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Dick Tiger, never before knocked out in 77 fights over 16 years, stood in a corner of his dressing room in Madison Square Garden last Friday night trying to explain how it feels. "I do not see anything, I do not hear anything," he said with that almost musical lilt to his voice. "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?"
Yes, just two minutes into the fourth round of their fight for the light heavyweight championship, Dick Tiger was on the floor, where Bob Foster had put him. " Bob Foster?" said Tiger. "Now that he knock me out. I think he is the best fighter in the whole world."
Certainly among the middleweights and light heavyweights there can be no doubt about that, if only because Dick Tiger has fought them all. In fact, if there was one single reason why Bob Foster quit boxing two years ago it was because everybody else was fighting Dick Tiger except Bob Foster.
Foster, a tall, long-muscled man of 29, comes from Washington, D.C. and started fighting as a pro seven years ago. He has always prided himself on being the complete fighter—one who can jab, hook, move and hit with authority—and that is one reason why he suffered so when lesser men were getting shots at the title. "It was ridiculous," he recalls. "The only guys who would fight me were heavyweights. I was at the top of my division, but they'd always bring in somebody else for a title fight. Torres! They asked Torres if he wanted to fight me, and he wound up fighting Tiger. Rouse! I knocked out guys Rouse fought. It was ridiculous." Finally, after being paid $300 for fighting heavyweights like Ernie Terrell and Doug Jones and getting nowhere doing it. Foster quit the ring altogether. He had a wife and four children to support.
"One night I came home," he said. "I sat down in front of the TV set. There was a fight going on. I can't even remember who it was—all I know is that both of "em were terrible. It made me sick, they were so bad."
Fortunately Foster's suffering was short-lived. Morris (Mushky) Salow, a Hartford, Conn. restaurant owner and fight manager who had seen Foster knock out Dave Bailey in one of the preliminaries to the first Liston-Clay match in Miami Beach, had told Foster he wanted to manage him someday. Now, two years later, he was still interested. In October, 1966 Salow bought Foster's contract for $4,000 and promised him Dick Tiger within the year. Foster began to move immediately, against the right kind of opposition at first. When he finished off second-rate heavyweight Sonny Moore in two rounds last December, there was nobody left but Tiger.
Getting Tiger took $100,000. the guarantee that Salow talked Vince McMahon, a wrestling and boxing promoter in Washington, into putting up. In late April, Foster disappeared into the Cats-kills to train. He ducked everything not associated with fighting, including an invitation to appear at a Harlem dinner with Tiger and a Harlem block party sponsored by Mayor John Lindsay. "I've got too much at stake," he said. "I've waited seven years for this chance."
After seven weeks Foster was sure he was ready. "The other day," he said, "I was sitting at dinner. All of a sudden the muscles in my stomach started twitching. They would jump like somebody was shooting an electric current into them. I was really scared. I thought, 'Oh no, what now?' But it turned out that I was just in fantastic condition. I had gone to extra trouble getting my whole mid-section in shape and the muscles were just reacting to it. The next day I found that out for sure. One of my sparring partners gave me a left hook right in the solar plexus. Sometimes that will finish a guy off, but this time—honest, it almost tickled."
Tiger, meanwhile, trained in New York, living in a small hotel on the city's West Side, running miles around the reservoir in the morning and working in the gym in the afternoon. He could not conceal his anxiety about his family, trapped in the war of independence that his native Biafra was waging against Nigeria. He had not heard from them since he arrived in New York in March. "I do not worry so much anymore," he said unconvincingly. "The children have learned to take cover when they hear the planes. It is the fighter planes we worry about. If you see them you can run away. But you never see the bullets."
To the 11,547 who turned out at the new Garden, Tiger and Foster face to face looked a lot like Wilt Chamberlain and Flip Wilson. Foster, 6'3�", towered over his stockier opponent. In the clinches Tiger's nose was never higher than Foster's breastbone. Foster had an 8" advantage in height and a similar edge in reach. Indeed, the first few exchanges showed clearly that if Foster exploited his left jab to the fullest he would be halfway home. When Foster's left hand was jammed in Tiger's face, the smaller man's lefts and rights, churning below, came no nearer Foster's body than his outstretched elbow.