Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bob Foster: Former Light Heavyweight Champ Dies at Age 77

By Peter Silkov

The word legend is one that is parried around far too much these days, along with great, and champion.  There are too many fighters today who would like to be given these accolades, but are unwilling to pay the price needed to truly earn them.  Bob Foster, who passed away yesterday at the age of 77, was truly a ring legend. He was a great world champion, at a time when being champion of the world really meant something. Foster reigned supreme at light-heavyweight from 1968 to 1974. In that time, he defended the World light heavyweight championship a record 14 times, before retiring as undefeated champion.  Amongst all the carnage he left behind in the 175-pound division, he also found time to stand up to the world boxing bodies when they tried to tell him what to do.

Standing 6’ foot 3“, Foster was almost freakishly tall for light-heavyweight.  He was the perfect boxer-puncher, lean and mean, with a dynamite punch to go with his slick boxing skills. These skills included a rapier like jab, which was a dangerous weapon in its own right.  Foster had the kind of power that didn’t just stop fighters, but hurt them. The kind of punch that had many of his opponents out to the world before they had even hit the deck.

Foster was born Robert Lloyd Foster on April 27, 1938, in Borger, Texas.  As a youngster, he found himself fighting regularly on the streets, and discovered early on that he could lay an opponent out with rare ease. Foster was also a talented football player, but gravitated more to boxing as he grew older. However, it was not until Foster joined the U.S. Air force in 1957, that he became fully focused on following a path in boxing.  Foster joined the USAF boxing team, and would win the All Service Championships 3 times, and won the Middleweight silver medal at the 1959 Pan American Games.  He would go on to lose just 3 of 100 fights as an amateur.

When  he was due to be discharged from the Air Force, Foster found himself in demand for his boxing ability, and was given offers to join the Marines, Navy, and the Army. He eventually chose the Army, where he was stationed at  Fort Cameron in Kentucky.  But, with a young family to support, Foster felt that he could make a better future for himself as a professional boxer, and so after a few months at Fort Cameron, he had himself discharged, and turned professional, fighting his first contest on March 27, 1961, where he scored a 2nd round knockout over Duke Williams.  Foster’s decision to turn professional turned out to be one that would not only change his life, but save it.  Eventually, according to Foster, every member of the Fort Cameron boxing team would lose their lives in Viet Nam.

Despite starting his career on an impressive note, Foster soon learned the harsh reality of professional boxing.  With his impressive amateur record, and obvious punching power, opponents were soon unwilling to face him.  When fights against men of his own weight were hard to come by, Foster was forced to take on heavyweights.  In just his 10th contest on October 20, 1962, Foster was put in with top ranked heavyweight contender Doug Jones, and was stopped in the 8th round, by the heavier, and more experienced Jones. Over the next 3 years, Foster took fights where he could get them, winning with ease when fighting fellow light-heavies, but also having to give away weight regularly against heavyweights.  During this time, Foster won 12 fights and lost 3, with all his defeats coming against ranked heavyweights.  Foster was out-pointed by Mauro Mina (whose 45-2-2 record dwarfed Fosters 11-1 record) and Zora Folley, and stopped in 7 rounds by Ernie Terrell.  After his 10 rounds points loss to Zora Folley on December 6 1965, (to whom Foster gave away over 30 pounds in weight) a disgusted and disenchanted Foster walked away from boxing.  Yet, the feeling of unfinished business and unrealized ambition was too strong to ignore, and after a year out of the ring, Foster returned in late 1966, determined to secure a shot at the world light-heavyweight title. Over the next year, Foster won 8 fights in a row, and consolidated himself as the number 1 contender for the 175-pound.

The world title shot finally came on May 24, 1968, with Foster having to guarantee the champion Dick Tiger $100,000 dollars, while collecting $10,000 for himself.   Foster didn’t mind the uneven distribution of the purse, as he was confident that his pay days would come once he had won the World Light-Heavyweight championship, which he duly achieved by knocking Tiger out in the 4th round.  This was the only time that Dick Tiger was ever knocked out during his career.

It was the beginning of Bob Foster’s rule of terror over the light-heavyweight division, and of his 14 defences, only 3 would last the distance, and those were the last 3 defences when Foster was clearly on the slide.  Much like a gunslinger, from a classic western, Foster had a way of eyeing his beaten challengers after he had sent them down to the canvas for the final time. Some of Fosters victories were truly chilling.  In 1972, he defended his title against Mike Quarry, who was undefeated in 35 contests.  Foster dropped Quarry with a right hand and a left hook, which left the challenger unconscious on the canvas for a worryingly long time. 

In 1970, Foster had a dispute with the WBA and was stripped of recognition as world champion,  with  Vincente Rondon winning the ‘vacant’ title on February 27, 1971, by knocking out Jimmy Dupree in 6 rounds. Yet, Rondon would never gain acceptance as champion from the general public, and Foster’s dominance of the division was underlined when he regained the WBA title on April 7, 1972, destroying Rondon in 2 rounds.

Foster’s only defeats during this time were to Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.  On November 18, 1970, Foster challenged Frazier for the World heavyweight championship, but Frazier, at 209 pounds to Foster’s 188 pounds, was far too strong, and knocked Foster out in the 2nd round.  Two years later, on November 21. 1972, Foster took on Muhammad Ali for the NABF Heavyweight title, giving away 41 pounds to ’The Greatest.’  Although Foster put up a brave stand, including cutting Ali over the left eye, he was floored 6 times, and eventually counted out in the 8th round.

On September 26, 1972, Foster defended his title against England’s Chris Finnegan, scoring a 14th round knockout, after an epic battle, which was later that year voted by The Ring magazine as the ‘fight of 1972.’ 

Foster was taken the distance twice in 1973 by wily South African, Pierre Fourie.  Then on June 17, 1974, Foster was held to a 15-round draw by the teak-tough Jorge Ahumada.  With the signs of decline visible, Foster announced his retirement 3 months later.

Like many before, and after him, Foster found it hard to say goodbye to the ring, and returned in 1976, for what was a strange, almost part-time comeback.  Fighting infrequently, against mostly mediocre heavyweights, Foster had 7 more fights, winning 5, and losing the final 2.  After being stopped in 2 rounds by Bob Hazelton, on June 2, 1978, Foster hung his gloves up for the final time.

After his retirement, Foster would become a detective at the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department. He was well known in the Albuquerque area for his service. He would also train boxers part time. In 1990, he was inducted into the newly established International Boxing Hall of Fame, along with other boxers such as Dick Tiger, Joe Frazier, and Muhammad Ali.

Bob Foster’s final record was 56(46koes)-8-1.  He is generally regarded as one of the greatest light-heavyweights of all time, and as one of boxing’s greatest punchers, pound-for-pound.  At a time when the best fought the best, and there were not more world champions than genuine contenders, Bob Foster was one of the best, and most feared champions of his time. 

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

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