"I had really had it," Foreman says. "I figured I'd better get out. I had an obligation to all the fighters who would follow me into the sport. I didn't want to be just another bad case."
What brought Foreman around was a call to Colonel Barney Oldfield, who had been an unpaid adviser of Foreman's for five years. Colonel Oldfield is an official of Litton Industries, which directed the Job Corps Center where Foreman first boxed.
"I told him he couldn't quit," says Colonel Oldfield. "People would say he was scared. What he had to do was knock Frazier on his butt. Then as champion he would have some verbal clout."
Foreman relented and agreed to fight and the Philadelphians settled for 25% of all rights. Foreman says, "I said to myself, 'O.K., but wait until after the fight.' "
After the fight is what all the recent delay has been about but not all the difficulties were created by Foreman. Among other things there was, in effect, a rematch agreement—even though legally it cannot be called that. To get the title fight Sadler apparently agreed that Foreman would make his first title defense, should he win, under the promotional umbrella of Mrs. Earl Gilliam of Houston. The promoter would pick the opponent, who would be Frazier.
When Sadler got around to explaining this to Foreman, the new champion exploded. "You made the deal, you fight him," he said.
Yank Durham, Frazier's manager, confesses to being bewildered by Foreman's reaction. "George should have taken the rematch," he says. "I don't mean because of any lawsuit. Time is on our side. As long as it isn't too much time. He should have come back against Joe while that bad beating was fresh in Joe's mind. But I think George will come to us. He's got to. Joe's the only one that he can make a big pay day with. Well, him and Ali."
Meanwhile, Frazier will not sit around waiting for Foreman to come to him. First, there is Bugner. And then in December there could be Ali, if that ex-champion finally gets past Norton. "I've already talked to Ali's manager, Herbert Muhammad," says Yank Durham. "We haven't signed anything, but we are in agreement. We're both trying to figure out what Sadler is doing. He called me up twice and all I get is off-the-wall talk. I said, 'Are we fighting, Dick?' And he said, 'Hold on, Yank, let's do something else first.' What he wanted was a doubleheader: Foreman and Frazier on the same card against different opponents. He's got to be crazy or just conning me. I'm not giving Joe away at a discount sale, not at a 2-for-1 price."
A fighter knocked out is given an automatic 30-day suspension. On his 29th day Frazier stepped into the gym and went to work. He no longer speaks of the hardships of his profession or his ambivalence about fighting. He has not spoken of retirement since Jan. 22, the day Foreman knocked him out in the second round. The championship is gone, and suddenly he realizes what it meant to him. Frazier works long and hard with grim purpose. "I've got nothing bad to say about George," he says quietly. "He's a good man, but when I get him in the ring again I'll have a lot better things to say about good old George." He smiled. His eyes were cold and hard.
In California, Norton already is at work for his rematch with Ali. He had an offer to fight Foreman but his backers spurned it. A strange contract, reportedly, came in the mail: Norton would be given a $250,000 guarantee to fight Foreman at an unspecified site for an unspecified promoter. Win or lose, Norton would give up 5% of all future purses and a major portion of all future ancillary rights. It is an old boxing ploy—as is Sadler's denial of any such contract.