Talk of Foreman's strength always turns to his controversial habit of putting his gloves on the shoulders of an incoming opponent and pushing him away and off balance, as he did with Frazier. No one had ever handled Frazier so casually. But Norton says, "It's an illegal movement. My trainer will be aware of it, and the referee, too."
It will be something to watch for, to see if Norton can get in close without being pushed away. But Norton can reach Foreman from outside, too. His reach is half an inch longer than the champion's, and even Terry Hinke, a Foreman sparring partner of Norton's height and reach but not his experience, has had occasional success in getting to Foreman's head with his jab.
Much of Foreman's punching power originates in his heavy legs. Norton's legs are slim by comparison, but his upper body is one of the most impressive ever seen in a boxing ring. He does not always utilize its power fully. His punches are often wide and sweeping—arm punches that strike with the inside of his fist. Even Norton's sparring partners say they don't hurt. "Tight, tight," is something Norton always hears in the gym. "Tight, tight," he repeats to himself, and when he does tighten up, gets his shoulders into his punches and twists his hands to hit with the front of his fists, no one wants to stand there and take it. It is another thing he must get embedded as quickly as possible.
In some ways Norton has been training even harder than Foreman. He does things Foreman doesn't do: dynamic-tension neck exercises with his trainer, Bill Slayton, holding his head; punching a double-ended speed bag as well as the usual kind; doing 50 sit-ups each morning and 70 each afternoon to harden his rippled midsection. He also punches the heavy bag, a free-swinging one. Unlike Frazier, Norton is not overconfident for Foreman.
Norton is faster on his feet than Frazier and more skilled in avoiding punches to the head, but sooner or later he will have to do some serious punching. Preferably sooner. He has been working to correct a tendency to wait too long for openings. Some experts think this cost him the second Ali fight, and in sparring sessions Slayton yells, "Hit him on the arms." Later Slayton reminds Norton, "Doing that always keeps the other guy busy. Even a good defensive figher can't block every punch."
Foreman, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a waiting problem. He threw 37 punches in one round against Roman. Two of them landed, and Roman was through.
The word most often used to criticize Foreman's fighting style is clumsy. He gets the job done, it is said, but a clever boxer could make him look bad. Slayton says, "Norton is a scientific fighter, and Foreman is very crude." Perhaps all this is true, but Foreman did not seem crude in training. Bossman Jones has very fast hands, and he swarmed all over Foreman, but the big man waved those great arms around and did not get hit.
Hinke, whose favorite word for Foreman is "devastating," says, "Lots of people say how fast Ali is. Well, George hasn't even used his speed in a fight yet. He hasn't had to. I hope, for the public's sake, that when George is smashing Norton that somewhere along the line he takes time to play with him." Sparring partners always tend to favor their employers, but no one in the Norton camp is saying anything like that.
"He may be stronger than I am," Norton says, "but not by much. And I'm faster. I'll slap some of his punches and counter some—and if I'm in a position to hit, I'll hit. But I'm certainly not gonna stand there and let him hit me." The last is a reasonable enough statement by anyone hoping to survive even the first few rounds with Foreman.
By the third round, should the fight reach that point, Norton would have Foreman where he has not been since 1971. Foreman has fought only twice in the last 14 months. He went only two minutes with Roman, less than two rounds with Frazier and he hasn't taken a punch thrown with serious intent since Frazier bounced a left hook off his jaw—to no effect—in their first round. Norton, by contrast, has fought the 24 most challenging rounds of his career in the last year. In the second 12 against Muhammad Ali, a fight he is convinced he won, he was an improved fighter.