AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A...
The fight is two days off. I called on Joe Frazier at the Sheraton-Kingston Hotel. The champion was lying on his bed wearing a pair of boxing trunks and a T shirt. "How're you feelin'? How're you feelin'?" He has the habit of repeating his sentences. It was surprisingly hard to get him to talk about Foreman. He seemed almost to shrug him off. Frazier's manager. Yank Durham, had announced (utilizing the manager's traditional use of the personal pronoun), "I'm going to take him in the first round." I asked the fighter if that was right. "You better believe it," he said. "You better believe it."
Had he watched Foreman fight or studied films of him? Wasn't that important? Frazier shook his head almost contemptuously. "I'm concerned about preparing myself," he said. "What help is it to scout another man? Even sparring partners don't work like your opponent in the fight. So I work on my strengths. Let the other guy do the best he can." He folded his hands on his stomach. "I met George in New York. He said he was ready. In Omaha. He said he was ready. In New Orleans. He said he was ready. Saw him last Monday. He said he was ready. Well. I'm ready. You better believe it."
His room was filled with the paraphernalia of boxing—a small medicine ball, gloves for the light bag, sweat suits. Wires snaked from a small transformer on the floor to a cassette player. A Bible lay next to him on the bed.
"When the fight time comes, I hate everyone," he was saying. "It's the eight weeks of training that does it. You hate the man for making you spend the length of time it takes to whup him."
"Is it the roadwork that you dislike?"
"That's part of it," he said. "We run at five in the morning—all the fighters. It's black and quiet then, except for the dogs. A few people are going to work. A bus goes by. Maybe a cab. We can look over the hedge and see lights shining in a few of the houses where folks are getting up. The moon be up, very high. Sometimes we come around a corner and maybe a woman is waiting on a bus. She sees us and she don't know, seeing all these men running, if we're running away from someone, or maybe running at her, and she can get nervous. It's nice out there. The guy in the car following us plays tapes, so we have music to listen to when we run. Al Green's group...I'm Still in Love with You, Pretty Woman, Love and Happiness."
I said, "They don't sound like the kind of titles to pump up a fighter."
"It's the beat," he said. "You know what I mean. They got a good beat."
"Did you ever run into George Foreman out there?"