George Foreman can still get animated, even at 64, when he recalls the sound of Joe Frazier's lightning left hook whizzing by his ear.
"That's what really got me alert. Just barely missed me. Sounded like a bullet going past my ear," Foreman recalled. "That's when I knew I'd better do something. "
A heavy underdog despite his prodigious record and even more prodigious build, it turned out that the hulking young boxer had the perfect set of tools to match Frazier's bobblehead-doll style.
The champion liked to bend down low and pounce into his ripping left hooks. While that style confounded many, including Muhammad Ali in their first fight, it was like catnip for Foreman and his hard right uppercut—a punch he landed early and often.
"He was not the biggest guy, but he was the only fellow I've gotten into the ring with that I was afraid of," Foreman said. "When I knocked him down the first time I thought, 'Uh oh. He's going to get me now.' So I knocked him down quickly again. He got up and I said, 'What do I have to do?'"
He dropped Frazier six times. Six times, Frazier pulled himself to his feet. Ringside observers pleaded with referee Arthur Mercante to intervene. Finally, at 2:26 of the second round, he had seen enough, waving off the fight.
"I'm telling you, that was a frightening thing to see Joe Frazier get back up. I knew he had the ability to get up and get me," Foreman admitted. "I worried that he was going to get up, I'm going to get tired and he's going to kill me."
It's been 40 years since he won the heavyweight championship of the world from Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica. Forty years since Howard Cosell's iconic call of "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!"
Forty years is a long time. Long enough for a sport to pass a man by, even a man who kept his finger on the pulse for decades.
But Foreman, whose Foreman Boys Promotions makes its HBO debut on Saturday night with a featherweight title scrap between Puerto Rican sensation Juan Manuel Lopez and undefeated American Mikey Garcia, isn't concerned.
"Oh boy! They've got the same boxing gloves," Foreman told Bleacher Report. "Eight and 10-ounce gloves. And everyone who gets into that ring tries to knock the other guy's head off. There's nothing different about boxing."
What's different for Foreman this time around will be his role. No longer the main attraction, as he was for so many years as one of the boxing world's true national figures, Foreman will attempt to settle in behind the scenes. And he won't be doing it alone.
In addition to his partners at Arum's Top Rank, Foreman comes to the event at American Airlines Center in Dallas with an eponymous posse. Three of his five sons, all named George Foreman, will attempt to make their bones in the business that lifted their family out of poverty so many years ago.
"They're doing all the groundwork, and I just come in and get all the glory," he said. "All I have to do is show up and be old George Foreman—the ex-boxer. It's a wonderful thing to work with your family."
Foreman Boys had a test run earlier this year with a smaller event in Austin. Despite being a veteran of more than a hundred events as a fighter and a broadcaster, Foreman still found the learning curve to be steep.
"What I learned most of all, and I think the boys learned too, it's a team sport," he said. "Two guys get in the ring and box, but on the outside a whole team has to get together. We learned that you can't do it alone."
Few promoters have had an apprenticeship quite like the man his sons call "Big George." He fought for and studied the great promoters like Don King and Bob Arum, and he's ready to apply some of those lessons to his own work in the business.
"Don King did not mind being offended (by an offer). He always said, 'George, I'd rather have one percent of a whole lot than a hundred percent of nothing.' I learned to get in there. To work," Foreman said. "There's always profit, even if you just make a dime. Bob Arum is the same way. He doesn't try to take over. He just wants to be a part of a success. So do I."
Juan Manuel Lopez faces Mikey Garcia for the WBO featherweight title on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 10:45 p.m. ET. Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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