With world title fights across the globe, yesterday was a big day for the sport of boxing. But it was also a sad day, as news came that light heavyweight legend Bob Foster, one of history's fiercest punchers, passed away at the age of 76 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Foster was born in Borger, Texas, in 1938, though the fighter himself had always thought he was born in Lubbock until he applied for a passport in 1963 to fight in Peru, and the fighter really grew up in Albuquerque, where he would become not just a local legend, but in retirement a member of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department.
As a youngster, he took up boxing and became a standout young amateur on the local scene, before joining the Air Force, where in 1957 he won the Air Force Championship, and would win the All-Service Championship from 1958-60. In 1959, he won silver at the Pan American Games as a light heavyweight, but had no real chance of making the 1960 Olympic team, due to the presence of a young man named Cassius Clay in the same division.
In March 1961, Foster turned professional, knocking out a fighter named Duke Williams in the second round at Capitol Arena in Washington, DC. He won his first nine fights before taking a short-notice chance at Madison Square Garden against veteran Doug Jones on October 20, 1962, replacing Zora Folley, who had pulled out of the fight due to illness. Foster, facing a new level of competition, was knocked down in the first round and stopped in the eighth.
Foster returned to MSG in 1964, again facing a heavyweight of some repute in Chicago's Ernie Terrell, who would later win the WBA world championship in 1965. Terrell knocked Foster out in the seventh round. A year and a half later, Zora Folley would beat Foster by decision in New Orleans. Then, Foster's career took off.
After eight straight wins, seven coming inside the distance, Foster was matched with light heavyweight champion Dick Tiger at MSG on May 24, 1968. He became the first and only man to knock out Tiger, whose only other loss inside the distance came in 1954, when he had to retire from a fight in his native Nigeria due to a thumb injury.
When you look at the action in that fight now, it's almost crazy to think they were competing in the same weight class. Tiger, at 5'8", was a short middleweight, let alone light heavyweight, and the lanky, 6'3" Foster towered over him in the ring. A murderous left hook caught Tiger in round four, and finished the fight.
Foster would go on to become one of the premier fighters of his time, and one of the greatest light heavyweights in history. He made successful defenses against Frank DePaula, Andy Kendall, Roger Rouse, and Mark Tessman before deciding to test his mettle against heavyweight champion "Smokin'" Joe Frazier in November 1970 at Detroit's legendary Cobo Hall.
Foster gave up over 20 pounds on the scales, and was knocked out at 49 seconds of round two in his bid to become heavyweight champion. He returned to defending his light heavyweight crown, beating Hal Carroll, Tommy Hicks, Brian Kelly, Vicente Rondon, Mike Quarry, and Chris Finnegan in title fights. Quarry was knocked out stone cold, and the fight with Finnegan was named RING Magazine's 1972 Fight of the Year. Less than two months after the 14-round battle in London, Foster was in the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world again, as he faced Muhammad Ali, the former Cassius Clay, in Nevada.
Though he lasted longer against Ali than he had against Frazier, he didn't do a whole lot better. Ali, who had over 40 pounds on Foster, dropped the light heavyweight slugger four times in the fifth round, twice more in round seven, and then a final time in the eighth round.
Once again, Foster went on to defend his light heavyweight championship, beating Pierre Fourie two times, once in Albuquerque and then in a rematch in Johannesburg, South Africa three months later, both fights coming in 1973. A 1974 draw with Argentina's Jorge Victor Ahumada convinced Foster to hang up the gloves, and the championship was declared vacant, no one having ever beaten Foster for the crown.
Foster would return to the ring in 1975, fighting some 10-round bouts against marginal opponents for the next couple of years, but he retired for good after getting stopped two times in 1978, by a pair of fighters who never would have troubled him in his prime.
For his career, Foster went 56-8-1 (46 KO). After retirement, he joined the Bernalillo County Sherriff's Department in Albuquerque, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
For more on the career of Bob Foster, visit New Mexico Boxing.