Foster's reply is ambiguous. "This wasn't trying to see who could outdo who in the gym," he says, "because it was a thrill to me to have the honor to go down and train with a man of his status. So when Gil told me to keep working, you know, being a marine and disciplined, I walked right up and hit him again."
That is the Foster camp version of the knockout. Liston's entourage insists the big fellow was not hurt at all. But there were witnesses other than members of the two camps and they confirm it—Liston was knocked out.
Foster describes his start in boxing as "a little comical." This was 1963, in Japan. "They had boxing matches every week, so I went and was having a lot of fun, eating popcorn, and shouting things. You know how you kid around: 'Get the bum out of there! I could beat the bum with one hand!'
"One guy was a Navy first classman. So I put it to him, 'Oh, I'll beat you up tomorrow.' After the tournament I forgot about it. The following week there was a phone call for me down at the command post. The Navy guy was on the phone saying, 'Are you going to fight me tonight?' And I said, 'I'm no fighter. I was just joking.' So he said O.K. and hung up.
"My commander of the guard was there and he says, ' Corporal Foster, you are going to fight tonight. You are going to fight and you are going to win and I'm going to give you the next duty day off.' Wow! You know, a duty day off was a treat." He never had put on a pair of boxing gloves, but Foster agreed to the match. His opponent turned out to be not the Navy man he had challenged but an Army representative. "This guy," Foster continues, "was pretty good-sized, but I was more lean and trim than him. And in the Marine Corps we always have rugged physical training. No matter which post you go to you do strenuous exercise. You never have a relaxed duty like in the Army.
"The guy was a fairly crafty boxer," Foster says, "and he gave me a lot of respect until he saw the style I came out with. I didn't move, you know. I didn't know how. He started smiling. He moved around from here to there and he kept hitting me right on the forehead. The bell sounded and I was getting a little dizzy from getting hit. Everybody was laughing.
"In the second round he came out doing the same thing. So I put my head down and I throw an overhand left real hard. I felt it hit something. So I look up and I had caught him on the jaw and he was walking around in a daze. I drew back and hit him one more time and that was it. He was down."
Far more to the point than a wild punch in an amateur bout are the two knockout victories Foster scored over Cleveland Williams, who, for all that he has seen better days, must still be rated as one of the supreme punchers in the heavyweight ranks. In their first fight, in Fresno last September, Williams ruptured one of Foster's eardrums with a solid blow, but Foster got to him in the fifth round and knocked him out.
Their next meeting was two months later in Houston, where Williams is still something of a draw. Foster won the first two rounds, landing lefts and rights with equal facility. Before the third round Williams was instructed by his corner that boxing was getting him nowhere and to use his only remaining weapon of substantial value—the left hook. At the bell he charged off his stool with a barrage of hooks and rights to the head and body and Foster was momentarily stunned—rather more than he likes to admit—by a hook that would have knocked out a lesser man.
Recovering quickly, Foster took charge once more with a hook that sent Williams down for a count of two. In a matter of seconds Williams was down again, this time while Referee Jimmy Webb counted nine. And Williams was scarcely up once more when Foster blasted him back to the canvas. On the three-knockdown rule, the fight was over. It would have been over in any case because Williams was flat on his back and out.