This year, we have seen a number of high profile fighters jump up in weight to fight some of the best in the divisions above, Conor McGregor in MMA, Amir Khan and now Kell Brook in Boxing. McGregor and Khan both lost and Brook awaits his fate in September. So let’s go back into the past and look at the time one of the greatest Light Heavyweight Boxers in history Bob Foster, moved up in weight to challenge the greatest Heavyweight of them all – Muhammad Ali.
Bob Foster was a big hitting Light Heavyweight, who between 1968 and 1974 defended his Light Heavyweight title 14 times. Considered one of the finest ever produced in the division, Foster was tall at 6’3 and rangy, in some ways he was similar to another big hitting Boxer and great, Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns and like Hearns, their tall and lean physiques enabled them to gain a lot of leverage with their punches and both possessed brutal power.
Foster was unbeatable at Light Heavyweight and never lost his crown in the ring, his belief in himself and his near invincibility in his division often made getting opponents difficult, as a result Foster was forced to take on fights in the Heavyweight division. ‘We were all friends, this is all business,’ Foster told RingTV.com. ‘There was no big money in my division, I could make a $100,000 but them guys were making $300,000… I told Ali and Frazier, ‘Give me a chance to make that big money’ and they did.’
Ali and Foster had some history, Foster always believed that he should have been sent to the Rome Olympics in 1960 as the light heavyweight representing the USA, refusing an offer to slot in as a middleweight, understandably so, at 6’3 it would have been near impossible for Foster to drop at least the 15lbs required to make the weight. As we know, Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, one of the men Foster had sparred at the pre-Olympic camp was sent to the Olympics as a light heavyweight going on to win the gold medal.
Muhammad Ali and Bob Foster met in Nevada for the North American Boxing Federation title on 21st November 1972. The difference in weight between the two was a huge 41lbs, Foster coming in at just 5lbs above the light heavyweight limit, weighing 180lbs. Unfortunately for Foster, the Cruiserweight division had yet to be created, making this an even bigger step up and really jumping into the deep end. A career high pay day of $125,000 awaited Foster there. Foster always had trouble gaining weight, he tried drinking beer and eating huge portions of soul food but never could manage to gain enough weight to substantially close the gap in weight with a Heavyweight. Ali was still on the comeback trail, with a record of 39-1 and no longer the Heavyweight champion, it would be almost 2yrs
before he was to fight for and regain the title in the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman.
As the fight began, Foster was able to hold his own, Ali was never a big puncher at Heavyweight, but how would someone 41lbs lighter fare taking punches from a man so much heavier than themselves? The early rounds showed Foster was able to hold his own against Ali, mostly through the use of his jab but in the fifth round Foster cut Ali under his left eye, the success was to be short lived. The cut spurred Ali into action, perhaps infuriated at receiving a cut eye for the first time, (the cut would require five stitches) Ali went on the offensive and continued to pummel Foster around the ring, flooring him seven times before the referee Mills Lane mercifully ended the bout in round 8.
Foster was to say after the fight ‘Ali couldn’t bust a grape, It was his weight that had me down, but I wobbled him, I hurt him and I could have beaten him.’
Ali himself was high in praise for Foster’s punching power, unlike any light heavyweight Ali was able to mock Foster’s power in the ring was later said ‘Bob Foster had the punch of a mule’. I met light heavyweight champ Bob Foster in Lake Tahoe. I always respected him as possibly the greatest of all 175-pounders but I never figured he could handle me. For almost four rounds, I laid on him and used my 41-pound advantage to tire him out. When I figured I had him weary, he started jabbing. I couldn’t believe he was out-jabbing me, the master of the jab. His jabs were sharp and hard. He caught me with some good combinations and shook me a couple of times.For the first time in my career, I was cut with a crisp jab. He also had me swollen under the other eye and cut in the mouth but the
weight took its toll and he went down for the seventh and final time in the eighth round. I was glad I got him at 34 and he didn’t have an extra 15 or 20 pounds.’
The veteran trainer and fight guru, Freddie Brown, who was Rocky Marciano’s cutsman, said of Foster ‘With the light-heavies he was a killer, the heavyweights just took his punches like they was nothing.’ And with such a big difference in weight, Ali was able to ride the storm, not to mention Ali had arguably the greatest chin in history too. Foster, as hard as he hit was never really going to seriously challenge Ali, because not only could Ali take a great punch, he was quicker than Foster despite being almost 3 stone heavier. Years later, Foster would be more gracious over his praise for Ali, when asked to name the best attributes of fighters he had boxed against, asked who had the best jab, chin, fastest hands, fastest feet and who was the smartest fighter he fought, Ali’s name was mentioned each time. He finished it off naming Muhammad Ali as the most skillful and best overall fighter he had ever boxed against ‘Muhammad Ali. He was the man. He was big, fast; he was smart and never did get hit easy, he was tremendous for a heavyweight. His hands were as fast as grease lightning. He has it all, he was tremendous. You saw him do the Ali shuffle, he could move in his prime. He didn’t start slowing up ‘till he got a little age on him. When I fought him he was in his prime. You look at him he’s right there in front of you, the next thing you know he’s on the right hand side of you, then the left, he just kept moving on you. I dominated them light heavyweights, none of them were smarter than me. I’ve got to go Ali – the guy could fight.’
In a strange twist of fate, Bob Foster would die on 21 November 2015, exactly 43 years after he moved up in weight to fight the greatest, Muhammad Ali.