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John Iacono’s Tiger Tale

Photographing boxer George Foreman led him to an encounter with a baby tiger and a German shepherd.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on photographers who covered the Tokyo Olympics, you can find it here. Keep up with SI's photography at SI.com/photos.

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John Iacono became fascinated by boxing as a 6-year-old in his New York City apartment, watching his uncles as they acted out the radio call of a Rocky Marciano bout. “They were like two punch-drunk fighters,” Iacono recalls. “I had to keep ducking.”

Iacono, 80, would end up getting a lot closer to the real action, working ringside for decades as a photographer. With his quick wit he hit it off with many boxing legends, but one of his jokes went awry during a 1975 assignment to shoot former heavyweight champion George Foreman at his ranch in Livermore, Calif.

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“He comes up to me and hands me this baby tiger,” Iacono recalls. “And he’s jumping on me. He’s ripping my shirt.” Foreman told Sports Illustrated that he bought the cat to learn from it: “An animal trainer told me about the tiger—how a tiger is a natural fighter, never takes a step more than necessary.”

The compound was also home to a lion, four horses, a bull and a world-champion German shepherd. After hearing the exorbitant cost of the canine, Iacono cracked an off-color joke that Foreman didn’t particularly care for. The champ responded by chasing the photographer around in jest, with his pets likewise in pursuit.

“The dog, the tiger, everyone was going after me,” Iacono says, laughing. He got away without scratches—and with the shot.

This edition of Full Frame appears in SI’s upcoming Gambling Issue. The issue covers what’s changed in the three years since the Supreme Court granted all 50 states the right to legalize sports betting. By the end of 2021, online or in-person wagering will be sanctioned in more than half the country. Revenue is skyrocketing. Leagues are evangelizing. And booming business means big changes for anyone who operates, plays, covers—or bets on—the games we love.

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Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on photographers who covered the Tokyo Olympics, you can find it here. Keep up with SI's photography at SI.com/photos.

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