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Though George Foreman won the heavyweight title, 1973 was not the greatest of years for the new champion He fought less than two rounds in winning the championship from Joe Frazier, then less than one round in his only defense. A total of fewer than seven minutes. Hardly a busy, thrilling or profitable year for a strong young man who genuinely loves the sights, sounds and smells of the gymnasium and the glare of the ring.
As the year drew to a close, Foreman was not in his natural habitat of the gymnasium but in a Los Angeles hotel room, waiting for a call to rehearse an appearance on a TV show opposite Sonny and Cher, who between them weigh about as much as his right forearm. He himself weighed a chubby 240 pounds, fully 23 more than when he fought Frazier.
He was still up to his trunks in lawsuits, including a divorce, and he still had no fights lined up for the future. He was not very popular in the business. In the words of Teddy Brenner, matchmaker for Madison Square Garden, "The whole heavyweight division goes as the champion goes—and right now the champion's not going. Somebody ought to make him defend his title."
But Foreman swore that everything was changing. "I know that fighting seven minutes in a year is nothing to be proud of—but '74 is going to be different; I think it will be a bright and good year. If I can manage it, I'll fight at least five times in '74. And this time I'm not going to rely on anybody else to get me the fights. I'm going to take the initiative myself and make sure I get them."
Foreman acts like a man who is ready to take the initiative. He carries a pocket calculator now, the better to figure out his tangled financial affairs. "Somebody offered me a half million today for a fight. I worked it out on the machine. The way things stand, my share of the half million would be $159,500."
He also sounds like a man who expects some improvement in the way things stand, meaning the problem of who owns how much of his contract. "I've got a new law firm representing me and I've never been so comfortable. Also I love to fight, and I always wanted to be champion. I get turned on just by walking into a gym. I like to work out right alongside the other fighters; I like the excitement of talking to the reporters before a fight and walking down the aisle in front of a big crowd. When I don't fight, I'm just sitting around with nothing to do."
There is a suspicion in the fight game that Foreman has been an inactive champion at least in part because he wants to meet only setups like Jose Roman, whom he knocked out in two minutes in Tokyo this September in a bout that Teddy Brenner calls "an international joke" and that Muhammad Ali's lawyer calls "the kind of fight that demeans the whole business."
Looking at Foreman, however, the suspicions are hard to believe. Even upholstered with 23 pounds of fat, Foreman is an imposing man—6'3", long arms, thick biceps, hands like boxing gloves. He is one of the new breed of heavyweights, who in this age of scientific nutrition and vitamins make most of the fighters of the past look like pygmies. Against Jack Dempsey, a good-sized heavyweight in his day, he would have the advantage of 27 pounds, two inches in height, 1� inches in reach.
He sounds confident. "You've got to remember that I had 25 fights as an amateur; I took everybody on. I've never had any thought of being afraid of anybody. Well, there was a time when I thought a lot about Joe Frazier. I knew he was tough, a hard fighter. Then one time I went to see him fight and stood near him when he was being interviewed on TV afterward. His eyes just didn't look as strong as I thought they would. He looked more like a little boy. I knew then I'd beat him; I never had any doubt about it. I didn't even bother to study his fight films before I went up against him."
Foreman's victory over Frazier in January was one of the stunning upsets that made '73 one of the strangest of all years in heavyweight boxing. Who outside of the confident challenger would have guessed that the seemingly invincible Joe Frazier, conqueror of Ali in one of the sport's faster and more furious heavyweight fights, proud and mature champion of the world, would be annihilated by this green kid? And annihilated was the word for it—Frazier was knocked down six times and out after just four minutes and 35 seconds of fighting.