Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday | Joe Frazier vs. George Foreman: The Sunshine Showdown

George Foreman Joe Frazier - Bettmann Corbis
Photo by Bettmann Corbis

Just days into a new year, a variety of different stories were making headlines.

On January 3, George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees from CBS. On January 14, the Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete the first and only undefeated season in NFL history.

On January 15, four Watergate burglars pled guilty in federal court. Later that day, President Nixon suspended all offensive military action in North Vietnam.

The year was 1973.

As the new year had gotten off to a busy start, Heavyweight champion of the world Joe Frazier was looking to get his year underway by defending his crown for the 10th time.

Frazier had become the dominant force in the division over the last few years. After winning the gold medal in the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo, he then turned professional in August of 1965.

After 19 consecutive victories, Frazier won the vacant Heavyweight title in March of 1968 by knocking out Buster Mathis in the 11th round. The title had been vacated with the suspension of Muhammad Ali. While Ali was in exile, Frazier was establishing his own supremacy.

He would successfully defend his title nine times, beating dangerous fighters like Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Foster and Jerry Quarry. W

Without question, Frazier’s biggest victory was in March of 1971 over the former champion and undefeated Ali. In the “Fight of the Century,” Frazier floored Ali in the 15th round and won a unanimous decision.

Now set to make his 10th defense, Frazier was preparing to face the undefeated George Foreman.

Foreman had also won a gold medal, earning his in the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. Wasting little time, Foreman began his professional career in June of 1969.

After 37 consecutive victories, blasting tough fighters like George Chuvalo and Chuck Wepner, Foreman was ready to bring his ruthless knockout power into the ring against Frazier.

At 24, Foreman was now the No. 1 contender. At 6’3”, he would have a decided height advantage over the 5’11” Frazier. Yet odds makers liked “Smokin” Joe, 29, and installed him as a 3-1 favorite. He had fought, by far, a better class of competition.

Still, many fans were enamored by “Big” George’s size, meanness and raw punching power.

On January 22, in Kingston Jamaica, 36,000 fans packed National Stadium to witness the fight. The bout was billed as the “Sunshine Showdown” and broadcast live on closed-circuit television.

Howard Cosell was at ringside to call the action.

Foreman (37-0, 34 KOs) made his way to the ring first. Wearing a red robe with white trim, the No. 1 contender had weighed in at 217 pounds. As his robe was peeled off, the death stare remained as his face was a mask of intensity.

The WBA and WBC undisputed Heavyweight champion (29-0, 25 KOs) entered the ring next. Wearing a white robe with gold trim, the 214 pound Frazier was bouncing up and down on his toes.

With both fighters now in the ring and introductions complete, referee Arthur Mercante provided instructions. The two were nose to nose as Foreman continued to stare down the champion, looking directly at and almost through Frazier. The champion stared back, looking unintimidated by Foreman.

As the lights through the arena dimmed, leaving only a glow illuminating the ring, the bell rang to begin the first round.

Both men charged from their corners to meet head on. Frazier, wearing gold gloves that matched the trim on his white trunks, was in a crouch with his knees bent looking to jab and hook with his best power punch, the left hand.

Foreman, wearing red gloves that matched the color of his trunks, stood tall while firing his long telephone pole left jab. Foreman moved slowly backward, inch by inch, as Frazier continued to bob and weave while taking on the early role as the aggressor.

Both men connected early, firing and landing vicious left hooks to the head. As Frazier continued to come at Foreman, Foreman began launching right uppercuts in hopes of catching the champion on the way in.

Halfway through the first, a right uppercut slammed into Frazier’s jaw. Frazier wiped at his brow, shaking his head as if to demonstrate he wasn’t hurt, and continued to move forward. Cosell sensed Frazier may have been stunned, “I think he hurt Joe Frazier. I think Joe is hurt.”

Then, as if right on cue, Foreman dropped Frazier with a clobbering right uppercut. As Frazier crashed to the canvas, Cosell screamed, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! The Heavyweight champion is taking the mandatory eight count and Foreman is as poised as can be in a neutral corner!”

George Foreman Joe Frazier - Bettman Corbis
Photo by Bettmann Corbis

As the action resumed, it was now Foreman plowing straight ahead as Frazier was in full retreat. Frazier immediately went to the ropes as Foreman unloaded bomb after bomb, trying desperately to take Frazier out.

The champion tried to bull his way off the ropes, firing his left hook and trying to back off his challenger. Foreman remained relentless, refusing to back away, as he continued to launch hooks and uppercuts.

With 15 seconds to go in the round, Foreman again landed a crushing right uppercut that sent the champion down for the second time. The crowd was on its feet, screaming wildly at the frantic pace and non-stop action between the two big Heavyweights.

Cosell shouted over the crowd, “Frazier is down again! He is rising! He is game! He doesn’t know where he is!”

Just as Cosell was finishing his commentary of the second knockdown, Foreman stepped in with a flurry of punches culminated with another right uppercut that floored Frazier for a third time just before the bell to end the round.

Cosell had no time to catch his breath, “Down again! He’s up! Three knockdowns in the first round by George Foreman! What excitement! The crowd shocked!”

In between rounds Foreman remained cool in his corner, looking confident and eager to get at Frazier again. The champion’s corner worked frantically to try to restore his senses as they poured water over his head and held an ice pack on his neck.

As the second round began, the two men met at center ring much like they did to start the first. Foreman immediately bullied Frazier into a corner and hurt him with another burst of punches. As Frazier tried to escape, Foreman landed a bruising right hand to the side of his head.

As Frazier again went down, Cosell was zoned in on the action, “Oh! He is all over Frazier again! Frazier’s knees buckle! He is down! He is down for the fourth time in the fight!”

The crowd now watched in awe as some were now heard shrieking, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop the fight!”

With the heart of a lion, Frazier again rose, hurt, but ready to continue. As the two came together, Foreman launched a missile of a left uppercut that landed flush on the champions jaw and dropping him to the deck. Cosell desperately tried to keep up with the furious action, “Frazier is down for the fifth time in this fight! It’s target practice for George Foreman!”

As Frazier again climbed off the deck, Mercante waived his hand above his head signaling that he had seen enough. Cosell finished, “The fight is stopped! It is over! It is over in the second round! George Foreman is the Heavyweight champion of the world!”

George Foreman Joe Frazier - Walt Frerck Bettmann Corbis
Photo by Walt Frerck/Bettmann/Corbis

The fight was halted at 1:35 of Round 2.

Ring Magazine would label this the “Fight of the Year.”

Frazier would go on to fight seven more times, finishing 3-3-1. He did get a rematch against Foreman and was again knocked out, this time in the fifth round. He would face Ali twice more, losing both bouts, with one recognized as one of the most famous and brutal contests ever, “The Thrilla in Manilla.”

Years later, Foreman walked down memory lane, “He was a tough cookie, so vicious with the left hook and right to the side. Going in, I thought, I don’t want to fight him. He was the only guy I fought I was afraid of. Frazier was a machine. A giant killer.”

Foreman would lose to Ali and later retire in 1977. After a 10 year hiatus, he made a comeback in 1987 and would again win the Heavyweight title in 1994 by knocking out Michael Moorer.

These ring legends, appropriately, are both enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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