- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

George Foreman exists these days as a teddy bear-type TV pitchman who pretends to act menacing, names all his sons after himself and periodically threatens to return to the ring as a fistic senior citizen. But 28 years ago today, there was no trace of a smile on Foreman's brooding features when he climbed into the ring to challenge heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica.
Foreman, just 24, came off the mean streets of Houston to win an Olympic gold medal in 1968 and then emerged as an alternative to the dominant figures of the division Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Foreman was 37-0 as a pro with 34 knockouts, but he was a 5-1 underdog to the equally undefeated "Smokin' Joe," who had vanquished Ali three years earlier in their so-called "Fight of the Century."
The date of Jan. 22, 1973, was a momentous one. The Supreme Court handed down its Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Former President Lyndon Johnson died at his Texas ranch. But in sporting circles, most attention was focused on what proved to be a Jamaica farewell for Frazier's aura of indestructibility.
Even when he beat Ali in their savage first fight, Frazier paid a price: He was taken to a hospital afterward and remained there for a week. In subsequent victories over deservedly obscure Ron Stander and Terry Daniels, Joe appeared to have lost something. Now he was 29, and some boxing men wondered if he could stand up for long against Foreman and his devastating right hand.
Frazier's response was emphatic and predictable: "Down through the years, I been foolin' them all. They buried me, cremated me, put me back in the ground."
Not quite Ali-type bravado but close enough to satisfy most bettors.
Frazier was known for intimidating many opponents, but he met his match in Foreman. During the prefight instructions, Frazier snarled, "I'm gonna sit you on the ground, George." Foreman's only response was an evil glare.
After the bell rang, it became obvious that Frazier was in trouble. At 6-foot-3, Foreman was four inches taller and had an advantage of five inches in reach, which prevented Frazier from employing his usual practice of getting in close and hammering away unmercifully. Shortly thereafter, Frazier slammed Foreman on the chin with his trademark left hook. George barely blinked.
Moments later, Foreman rattled the champion with a combination and, startlingly, smashed him to the canvas with a right hook. Then it was that Howard Cosell, working the fight for ABC Sports, uttered in his distinctive Noo Yawk accent perhaps the most memorable sentences of his controversial career:
"Down goes Fraz-uh! Down goes Fraz-uh! Down goes Fraz-uh!"
Most spectators at ringside and on TV were amazed, too. And it only got worse as Foreman quickly extinguished Smokin' Joe's flame.
Frazier arose immediately perhaps not the wisest move only to hit the deck a second and third time from right hands before the first round ended. The one-minute rest didn't do Joe much good. Thirty seconds into Round 2, another right floored him. Said Cosell: "It's target practice for George Foreman."
Sadly for those who admired Frazier, it was just that. He went down twice more in the second round, making it a total of six for a man who had been knocked off his feet only twice previously. It was shocking.
After No. 6, referee Arthur Mercante awakened from his nap and stopped the bout at 1:35 of the second. Foreman needed less than five minutes of fighting to win the heavyweight championship of the world.
"On the first right to the body I landed, I saw him wince, and I knew I was going to win," Foreman said.
Frazier, remarkably unhurt from the beating, could only shake his head in dismay and admiration. "I knew George Foreman was big and strong," he said, "but I didn't know he was that strong."
That evening it looked as if Foreman might rule the heavyweight division for many years. Yet a year later, in another shocking result, he lost his title to Ali's "Rope-A-Dope" tactics in the "Rumble in the Jungle" at Zaire, Africa. As author Budd Schulberg put it some years earlier, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Foreman and Frazier fought again in 1976 Joe must have had a short memory and this time Foreman won on a fifth-round KO. By then, however, the title and the respect of millions were solidly in Ali's corner again.
Frazier retired from the ring for good in 1981. Foreman quit in 1984 but once more stunned the boxing establishment when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994 to become, at 45, the oldest heavyweight champion (WBA and IBF versions). A year later, he was stripped of the WBA title and relinquished the IBF belt.
Foreman's reign was much too short for him to be ranked among the great heavyweight champions, but for one night in Jamaica he was the most devastating heavyweight since Joe Louis destroyed Max Schmeling in one round 35 years earlier.
As for Howard Cosell, the fight gave him a memorable phrase by which to be remembered: "Down goes Fra-zuh!"

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