before the judge,” says Foster. “I was scared to death! My mother told me, ‘Quit hittin’ those guys and push them or slap them instead.’ I said, ‘Why? They ain’t slapping me! They’re trying to hurt me, why shouldn’t I hit them?’”
Fighting was a means of defense for Bob Foster, who grew up in the Chicano-dominated South Valley of Albuquerque. He says he fought often—and early on, he was “laying guys out.”
“But I never thought about no punching power. I’d just get in there and throw punches . . .”
It wasn’t until Foster was in the Air Force that his value as a fighter was realized. After enlisting in the military after high school in ’57, Foster made the Air Force’s boxing team. For the next four years, that’s all he would do—box. And in over 100 fights, Foster would win all but three.
“That’s all we did in the military was box. We traveled all over the world. We went to England and cleaned up. Fought in Downtown, DC in the National Golden Gloves; cleaned up there, too. After we passed through, they wouldn’t let us in the Gloves no more. I fought this guy named Jimmy Bush—one bad dude. But I hit him with a right uppercut and bam! It looked like he was doing a dance, his legs moving all over the place before he finally fell over. I always could punch—one time I hit a big Marine and with one shot, broke both his jawbones. I remember those days good . . . We were some baaddd amateurs in the Air Force. A damn good team.”
Foster would win the light heavyweight division in the Pan American Games. It was while fighting in the Pan American Games that Foster first came across Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay.
“We were in the auditorium in Chicago. Ali was sitting behind me but I didn’t know it. I heard this loudmouth talking loud and turned to my friend, ‘Who’s that guy back there?’ I asked. He said, ‘That’s Cassius Clay.’ I said, ‘Who the hell is Cassius Clay?’ ‘Well, he’s supposed to be a pretty good fighter.’ And he was a good fighter. That guy would hit you, boom-boom-boom-boom-boom! And then he was gone . . .”
It would be Clay, not Foster, who’d get the light heavy spot for the Olympics.
“They wanted to drop me down to middleweight,” recalls Foster. “I said, ‘How the hell am I gonna make middleweight?’ I was 6’3”—how was I gonna get to 160? I couldn’t make it and they took Ali as a light heavy. What they should’ve done is take Ali as a heavyweight. They screwed the whole thing up. They took a friend of mine, Eddie Crook for middleweight and for heavyweight, they took a guy named Lennie More from the Air Force. Hell, I used to spank his butt every day we sparred. He was a big, dumb heavyweight, big and slow.”
Ali went on to win the gold medal in the Olympics.
Foster stayed on for another year, still in big demand by the military. He continued to train and box in D.C. where he was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base.
“They used to bring all the pros down to the base to box with us. One day, my trainers said, ‘Bob, you’re gonna box with Clarence Hinnant.’ I said, ‘Box with who?’
“Man, I was ****y back then, being the Air Force’s light heavyweight champion, and the Pan American champ and all that.
“While I was putting on my shoes, I asked this guy, ‘Hey Mack, who’s this Clarence Hinnant guy?’ He said Hinnant was the #2 light heavyweight contender.
“‘You mean he’s a pro? Oh Lordy . . .’
“I got in there and Hinnant spanked my butt. I was scared to death. Actually, I was a little nervous, not really scared, working with a professional. I didn’t know what to do. Every time I did something, this guy had something to deal with it. I’d throw a punch and he’d sit there and whap!whap!whap!, do something back.
“Well, my trainer jumped all over me. He said, ‘Tomorrow, you’re gonna box with him again. He ain’t no different than you. He puts on his pants the same way you do. He’s got two hands just like you got two hands. Hell, you a professional too, you just ain’t signed no papers.’
“Next day we go out there, we started to box. I noticed something when he jabbed, his hands dropped low, so I stepped in there and boom! One shot, put him down.
“Hinnant had been getting ready to fight Yvonne Durelle and if he’d beaten Durelle, he’d get a shot at Archie Moore for the title. But I hit him with that right hand and his left leg went up in the air, his eyes went up in his head and he went down. His trainers jumped in the ring, ‘Hey Clarence, you alright? Clarence, you alright?
‘Yeah, huh? Yeah . . . I’m alright . . . uh-huh . . .’ Hell, he didn’t know where he was! His trainer looked at me, looked at my trainer, Freddy, and said, ‘Who the hell is that skinny kid?’
‘That’s Bob Foster,’ my trainer told him.
‘Well, where’d he learn to punch like that?’
“I’d hit him with that one **** wearing 18 ounce gloves, too. Great big gloves like pillows and I’d knocked him cold.”
Foster was nearing the end of his four years of service around that time.
“When I got close to getting discharged, every branch of the military wanted me; the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy, the Army . . . the Army, though, gave me a better deal. They guaranteed I’d be a master sergeant within 90 days of discharge and they’d move my family and I down to Fort Cameron, KY. I said, ‘That sounds pretty good.’ So, I got discharged from the Air Force and drove down to Kentucky where I stayed on their base on their boxing team. But I only stayed two months. I figured if I’m this damn good where every damn branch of the service wants me, I think I’ll just get out and turn professional. So, that’s what I did.”
It was a good thing that Foster got out when he did:
“Right after I got out, that damn Vietnam war broke out and they sent the whole boxing team from Fort Cameron, KY. They sent all those guys over there and every one of them got killed. Every damn one of ‘em. Man, that hurt . . . .”
........................“I couldn’t fight with three jabs coming at me. I didn’t know which one to duck . . . .”
Bob Foster turned pro in March of ’61 and by the end of the year, he was 7-0 with 4 KO’s. His winning streak would continue to 9-0 (5 KO’s) before he would lose his first fight in October of ’62—against heavyweight Doug Jones. In a 10-rounder, Foster was KO’d in the 8th.
“Jones and I were in the Air Force together, and I spanked his butt back then. He was a light heavyweight then. He got out a couple years before I did and grew into a heavyweight. Well, Jones was supposed to fight fellow heavyweight contender Zora Folley but something had happened and they were looking for someone to fight him. I said, ‘Hell, I’ll fight him. Being a heavyweight, he outweighed me but I didn’t care. Well, he stopped me in the 8th. I just ran out of gas. I didn’t train, and I wasn’t a 10-round fighter, I was just a six-round fighter.”
Four months later, Foster was knocking out guys again. He fought twice in the D.C. area where he was living, scoring KO’s in the 1st and 4th, before he was matched up against another fight. This time, he was scheduled to fight Mauro Mina in Mina’s hometown of Lima, Peru, in November, ’63.
“Mina was a light-heavyweight and my record says I lost a ten-round decision. Hell, I lost that fight! I didn’t lose that! In fact, I retired Mina! They sent me down there to be used as a tune-up fight because Mina was getting ready to fight Dick Tiger, who was champ at the time . . . . but by the time I got through with Mina, there was nothing left.
“It was a messed up fight. One round, we’d fight two minutes, the next we might fight five or four minutes. I’d go back to my corner and ask my trainer, Billy*, what was going on. [*Foster’s trainer was Billy Edwards. Edwards had been a light heavyweight contender before he retired. (Edwards passed away in 1996.) I’d say, ‘Damn, that was a long round!’
“Well, I couldn’t knock that guy out. Every time I hurt Mina, I’d hear BING! They’d ring the bell to end the round. But if he was getting the best of me, damn, we’d fight for five minutes! I messed him up good though, and he couldn’t fight no more.”
Three more early-round knockouts followed the “loss” to Mina—until Foster was matched up against one of the best heavyweights of the time, Ernie Terrell. (Terrell would win the WBA Heavyweight title in ’65 when Ali was stripped for fighting a rematch with Sonny Liston rather than against their #1, but Terrell would lose it two years later to Ali.)
Ernie Terrell was simply too big and strong for Foster, outweighing the light heavyweight 202 ½ to 183. Foster came in as a 2-1 underdog.
Terrell controlled the action but was warned and even penalized for holding so by the 6th, the fight was even. But Foster was beginning to tire from the clinching. He took the 6th with the harder punches on the inside but in the 7th, Terrell landed an overhand and a hook and in a delayed reaction, Foster fell. He was up at six, but when he staggered, referee Arthur Mercante continued counting ‘til ten. Later, Mercante would say that as Foster was struggling to regain his feet, he’d pushed off the canvas with his glove, which meant technically that Foster hadn’t risen from the floor.
Whatever the reason, Foster was angry at the outcome, but for a different reason. He told reporters: “Terrell knocked me down with a push and a shove. He hugged me more than my wife.”
Three more knockout wins rounded out 1964 for Foster. He was now 17-3, with 3 KO’s when, in January of ’65, he fought for the first time in his hometown, Albuquerque.
“There was nothing going on in New Mexico so it was hard to draw a crowd back then,” says Foster, who gave his hometown a round and a half before knocking out Roberto Rascon in the 2nd. The next time Foster fought in Albuquerque, it would be as the light heavyweight champion.
Two more knockout wins and Foster was rematching crafty contender Henry Hank in Louisiana.
The first time, Foster had stopped him in the 10th. This time, the fight would go the distance although Foster won a lopsided decision. Foster closed Hank’s eye in the 1st, also bloodying his mouth and nose. Hank took the damage and somehow lasted the distance.
After the fight, Hank told reporters, “I couldn’t fight with three jabs coming at me. I didn’t know which one to duck.”
Foster’s next fight would be his toughest yet: against heavyweight contender Zora Folley. It would be his last fight for a year.
“I learned how to fight, fighting Zora Folley,” says Foster. “The guy was a tremendous fighter. He wasn’t a big heavyweight—about 190—but when you’re only 175, that’s a lot of weight to give up. Folley taught me what it was to fight. That sucker could box. He couldn’t break an egg but he could box. And that jab . . . that jab worried me to death.”
After ten rounds, Folley took the decision.
Despite the loss, Foster was now a threat to the Light Heavyweight champion Dick Tiger, who won the title from Jose Torres. (Tiger had also been the World Middleweight champion in ’63 and then again in ’65-’66.)
But getting a shot at Tiger wasn’t all that easy.
“Nobody wanted to fight me. In those days, you wanted a shot at the title, you had to come up with some big money and guarantee the champion a purse. They wanted $100,000, and I didn’t have it at the time.”
After a year lay-off, Foster came back in December of ’66 and started knocking out guys again. In one year, fighting in the D.C. area where he was living and training, Foster scored 7 knockouts and one decision (against Eddie Vick.)
Then, after seven years of fighting, Foster got himself a shot at the title.
“Dick Tiger? Man, that was Ice Cream and Cake . . . .”
After securing financial backers, Foster guaranteed the champion’s purse of $100,000. Foster made a fraction of that—$10,000 if even that—but it was the title he wanted; the title he was positive he could win.
Tiger was no walkover; he was 57-17-3 and had beaten guys like Joey Giardello, Gene Fullmer and Jose Torres. Despite Tiger’s experience, Foster was a 12 to 5 favorite. He had a 7 ½-inch height advantage and an 8-inch reach advantage. Foster’s record was now 29-4, with 26 KO’s.
“I never thought he’d fight me but I knew if ever got the chance, I’d be champion. I’d told the promoters at the Garden before the fight, ‘You might as well give him the $100,000 now because there’s no way in hell he’s gonna beat me.”
In May of ’68 before 12,000 fans at Madison Square Garden, Foster destroyed Tiger.
Tiger started off well, landing a good left hook early but Foster was patient. He took control in the 2nd round, sticking jabs in the champ’s face while eluding Tiger’s power shots.
Ring Magazine would call the 4th the “Round of the Year”: Two minutes into the round, Foster threw a right that missed and followed up with a short hook that caught Tiger coming in. Tiger went down hard.
At 2:05, Tiger was counted out—for the first time in his 15-year career. It had also been his second knockdown in 77 fights.
Tiger would describe his experience to Ring Magazine afterward: “I do not see anything. I do not hear anything. Everything is all quiet, and it is dark. There is no pain, there is no sound. I do not know I was on the floor. Was I on the floor?”
“Damn right you were on the floor!” Foster would say.
“Dick Tiger, man that fight was ice cream and cake. The guy was too short—he was 5’7” or 5’8” and I’m 6’3” and can knock this building over. I knew Tiger could punch, though. I just knew I could punch harder. But he was so damn short, it was hard getting anything to land.
“At the end of the 3rd round, my trainer said, ‘You can’t get a good shot on him, can you?’ I said, ‘No, he’s covering up too much.’ He said, ‘Well, when you’re getting ready to come in, hit him with a right uppercut and then follow with the left hook.’ I said, ‘Okay.’
“So, in the 4th, I bent way down low and hit him. I missed the first shot. Then he came in again and WHAM! BAW! I caught him right on the chin and he fell backward and hit headfirst. That’s how hard I hit him. He tried his damndest to get up but there was no way in the world he’d a made it. He was out of it. ****, I must’ve jumped higher than this house!”
Bob Foster was now the light heavyweight champion of the world.
“Fighters today are babied. Back in my day, we took risks and fought ‘em all.”
What followed winning the title was a domination of the light heavyweight division that hasn’t been seen since. By the time Bob Foster retired (for the first time) in 1974, Foster would rack up 14 title defenses, as well as take the leap into the heavyweight division to take on two of the sports greatest heavyweights: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
In August of ’68, Foster returned to Albuquerque for a hometown fight and his second title defense. His opponent was Eddie Vick, a man he’d gone the distance with in ’67.
“I came back home and fought this big heavyweight, Eddie Vick, stopping him in the 4th round. I remember that fight because that man taught me a lesson in the first round. Everyone was there, my mother was there and my sister was sitting ringside. So, I was acting cute and showing off. I threw a jab and dropped my left hand and WHAMMO! He caught me right there on the chin! Man, I hit the floor and they say my legs were shaking.
“But I was in good shape. I got up and beat the count. I didn’t know where I was but I made it to the end of the round. ‘What happened?’ I asked my corner. They said, ‘Goddamnit, quit showing off out there in front of your family and keeps your hands up! Get to work!’
“I went back out there and told Vick, ‘You won’t see that **** no more!’ And I got behind my left hand and started busting him up. I went to work on his body and everytime I hit him, I’d hear him groan. Bam! Ughhh! Bam! Ugghhh! He wouldn’t come back out for the 4th round.”
Foster says there’s a fight against another heavyweight that’s missing from his record: a fight in San Francisco that lasted but 17 seconds.
“This guy was big and tough and mean looking, he looked like the black Mr. Clean. Before the fight started, I asked Billy, ‘Damn Billy, you sure you know what we’re doing?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he big but he dumb. I want you to go up to him, feint that jab to his stomach and get him on the chin with a right hand.’
“I walked out there and feinted that jab, then BAM! Hit him right on the chin and lifted him clear up his feet! I remember that punch clearly because when I hit him, blood shot out of both his ears! He lay down there shaking and his brother jumped into the ring shouting, ‘You done killed my brother! He’s dead! You killed him, you killed him!’
“I said, ‘Well, that’s the price you pay. This is a tough business, that’s what I get paid for.’ Well, I don’t get paid to kill nobody but I get paid to hurt you—Hell, they’re trying to hurt me.’
“That guy asked my trainer, ‘Is he always that mean?’ Billy said, ‘Nah, he’s got a heart of gold . . .’”
Foster’s next fight was against Montana fighter Roger Rouse in DC; the first of two fights against the hard-headed, hard-hitting Rouse.
“Rouse was one tough man. That first fight, that sucker hit me on the chin with a left hook—it felt like electricity started from there and went all the way through my body. Man, the bottom of my feet were on fire. I made it up and went I got back to my corner, I asked Billy, ‘What the heck did he hit me with?’ Billy said, ‘He hit you with a left hook, now keep your hands up!’
“He must’ve known I was still on fire, ‘cause he said, ‘You alright?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He held up one hand and asked, ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ I said, ‘Six.’ Billy laughed and said, ‘You alright. Now get back out there and keep your damn hands up. Get behind that jab.’
“Man, I had a devastating jab! If I didn’t knock you out, I was gonna bust you open, anyway. I told Rouse, ‘You won’t hit me with that **** no more!’
“Pow! Pow! I got behind my jab and busted him up good. Knocked him out in the 5th. The second time I fought Rouse, in 1970, it took me four rounds. Bam! I hit him and cut both his eyes open. I had him down three times in four round before the ringside doc said enough. He was one tough man, Rouse . . .”
Foster defended his title at the Garden in his next fight, against the only other fighter to knock down Dick Tiger, Frankie De Paula. De Paula was a brawler. Before the fight, he told the press that he’d start winging punches from the opening bell: “Everybody, including Foster, knows I’m no fancy dan,” he said.
Only seconds into the fight, Foster was down from a left hook to the body, although the champ said it was a slip and not a true knockdown. Angry at having it ruled a knockdown, Foster went to work and dropped De Paula three times in the next two minutes, ending the fight on the 3-knockdown rule with a KO win at 2:17.
The next title defense was four months later in Springfield, MA, against the #1 Contender, a guy named Andy Kendall.
Kendall had been shot point-blank in the stomach from a shotgun wielded by his father-in-law. Physicians said he’d never fight again but he proved them all wrong, returning to the ring and rising to #1 Contender.
Foster knocked him out in the 4th and after the fight, Kendall said he was considering retirement. Foster told him not to retire:
“Just don’t ever be the #1 Contender again,” he said.
From the time he knocked out Tiger, Foster was on a knockout streak: three KO’s in the second half of ’68 after winning the title; four KO’s in ’69; and four more KO’s in ’70. There was no one around to threaten Foster’s light heavyweight reign—except, of course, the sanctioning bodies who called the shots.
Back then, there were only two recognized bodies: the WBC and WBA. Foster held both belts, making him the undisputed champ. But Foster hadn’t defended his WBA belt in six months so now the WBA was demanding that Foster take on their #1 man, Jimmy Dupree. Foster said Dupree—who was his sparring partner, no less—presented little challenge. A fight with Dupree was also not much of a payday.
Foster wanted something else; he wanted to be the first light heavyweight champion to win the World Heavyweight title.
Foster wanted Joe Frazier.
“Frazier brought death to you . . .”
In November of ’70, a 188-pound Bob Foster stepped into the ring with a 209-pound Joe Frazier at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, MI. Foster was a 5-1 underdog against the undefeated Heavyweight Champion, who was 26-0 at the time.
In the 1st, Foster bombarded Frazier with hooks and straight rights. In the second, Frazier took over—one hook toppled Foster for the nine-count. A second hook dropped him again where he was counted out at :49.
“My toughest fight was Smokin’ Joe Frazier. It only lasted two round, but those two rounds seemed like a year with that sucker comin’ at you. He was the closest you could come to facing death. Why’d I take it? ****, the money!
But I thought I had him out in the first round. I hit him with a right that buckled his knees. I guess maybe he was playing with me or something, because after that first round, his manager grabbed him and slapped him and said, ‘Goddamnit!’—he was yelling and you could hear him clear across the ring, probably all over the auditorium—he said, ‘Goddamnit, what the hell did I tell you? Didn’t I tell you that you can’t give that little skinny SOB any punching room? He’ll knock your brains out! Now, get on top of him!’
“Well, that’s what he did in that second round. I was telling Billy, ‘I’m gonna knock this dumb heavyweight out. He’s sitting there trying to box with me.’ Billy said, ‘Whatever you do, Bobby, don’t pull back on this guy.’ I said, ‘Okay.’
“Then Joe got me on the ropes. I knew it was a body punch. He threw three shots to the body and I blocked ‘em—but the fourth one he feinted and I went for it. He turned it over right on the chin—I don’t remember nothing after that. It was the first time I’d ever been out . . .
“But me and Joe were tight, before and after the fight. That’s why he gave me a shot, because we were friends, you know. Afterwards, I said, ‘Damn Joe, you tried to kill me in there!’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t try to kill you, but I couldn’t just let you come in and take my title.’ I said, ‘Well, I was gonna do more than just show up, Joe.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know you was. That’s why I had to stop you in the second round.’ Joe and I, we went out to a bar and got drunk that night, yeah . . .”
“I was mean and I wanted to hurt you . . .”
Losing to the Heavyweight Champion did nothing to Foster’s confidence. He was back in the ring defending his Light Heavyweight title four months later against Hal “TNT” Carroll in Scranton, PA.
“I never did lose to a light heavyweight, and man, was I ****y! I remember fighting this kid, Hal Carroll.
“At the weigh-in, he was standing there on the scale, I was behind him. One of the newspaper reporters asked him, ‘How many times have you been knocked out?’ He said, ‘Knocked out? I ain’t ever been knocked out. I’ve never been down.’
“I was behind him so I touched him on the shoulder. He turned around and looked. I said, ‘You will be tonight.’
“I’d already put the fear of God into him. They knew I could punch. With either hand. After the third round, I told my corner, ‘I’m gonna end him this round. Hit him with a right hand. I’m gonna feint this left hand to the stomach and he’s gonna go for it. He’ll bring that hand down and leave his face open.’
“When the bell rang, I hit him with a right hand, about six inches. I turned it over, and POW! Honest to God, he got stiff as a board—and had this big ol’ smile on his face! I thought, ‘Now what the Hell . . ?’ Then he went Boom! Face first, he hit the canvas. I started laughing.
“Carroll had been warned not to take that fight. ‘You gonna fight who?’, people had asked him. ‘Bob Foster? You don’t need to fight no Bob Foster! He’s gonna ruin you!’
“’Oh no, oh no . . .’ Carroll had been saying. And that one shot ruined him. He wasn’t any good after that. Nope, I never did have any problems with those light heavyweights.”
Foster fought five times in ‘71—four KO’s and a 15-round decision in a title defense against Ray Anderson. Only now, Foster, although still considered the “World Light Heavyweight Champion” had only one belt—the WBC’s. The WBA had stripped Foster of his belt when he opted to fight Joe Frazier in November of ’70. The WBA belt had been vacated and then won by Vincente Rondon.
In April of ’72, Foster got the chance to unify the belts again.
After the fight, Foster told the press, “I didn’t really want to knock him out. I wanted it to go 15 so I could beat him bad. I hate him and I hate the WBA.”
The fight did not go past the 2nd:
“I didn’t like the guy. He kept talking, ‘Me the champion, me the champion . . .’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re the champion, my ass. Champion of my sit-down parts! I’m the champion and I’m gonna show you in the ring.
“The first round was slow but in the 2nd, I hit him with a double left hook that knocked him out cold. I fractured his skull in two places. His feet were twitching and they carted him out on a stretcher. I was mean, I wanted to hurt you, I really wanted to hurt you . . .”
“Hurt” is what Foster did in his next fight, against Mike Quarry in Nevada, knocking him out in the 4th. Quarry was undefeated at 35-0 and rated #1 in the world; after the fight, Quarry would say that the loss to Foster broke his will as a fighter.
“When I hit Mike Quarry, I thought he was dead. I was bending over looking at him and all the sudden the pupils rolled back in his head. I said, ‘Oh my God . . .’ My trainer had me by the arm and he was saying, ‘C’mon Bobby, Don’t look at him.’ I said, “Billy, the kid is dead . . .’ ’Eff him then, he ain’t got no business being in here’—that’s how cold my trainer was. He was mean.”
Foster and Quarry were matched up again in a supposed-to-be friendly boxing exhibition several years ago in Los Angeles:
“They matched up all us old-timers and that sucker Quarry tried to take my head off! He couldn’t hit me with nuthin’ but when I got tagged, my reflexes almost took over. Carmen Basilio’s wife stood up and yelled at Quarry, ‘You S.O.B.! This is supposed to be an exhibition! Bobby, don’t kill him!’ I was getting ready, too, but they stopped it just in time. I was getting ready to cut loose with that left hook.
“Mike would always ask me, every time he sees me, he’ll say, ‘How’d you hit me with that punch?’ I’ll say, ‘Mack, I told you over and over again. When I throw a jab at you, you slipped it and always dropped your hand. I threw a right hand over your shoulder because I knew what you were gonna do. When you came back up, you walked right into this hook—boom! Goodnight!”
Foster went to England for his next fight, against the ’68 Olympic gold medallist, Chris Finnegan. Foster scored a 10th round knockdown and then finished Finnegan with a hook that put him down for the count in the 14th.
The champ was ready to take the leap into the heavyweight division again in an attempt to be the first light heavyweight champ to win a heavyweight title. The title had switched hands, though—Joe Frazier had lost his title to George Foreman, who Muhammad Ali would beat two years later. This fight was for Ali’s NABF heavyweight title.
...............................“Ali? Couldn’t bust a grape . . .”
“Frazier knocked me out. Ali? He TKO’d me—not with punches because the man couldn’t bust a grape. He had me down so many times because of his weight. Only reason I didn’t back up was because my trainer was yelling at me to stay down. I had to defend my title in two months.”
Foster was down seven times in the 8 rounds the fight lasted.
“Ali never did hurt me. But I rocked his ass. I was drilling him . . . But I still got to give it to the guy. The guy was a hell of a fighter, man. Unlike the guys today, Ali gave all the heavyweights a chance to make some money. He didn’t duck anyone. So I got to give the guy credit for that. Him and I, we’re still friends, we were friends when we fought, we were friends clear through the amateurs.
Here’s what Ali said after the fight:
“I’ve got cut and bruises alongside my left eye and that’s something that no other professional fighter has been able to do to me. Foster gave me trouble all through the fight. I didn’t know a man could land so many left jabs.”
“I just wasn’t right anymore . . .”
1973 saw Foster fighting but two fights, both against the same guy, Pierre Fourie. The first was in August, in Albuquerque; the second was in Fourie’s hometown in South Africa. Both fights went the distance—decisions for Foster.
“Fourie was ice cream. He’s a little old short dude and I just him with my jab, boxed him. He moved a lot. I told myself, I’m not goin’ nowhere. I got 15 rounds to play with him. Fourie was moving and jumping and I just took my time and hit him when I wanted. I was ready to go out anyway, ready to give it up at the time.”
It wasn’t that Foster was losing his skills or his interest in boxing. It was his mother. She was ill in ’73. Then, in December, she passed away.
“I wanted to take her with me, to Johannesburg, but she wouldn’t fly. I couldn’t get her on a plane if I knocked her out and put her on there. If she woke up while in the air, she’d probably jump right off. But I just wasn’t myself in Johannesburg. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was but there was something wrong with me.
“My mother knew she was gonna pass but she wouldn’t tell me. She just said she wouldn’t be able to make it this time. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong; she wanted my mind to stay on the fight. But I knew something was wrong. You know how you just know sometimes?”
Foster fought on the 1st and returned on the 3rd—the day his mother died.
“Well, I was mad at the world then. If you ever lose your mother, that’s something that you’ll never forget. It’ll be with you ‘til the day you die.”
Foster fought one more time and then retired. In June ’74, before a sold-out crowd at the UNM Arena in Albuquerque, Foster took out light heavyweight contender from Argentnia, Jorge Ahumada.
Through 15 rounds, Foster fought sluggish, while Ahumada connected with hooks and downed the champ in the 13th round. At the end, though, the judges gave the decision to Foster: 148-143, 145-142 and 144-144.
“I thought I’d lost that fight. Ahumada was a little ol’ bitty short dude but he was all over me. He couldn’t bust a grape but I still thought I’d lost that fight. They called it a draw. Anytime you get a draw in your hometown, that means you lost the fight. Yeah, I would’ve come back and knocked him out—I should’ve knocked him out back then—but I just wasn’t right anymore.”
In September that year, Foster announced his retirement.
“It was my mother. Everywhere I fought, I’d always send for her. She’d always be sitting ringside at my fights. It wasn’t the same anymore. I’d look around and not see her there. My trainer said, ‘Bobby, we had enough of this ****. We made enough money. Let’s quit.’”
And that’s what Foster did . . . for a while, anyway.
In Albuquerque, Foster started up a career in law enforcement with the Sheriff’s Department. But in June of ’75, he began a half-hearted comeback. The former champ fought once in ’75, three times in ’76 and once in ‘77—four out of five knockouts, all wins. He fought two more times in ‘78—both KO losses.
“I wasn’t in no shape then. It was time to give it up.”
Foster retired again and this time, stayed retired.
“I wish I could do it again . . .”
In 1990, Bob Foster was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the first year of inductees, alongside some of the greats he fought: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Dick Tiger.
“I got no regrets with my career. Hell, I fought from 1960 to 1978 and I had the title for six, seven years. I accomplished everything I had to do in boxing and retired with my title. Hell, I wish I could do it again. But you get that age on you and you have to cut boxing loose.”
Even today, Foster is considered one of—if not the best—light heavyweight of all time. Also in the running: Archie Moore and Roy Jones, Jr.
“Jones is a good, smart fighter—more of a defensive fighter, really—but he wouldn’t have beaten me. He wouldn’t have gotten past my jab let alone my power. I would’ve been too strong for him, too big. Fighting Jones would’ve been like my fight with Tiger. Jones isn’t mean enough, like I was.
“You don’t find any mean fighters nowadays. Tyson? He’s not mean, he’s crazy. But no one’s hungry. They’re all babied.”
Not being mean or hungry enough is just one of the problems Foster sees plaguing boxing these days.
“In my days, if you were to ask, ‘Who’s the light heavyweight champion?’, you’d hear, ‘Bob Foster is.’ If you were to ask, “Who’s the heavyweight champion?’, you’d hear, ‘Muhammad Ali.’ ‘Who’s the middleweight champion?’ ‘Emile Griffith.’ Nowadays, you ask, you have no idea. Someone asked me recently who the heavyweight champ is. I had no idea.
“They got so many of them out there. I guess because the money is so big now. Everyone wants their champions. I call them ‘paper champions.’ Only two titles I go along with is the WBA and WBC. And that’s it. The rest of them, the IBA, the IBF the WBO . . . you can forget ‘em.
“It don’t make sense to me. Get boxing back to what it was. Let there be one champion. Let that one champion fight the #1 Contender. That’s the way it used to be. Now, they got too many versions of the champion. Too many champions in each division. When I was boxing, there were just nine divisions. It’s all messed up now, and something needs to be done about it.”
No respect in New Mexico
Bob Foster may be the most successful boxer to come out of New Mexico, but most fight fans here are not so familiar with him—not as familiar as they are with Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero, anyway.
“Back east, they make you feel like you’re the champion. Everyone knows Bob Foster out there. But here in New Mexico . . . half the people don’t even know I live here, or that I was born and raised here.”
Part of the reason may be the success in the last ten years of former world champions Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero—two fighters Bob Foster does not care too much for.
“Tapia and Romero? Those guys ain’t nothing like we were back then. They will never be the fighter I was. Hell, I fought anyone. Those two have too many problems. And they didn’t want to fight guy from D.C., Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. You want to be the champ, you should fight the best in your class. That means anyone and everyone.
“And Romero? ****, everybody he fought they dug up out of Strong & Thorne Mortuary! Those Romeros try to run around bull****ting people. This is a boxing business and you got to be ready—them guys are trying to take your head off in the ring. Romero, he should’ve quit when he fought Salazar and injured that eye bone. He’s been protective ever since—hell, he doesn’t even spar! You don’t spar, how the hell you gonna be ready for a fight? You can’t get sharp without sparring. I had 150-200 rounds of boxing when I fought for the belt, before I stepped in the ring . . . I was ready.
“That’s what pisses me off about them. They try to walk around trying to bull**** everyone but in this business, you can’t fool anyone when you step in that ring. Look at what happened in Romero’s last fight.
“Everybody has always tried to outdo me here, know what I’m saying? Try to outdo and embarrass me. When I first fought here in New Mexico, I’d be lucky if there was a hundred people out there. There was no boxing scene back then. But when I defended the title, they sold the joint out. I sold the Pit out, man. What pissed me off is when Tapia and Romero fought in the Pit, they drew 12-13,000. When I fought there we sold it out—what’s it seat, 19,000? Hell, yeah . . . .”
Still in the Scene
Since his retirement, Foster has remained in the sport training the occasional student. He even trained his son—a heavyweight Foster says could’ve been the world champion if he’d had a little more heart.
“My second oldest, Tony, now he could’ve been heavyweight champion of the world—but he didn’t have the guts. I said, ‘What in the world are you afraid of? Damn, if were big as you . . . Hell, they could bring King Kong out of the jungle to fight me.’ He was 6’4” and when in shape, 245 pounds. A beautiful body.
“But you find a lot of guys like him, just scared to death. All anyone can do is knock you out—what’s there to be afraid of?
“The guy could fight, too. He fought a couple pro fights. I took him to Copenhagen to fight. The guy he was fighting looked like that Russian guy in Rocky. He said, ‘Golllyy! Look at that guy!’ I said, ‘Tony, you see one of them big foreigners, when they’re that big, believe me, take my word for it, they can’t fight.’
“Well, Tony went out there and went down when the man just grazed him! Down he went. The doctor jumped in the ring, I jumped in the ring . . . the doctor was shining his flashlight in his eyes, he turned to me and said Tony was alright, his eyes weren’t dilated. I said, ‘**** no, they weren’t dilated when he hit the floor! He took a dive out of fear!’ Man, I was hot! I told my son, ‘When you get back to Albuquerque, I want you to go downtown to the courthouse and change your name—‘cause you sure ain’t a Foster. If you had half the guts your sister had, you’d be heavyweight champion of the world. But I guess some fighters just like that, just scared to death . . .”
In the last couple years, Foster has been training two Jason’s: Jason Brey and Jason Cordova. Brey was scheduled to turn pro a couple months back but was diagnosed with a vertebrae problem that will most likely keep him out of boxing for good.
The other fighter is Jason Cordova:
“I saw him one day in the gym, throwing these short punches, turning ‘em over. I called over to him, said, ‘You know me?’ ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Foster,’ he said. ‘My dad said to look you up when I get to town. He said maybe you’d help me.’”
Cordova was born and raised in Albuquerque but had lived in Houston for several years before coming back a couple years ago.
“I told him I’d help him. I couldn’t believe this kid’s natural talent—he’s learned how to fight from watching fights on TV. Jason is one bad dude.
“First time I put him in the Gloves in Clovis, he knocked out everything out there. We left and went to Denver for Regionals. He knocked out the Army champ there. So, we went to Cleveland for Nationals and fought this big-ass heavyweight, Man, I was scared to death, ‘cause Jason looked like a midget in with this kid. Jason beat this kid, though—sucker had to be 6’4 or 6’5” to Jason’s 5’10”-5’11”. Only problem was they gave the decision to the hometown kid.”
Cordova is having his shoulder bone operated on and is expected to be out of the ring for the next five or six months. When he returns, he’ll be fighting as a light heavyweight. Foster hopes to enter him in this year’s Golden Gloves, then turn him pro.
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You can contact chris cozzone at
11-04-2011, 08:12 PM
My memory is going to crap. I have read this before and I think I even posted it here at one time. Thanks for reposting it though.....great article!
11-04-2011, 09:43 PM
See, thats the proof he was great, he knew how to set up the knockout punch. Its not that easy. Great article.
11-04-2011, 09:51 PM
Great stuff. Thanks for posting it. I've never heard of a guy bleeding from both ears after one punch. :eek:
11-05-2011, 01:20 AM
Thanks for this Barnburner.
Great article saw Foster when he came over to fight Chris Finnegan. Great fight, really good effort by Finnegan. Archie Moore v Foster would have been some fight.
Thanks for posting Barn can't recall ever reading that before
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