There is a tenseness peculiar to heavyweight championship fights. The anticipation always builds too early; the weeks of waiting always seem full of the threat of sudden violence and the promise of a conclusive ending. All heavyweight championship fights engender this atmosphere, yet George Foreman and Ken Norton offer something more—an almost palpable promise of mutual aggression.
This is no Liston vs. Patterson or Frazier vs. Ali, this match next week in Caracas, Venezuela. Both challenger and champion seem driven to attack. We have seen the challenger work—and he is a puncher. And if George Foreman, the destroyer of Joe Frazier, is a puncher for the ages he still seems not fully tested. Ken Norton, the body, the mind, the man who chased down Muhammad Ali and broke his jaw, then held him all but even less than six months later, could be the one to do the testing. It should be quite a fight, while it lasts.
George Foreman says, softly, "I don't slap people around so they can yell how they'll beat me the next time. After the referee is done counting, they just want to get away."
Foreman won his title in Jamaica, he smashed Jose (King) Roman in Japan and now he has flown off to Venezuela. He is a wandering champion who has never defended his title inside his own country. Manager Dick Sadler says, "We go where the money is best," but there clearly is more to it than that. Besieged by pending and threatened lawsuits, Foreman's flights may be from legal troubles, not smaller purses.
"Are you awed by Foreman's power?" Ken Norton is asked.
"Awed?" He is incredulous that anyone could ask if Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. is awed by anything. "Awed? No. I respect it, but it will just make me fight a better fight. If I was awed, I wouldn't fight at all."
On the wall of Norton's training-camp bedroom there is a crudely lettered sign that reads: I WILL BEAT GEORGE FOREMAN. KEN NORTON.
On a chain around Norton's neck there is a medal that was given him by the Napoleon Hill Academy, producers of a cassette course he is taking called The Philosophy of Success. According to the Academy, this medal has been given only six times in 60 years, which puts Norton in some rather exclusive company: the first two recipients were Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
One chapter of the course Norton studies is entitled "Autosuggestion." "Many times a day I repeat instructions to myself," he says, "and after a while they become conditioned reflex. Say Foreman pins me in a corner: I throw a hook or a right hand and spin out. Or say I get knocked down; I tell myself I won't rush right back in. I keep repeating these things, to get them embedded in my subconscious mind so when the time comes I won't have to think."
He adds, "Wait till I hit Foreman on the chin."