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“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!