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If 22 knockouts in 22 fights mean anything—and they don't necessarily mean much, since the amiable Lamar Clark piled up a record of 44 straight knockouts before someone named Bartolo Soni carelessly belted him out one night in Ogden, Utah—then a big, power-laden former Marine sergeant named Mac Foster may have a rich future in the heavyweight division, which could use a little help. The future might even include the world championship.
The importance of Foster's knockouts is not so much their number as their quality. His left hook is deadening, his right is a caution. His jab is dire punishment. His coolness under stress is worthy of his record as a Vietnam veteran with 14 major combat operations behind him. And he studies diligently to perfect a straight-up, ever-advancing style that no one so far has been able to resist for long. Only twice has he been forced to go as many as seven rounds.
Although Foster is scarcely known nationally, he soon will be. Madison Square Garden is interested in him, for the Frazier-Ellis card. So are other promoters. But as of now most of his fights have been in his home town, Fresno, Calif., to which Foster's parents brought him from Alexandria, La. when he was eight months old. In high school he showed signs of becoming a star in the shotput and discus throw, both abandoned when he joined the Marines in his senior year. With help from his manager, Pat DiFuria, whose last fighter of note was Wayne Thornton (now a radio announcer), and Pete Rokas, a promoter, Foster has made a prospering fight town of Fresno, a wealthy agricultural city of 162,500.
Mac's full name is MacArthur Foster. He was so christened by his father, a retired career Air Force sergeant and admirer of General Douglas MacArthur. That military flavor in his background is not the only thing that distinguishes Foster from the heavyweight he truly dislikes, Muhammad Ali. He speaks softly and even though he carries a big fist, too, he has yet to be heard boasting. And this is not because of modesty but because his sense of personal dignity is involved in everything he does.
At 27 Mac Foster is probably the oldest young threat to the heavyweight title in many a year—a real Johnny-come-lately who did not begin to box until he was in the Marines in Japan and only began his professional career in 1966. But, as Pat DiFuria optimistically points out, Rocky Marciano did not get started until he was 24.
Foster's amateur record—17 knockouts in 21 fights—shows one loss, and that one controversial. But even more controversial is a knockout victory that never will be listed in Nat Fleischer's Ring Record Book. When Sonny Liston was preparing in Oakland, Calif. for his fight with Henry Clark, Foster was offered $30 a workout and $20 travel expenses to box with Liston. A meager sum it was, but DiFuria felt Foster could benefit by sparring with a man who might be a future opponent.
"So we went up there," DiFuria says, "and they worked the first round and it was pretty even. The second round, they started to work the same pace, and then all of a sudden Mac hit him with a left hook and Sonny sagged into the ropes. He sat on his butt almost. Mac just stood there looking at Sonny, and Gil Sanchez [Mac's trainer] told him, 'Keep working.' Mac walked up and hit Liston with a right hand and down he went on his knees. He got up, got spun around, backed up and started to pitch forward on his face. They grabbed him under the arms and took him to his corner. He was out."
Foster confirms this version, naturally, but convincingly, too, and adds some details. He and Dick Saddler, Liston's trainer, assisted the former champion to the corner.
"I was straining," Foster says, "because he had all his weight going forward. Saddler kept saying, 'He's O.K., he's O.K.,' but I could see that, you know, that he wasn't. And when I turned him loose he fell down on one knee."
Did Foster, even though they were wearing big 16-ounce training gloves, mean to hit Liston that hard?