If you listened closely around George Foreman's hotel in Kingston, Jamaica before last Monday night you would have sensed that something powerful and vaguely eerie was in the air, something other than the everyday tropical musk. It was a feeling that was spoken of by Foreman's more intimate associates, and the feeling had to do with something Foreman understood about how to fight Joe Frazier and how that knowledge was going to rearrange heavyweight boxing for the next few years. But only Foreman really believed he would win. Foreman and his inner circle, of course.
Dick Sadler, Sandy Saddler and Archie Moore, they all claimed to know the secret but they refused to speak further. "If our walls had ears, everybody would know." said Sandy, the former featherweight champion who works in Foreman's corner. Moore, the ex-light-heavyweight champion, smiled gently and said, "Indeed you will perceive a remarkable thing, but it is not for me to divulge." Foreman's manager, Dick Sadler, said the knowledge was strong and definite. Another in the entourage said Frazier would fall like a coconut within six rounds.
On the other side of a red board fence, at the hotel where the Frazier crowd, a large number of Muhammad Ali people and most of the Big Fight regulars were staying, it was being said that what was in the air next door was the smell of a loser closing out at 2 to 5. Bundini Brown, one of Ali's trainers, visited the Foreman lobby one afternoon and listened. "Do all you guys in this camp carry on like this?" Bundini asked. "Lord, maybe you need me to stay around and help you with the stretcher.
"George sure hits hard," Bundini admitted after watching Foreman slam punches into the heavy bag. "He could have a chance if he stick his tongue in the side of his mouth and act like a nut, if he howl and scream like a wild man and just hit Frazier all over, on the top of his head, on his ear, on his elbow, until real soon it get through."
That was not exactly the secret, but it was close enough to what happened. Except that Foreman did not need to act crazed.
In the week before the fight Foreman had become a favorite of the Kingston crowds, and they filled the outdoor stadium on a warm night to get a look at him against the man who beat Ali. They had to look fast. Only moments after the gloves were properly laced up and glares exchanged while Referee Arthur Mercante gave instructions, Frazier was in a most unaccustomed situation. He was out of range, unable to move in close to Foreman, who had a five-inch advantage in reach. But it was not because Foreman was slipping away. It was because Frazier was being handled as he has not been since he was a child.
With his long arms and exceptional strength, Foreman would reach out and push Frazier away, refusing to let him inside, keeping him relatively immobile. And then the punches really started coming, landing on Frazier's supposedly elusive head with hardly more opposition than one would expect from the big bag.
Foreman's left jab has been compared to that of Sonny Liston or Joe Louis. Not even Frazier supporters denied that Foreman could hit hard, but it was never widely appreciated just how hard until Frazier began to wobble. A left dumped Frazier in the middle of the first round, then a right put him down again. A right did it once more at the bell. Frazier's manager, Yank Durham, had to lift his man onto the stool.
In the second round Frazier went down three more times and the last punch, a tremendous right uppercut, sent him into the air and bouncing to the floor. Looking strangely small and un-menacing, Frazier was through, wrapped in the arms of Mercante. "I should have stayed down low and gone in close underneath, but I was too bullheaded," Frazier said. "I underestimated him altogether."
The Ali people would seem to have even more reason to be concerned about the result than the Frazier crowd. An organization will be set up around Foreman that will use the championship as the key to the bank vault, as Ali and Frazier used it before him. Although the Foreman-Frazier fight contract is on public file and does not call for a return match, Frazier probably will be in the ring with Foreman again before Ali's turn comes.