“I tried to hurt you. I wanted to bust you up.
I wanted to break your ribs, your jaw, anything I could do.
As long as you’re in front of me you’re dangerous.
This is boxing, man, you can’t bullshit
your way through this business.
If you don’t have the guts, get out!”
Written by Eric Niles © 2004
Bob Foster with Jason Cordova,
moments after Cordova won the
New Mexico Light Heavyweight Title,
Jan. 22, 2005
Ah, boxing, the very utterance of the word polarizes rich and poor, educated and uneducated, man and wife. Boxing is so politically incorrect it’s ridiculous. Is boxing, however, a sad commentary on our violent, bloodthirsty society, or, is the sport a ‘sweet science’,---the poetry of ebb-and-flow…man at the apex of his primal grace?
Boxing’s nakedness is both its beauty and its beast. Two combatants, essentially unarmored, squaring off in a 24’ by ’24 ring, relying solely on mental and physical cunning to survive. There are no retakes, no make-up, no pathos from either. It’s Darwin’s wet dream.
In a media obsessed society that glosses over substance and honesty in favor of lipstick, powder, and paste, boxing is, at the very least, an unfiltered glimpse at reality.
Enter Bob Foster, native New Mexican—a vibrant, bluntly honest 66-year-old former prizefighter. His illustrious boxing career is punctuated by a six year run as world light-heavyweight champion and, by being one of only a handful of humans insane enough to climb into the ring with both ‘Smokin Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali.
Born in Albuquerque’s South Valley in 1938, Foster was raised by his mother. His father, who Foster describes as a “mean guy,” was out of the picture by the time he was five. Foster dabbled with basketball and marching band while attending Albuquerque High School, but through a couple of schoolyard altercations, discovered an aptitude for boxing.
“I always could punch, you know, but I never realized I could punch that hard,” Foster said, “I got into a fight with a kid over a comic book in the 11th grade. I hit him one time and fractured his skull. They suspended me for two weeks.”
That incident wasn’t Foster’s only school-time brawl.
“I played the trumpet in the marching band,” said Foster, “and some kid hit me across the arm with a clarinet. So, I turned around and hit him in the nose and broke it. My mom told me: ‘son, you got to quit hitting those kids. Slap them, shake them, but quit hitting them.”
Financial necessity prompted Foster to enter the military out of high school. He enlisted in the Air Force. It was there that his boxing talent exploded. He quickly became the Interservice light-heavyweight champion. His next step was entering the Olympic Trials in 1960 at light-heavyweight.
“But when I got to training camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey,” Foster recalled, “the trainers wanted me to drop down to middleweight. They wanted to take some kid named Ali (Cassius Clay) as the light-heavy.”
Ali, as legend has it, went on to win the gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games at Rome, Italy.
Snubbed for the Olympics, Foster turned pro in 1961. His early career was impressive, but it wasn’t until a 10-round decision loss to heavyweight Zora Folley in 1965, that his career took off. From 1966 through 1970, Foster reeled off 20 consecutive wins, including a stunning fourth-round knockout of Dick Tiger to capture the WBC light-heavyweight championship. The fight took place in front of 12,000 fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Another highlight of that era was a brutal KO of then-unbeaten (36-0) Mike Quarry in 1972.
“I hit him with a left hook that tilted him backwards,” Foster remembered, “He was just lying there and his pupils were rolled back up in his head. I thought…’oh my God, I done killed that guy.’ Mike Quarry wasn’t no good after that left hook.”
Foster’s relative ease in vanquishing all comers in the light-heavyweight class led him to entertain the idea of moving up and challenging heavyweights.
“I didn’t get frustrated (fighting light-heavies), it’s just that I was cleaning up the division,” said Foster, “Let me try Ali and Frazier. That’s where the money is.”
In November of 1970, 188-pound Foster stepped into the ring with the 209-pound and undefeated (25-0) heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. The fight took place in Detroit’s Cobo Arena.
“I had him out in the first round and that’s the honest-to-God truth,” he said. “I hit him with a right and his knees came together. I just missed him with my left hook. I almost had him. I would’ve been heavyweight champion of the world If I’d caught him.”
“I went back in the corner (at the end of round one), and told Billy (trainer Billy Edwards)—‘I’m gonna knock this guy out because he’s trying to box with me and his arms aren’t that long. Billy told me not to pull back on him. But that’s the first thing I did and he put pressure on me.
“So, the bell rings for Round 2 and I looked up and here he comes. I said: ‘Oh shit!,’ I’m in trouble now. I hit him with my best shots and he was still in front of me. He caught me on the ropes and hit me with two shots to the body. And then, he threw that third punch. He timed me perfectly…caught me right there on the chin. When he hit me I don’t remember falling…don’t remember getting hit.”
Frazier knocked Foster out with a vicious left hook in round 2, retaining the WBA/WBC heavyweight titles.
“Joe fights one way and that’s straight at you,” Foster said, “That’s the only way he’s gonna play. He won’t hold onto you and he doesn’t want you holding on to him. You’d have to take a .45 to keep Joe Frazier off of you.”
Outweighed by 41 pounds, Foster took on the 35-1, and in his prime Muhammed Ali in Lake Tahoe, Nevada in November of 1972. Foster received roughly $200,000 for his efforts.
“You see, Ali wasn’t a puncher,” Foster explained, “he couldn’t bust a grape. He never did hurt me, but he punched so fast you’d think he was hurting you. He never did hit me where everything got blurry. He just kept knocking me down, just kept me off balance. The guy was a tremendous fighter.”
Ali knocked Foster down four times in the 5th round, twice in the 7th round, and down for the count in the 8th round.
“So, he stopped me in the 8th, but I busted him up good, “recalled Foster, “I think I hit him twice with the right but the rest of the time with the left jab.”
At fights end, Ali was victorious but noticeably cut and sported a nasty mouse under his left eye.
Foster has maintained friendships with both fighters over the years, but he says that Ali and Frazier aren’t necessarily exchanging Christmas cards.
“You have to understand Ali,” Foster said, “Ali made fun of Frazier. You know, called him the Gorilla. Ali was cheerful but he’d piss a lot of guys off. But he didn’t mean it from here (pointing to his heart). But Joe just didn’t understand it (Ali’s taunting).
Foster fought a steady diet of light-heavyweights subsequent to the Ali fight, but met with little resistance. He retired briefly in 1974, but came back with moderate success. He retired for good in 1978 with a record of 56-8-1 with 46 knockouts. He defended his light-heavyweight title a record 14 times. He was elected to Boxing’s Hall-of-Fame in 1990.
Foster has lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico off and on his entire life. He currently resides in a working-class neighborhood, and works as a Deputy Sheriff with Bernalillo County.
Foster is still intensely connected to the local boxing community, currently training an up-and-coming cruiserweight named Jason Cordova. Cordova recently won a version of the New Mexico light-heavyweight championship with a stunning first-round knockout in Santa Fe in January ’05.
Previously, Foster also trained a gutsy lightweight-class fighter named Tommy Cordova (no relation to Jason) who garnered brief fame in the 1980’s.
“He had a lot of heart,” said Foster of Tommy Cordova, “He was sitting in the dressing room before the Kenny Basemore fight drinking a little bottle of wine and smoking a cigarette. And he fought his heart out man. He was fighting just as hard in the 10th as he was in the first.”
Foster also harbors fond memories for one of his old training partners—one Wild Bill Hartley. In particular, Foster remembers a ritual Hartley had before embarking on roadwork.
“He’d go in his back pocket and pull out a half-pint of vodka and glug, glug, glug, glug,” Foster laughed,” “And he’d run along with me. This guy was crazy. I never could drop him and I could punch. I never put him on the canvas. He could take a tremendous punch.
And how would have Foster fared with history’s best light-heavyweights? Pretty well, says Foster.
“People always ask me if I could have beaten Archie Moore,” he said. “I don’t know, he was my idol as a kid. But the first time I saw him in person I thought…’this is the kind of guy I could beat easy.’ He was too short…and if a guy’s too short he couldn’t get in on me.”
“Michael Spinks? Shit, Spinks wouldn’t have gone two rounds with me” Foster boasted, “Spinks was an amateur fighter. He stuck his head straight up in the air. I would have taken his head off with my jab.”
And how about Roy Jones Jr.?
“He’s a good fighter but he couldn’t have beaten me,” Foster said. “He can punch but he never got hit with a solid shot (until recently). He couldn’t have stood up to my power.”
Despite his good fortune in the ring, Foster had his share of misfortune out of it. As with many boxers who came into money, most of his purses were gobbled up by greedy promoters and self-serving hangers’ on. To boot, Foster lived the lifestyle of a champion.
“Yeah, I partied,” Foster recalled. “Whatever I wanted I could get. But you took everybody’s word when it came to money. You couldn’t count it all."
All told, Foster’s life after boxing has been good. Unlike some boxers, Foster is sharp mentally. He’s financially stable and as quick with a joke as he was with his left jab in his prime. And, oh, what a pretty left jab it was.
“God don’t like ugliness,” Foster said, “You can’t be ugly and get by with it.