It was the best of times and the worst of times, this world championship fight between George Foreman and Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela. For Latin internal revenue officials, room clerks, pickpockets and Foreman, it was the best of times. For promoters, visitors, spectators and Norton, it was, to say the least, taxing.
Foreman, as everyone knows by now, defended his heavyweight title almost effortlessly. He belabored Norton into senselessness in five minutes, bringing to 11 minutes and 35 seconds the total time he has spent in winning and defending the championship in three fights. He raised a sweat only because he warmed up in his dressing room before the fight.
"You got to get the oil moving in the engine before you step on the gas," he said later. "That's why I was sweating when I got in the ring. I wasn't nervous."
Norton was nervous. Before the fight he said that he would outthink Foreman in the ring. "He's like a Mack truck," Norton said. "He's far more physical than Ali. With Ali it was a chess game. But Foreman is not as fast as I am, physically or mentally. My conception is that he will come out winging, and I'll move away from him and he won't be able to think as fast as I do. I have been working on thinking, working on this fight, considering what I will do if I get hit, how I'll react, so it will be instinctive, and I won't have to think."
"He better do all his thinking now," Foreman said, lazily. He was sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Avila, dressed in a blue jump suit, stretched out comfortably with his hands quiet and relaxed on the table in front of him. On the middle knuckle of each hand is a long, dark and thick callus, a memento of the time he spends punching the heavy bag.
"When he gets in the ring, he ain't gonna have time to think," Foreman said. "He don't know what I'm gonna do, but he can pretty well guess. Wherever he goes, there's gonna be George Foreman, right in his face. Somebody got to pay for all that nice weight I lost. I like to eat. I'm prettier slim but I'm happier fat. If I can ever afford it, I'm gonna eat all I want and I'm gonna be very fat. He gonna have to pay me for making me stay slim."
Norton paid. He was destroyed in the ring and if he thought at all, it was a momentary thing. "I tried to draw him in and counterpunch," he said after the fight. "It didn't work. I don't know why I did it."
It was a puzzling end to a puzzling week. Many who came to Venezuela for the fight were greeted by a corps of rapacious room clerks who demanded $50 under the counter to release rooms that had been reserved and confirmed long before. The Venezuelan government (new in office, as are many South American regimes) had welcomed the fight to attract tourists and to seduce the world press into extolling the virtues of the country. But then its officials held up essential equipment for TV coverage and press photographers until hours before the fight began, releasing the gear only upon the payment of exorbitant tax charges.
For Hank Schwartz, vice-president of Video Techniques, the theater-TV outfit that beamed the fight out into the world, it was a week of wrangling. Aside from the continuing hassle about hotel rooms, he had to arbitrate, as best he could, another argument about officials. The Venezuelan boxing commission wanted to appoint the judges and the referee. Foreman's camp, represented by rotund, aggressive and prolix Trainer Dick Sadler, wanted no part of a Venezuelan referee. Foreman himself regarded the whole issue as inconsequential, as indeed it proved to be. "I don't care if three little old ladies judge the fight," he said.
The argument went on until the day of the match, when Sadler decided the issue by staging his version of the Battle of Wounded Knee. In the morning Foreman limped out of the hotel, supported under his left shoulder by one of his trainers, bound for the hospital and an X ray of his right knee, which had suddenly been taken sore. An hour later he limped back, this time supported under his right shoulder.