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"I don't care if Foreman is fighting a one-armed Suma wrestler," says Dundee. "Watch the interest in boxing boom. Foreman shook everything up when he beat Frazier. Guys are running all over the place looking for hot young prospects. And they are turning up. Look at Duane Bobick. He's a big handsome kid and he comes out of the Olympics with a name. He's had four fights and four knockouts. So what if nobody heard of the guys he beat? Who's he supposed to learn against, King Kong?"
If so much depends upon Foreman, what has he been doing all this time? Well, pouting mostly, threatening to quit and warily avoiding fast-talking promoters. For good reasons, Foreman has grown to distrust many of the people around him. He has been sliced up like the only salami at a banquet, and most of his energies recently have been devoted to getting back some of the pieces. Since late in 1971, after Sadler had talked the champion into a deal of which Foreman now says he wanted no part, the champion's world has spun in a weird orbit of thorny legal tangles and financial frustrations. It was then that Sadler, apparently tired of fighting an endless series of nobodies in an endless succession of tank towns, threw away the timetable the two had been following toward a title shot and reached for the first available quick buck. Marty Erlichman, Barbra Streisand's manager, was there to hand it out. What Erlichman asked for in return—and got—was an awful lot.
"The deal was made before I knew it was in existence," Foreman says. "I never wanted to sign that contract. But Dick believed in it so much that even before he told me about it he had an agreement and took some money. I told him I didn't want to sign, but he said he had accepted the man's money. He was so determined, that I signed. I think that Marty Erlichman just promoted Dick Sadler."
The deal was a risk for both sides. Erlichman gambled in the neighborhood of $500,000 that the young Olympic champion with 31 straight professional victories over a bunch of warm bodies would someday be the champion. Upon Sadler's insistence, Foreman signed away one-half of all ancillary rights (or, except for live gate purses, every penny he would earn, including closed-circuit television) for the next 10 years. Only if he remained a mediocre fighter could he win with an arrangement like that.
For his part, Erlichman agreed essentially to pay Foreman $100,000 then, $100,000 more by 1972, $25,000 each year for 10 years and various sundries. Most of the items and Erlichman's expenses were to be taken off the top, meaning in essence that Foreman would be paying himself out of his own earnings, and then giving Erlichman half of what remained from the ancillaries.
Had Muhammad Ali agreed to the same financial arrangement before he won the championship from Sonny Liston, the deal to date would have cost him $8 million. "We figure Ali's total purses so far are in the area of $20 million," says Robert Arum, Ali's New York attorney. "And I estimate that 80% realistically can be attributed to the ancillary rights. You pick your advisers and you take your chances. That's the problem. They are making crazy and secret deals. The result is that with that kind of percentage signed away, and who knows how much more, they can't show what they are doing. They have to go under the table."
"I have my limitations. I'm no financial genius," Sadler says hotly. "But I still say that at the time we signed that paper it was the greatest thing in the world. We didn't give up nothing because we weren't nothing. It's easy now to sit back and say, shoot, that was awful. But a man has to make a decision when he is faced with it, not years later. Damn, who was gambling? Erlichman was. He was shooting the dice, rolling the craps. Look at the next fight after we signed, the one with Luis Pires. George looked awful and Erlichman looked sick."
Sadler rocked with laughter. "We had that man tied up. George was a diamond in the rough, a maybe. Erlichman was gonna give us a lot of money, and he was gonna give us a lot of other professional public relations people paid for by him. We needed publicity. What made Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali? Shoot, they wasn't nothing until they got together on Wide World of Sports."
One morning last year Foreman awoke to discover that he was going to fight Joe Frazier for the title. He found out by reading it in a newspaper. "Oh, wow," he said, not altogether happily. Sadler was summoned. "Forget it," Foreman told his manager. "First you talk me into that stupid deal, and now you have me fighting Frazier and I won't even have time for a couple of tune-ups. You'll never make another decision for me. I'm not going to fight for the championship and have someone else get everything I've worked for, everything I've earned. We've got to get rid of all those other people around me."
At Foreman's insistence a suit was filed and interminable negotiations began. What complicated matters—and has kept them complicated ever since—was that Erlichman assigned his agreement to a Philadelphia group headed by David L. Miller, an attorney. Foreman stood the legal wrangling just as long as he could, then one morning he told everyone to forget the Frazier fight, forget boxing. He was having no part of either ever again.