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"What will he do?" Norton is asked.
"He's gonna panic," Norton replies, "and I'll hit him again, and again and again....
"Yeah," he continues, "it's easy to say what I'll do, but when you get hit, you don't think straight. When the time comes, you do what is embedded in your subconscious."
For Norton it has been a race to get the right things embedded in time.
It was February 1973, a month after Foreman had overpowered Frazier, and Foreman was in San Diego where Ali was training for the first Norton fight. Ali was sparring when Foreman strolled in, and Ali began ranting, shouting about how Foreman was ducking him. Then Foreman was up in the ring and—what a shocking thing to see—the new heavy-weight champion of the world lay down on his back in his street clothes and allowed Muhammad Ali to stand over him, a triumphant foot on his stomach. For a man of demonstrated confidence it seemed an act of humility, the uneasy gesture of a very young man searching for a role. And George Foreman hasn't changed in that regard.
When he disdainfully left the second Ali-Norton fight after the fourth round he said it was because he had seen enough. But recently he added, "The guys trained, the people were interested.... It was awfully offensive to walk out on a good performance like that." Three weeks ago, following a workout in which he had knocked a sparring partner unconscious, Foreman said, dispassionately, "Sometimes it gets awfully hard on these guys. Even if I tap them, it hurts. But I want to be the most destructive man in the whole world. I want to be an executioner."
Dick Sadler nodded and smiled. "The Friendly Executioner," he said.
The Friendly Executioner is an apt enough nickname for Foreman. He may be given to utterances such as, "I'm heavyweight champion of the world, and you can come up and slap me," but no one who has followed his career would even dream of it. In 1970 he knocked Jack O'Halloran down in the fourth, then thunderously out in the fifth. A year later he knocked out Luis Pires in four, and Pires suffered a broken arm—while blocking a Foreman punch. And for Norton, Foreman has been working to increase his punching power.
He trains with a heavy bag held stationary by Sadler, a very brave man. Sometimes Foreman pounds it for nine minutes nonstop. Just watching him can be a near-terrifying experience; the rafters shake. It is hard to imagine anyone surviving many of those punches, much less remaining on his feet.
"Foreman's left jab can stop a man in his tracks," says former California heavyweight champion Henry Clark, one of his sparring partners. "The strongest man I've ever worked with," says another, Eddie (Bossman) Jones, a light heavyweight who has worked with many top heavyweights. That list includes Norton, who ranks second in Bossman's ratings.