Dick Tiger, never before knocked out in 77 fights over 16 years, stood in a corner of his dressing room in Madison Square Garden last Friday night trying to explain how it feels. "I do not see anything, I do not hear anything," he said with that almost musical lilt to his voice. "Everything is all quiet, and it is dark. There is no pain, there is no sound. I do not know I was on the floor. Was I on the floor?"
Yes, just two minutes into the fourth round of their fight for the light heavyweight championship, Dick Tiger was on the floor, where Bob Foster had put him. "Bob Foster?" said Tiger. "Now that he knock me out. I think he is the best fighter in the whole world."
Certainly among the middleweights and light heavyweights there can be no doubt about that, if only because Dick Tiger has fought them all. In fact, if there was one single reason why Bob Foster quit boxing two years ago it was because everybody else was fighting Dick Tiger except Bob Foster.
Foster, a tall, long-muscled man of 29, comes from Washington, D.C. and started fighting as a pro seven years ago. He has always prided himself on being the complete fighter—one who can jab, hook, move and hit with authority—and that is one reason why he suffered so when lesser men were getting shots at the title. "It was ridiculous," he recalls. "The only guys who would fight me were heavyweights. I was at the top of my division, but they'd always bring in somebody else for a title fight. Torres! They asked Torres if he wanted to fight me, and he wound up fighting Tiger. Rouse! I knocked out guys Rouse fought. It was ridiculous." Finally, after being paid $300 for fighting heavyweights like Ernie Terrell and Doug Jones and getting nowhere doing it. Foster quit the ring altogether. He had a wife and four children to support.
"One night I came home," he said. "I sat down in front of the TV set. There was a fight going on. I can't even remember who it was—all I know is that both of "em were terrible. It made me sick, they were so bad."
Fortunately Foster's suffering was short-lived. Morris (Mushky) Salow, a Hartford, Conn. restaurant owner and fight manager who had seen Foster knock out Dave Bailey in one of the preliminaries to the first Liston-Clay match in Miami Beach, had told Foster he wanted to manage him someday. Now, two years later, he was still interested. In October, 1966 Salow bought Foster's contract for $4,000 and promised him Dick Tiger within the year. Foster began to move immediately, against the right kind of opposition at first. When he finished off second-rate heavyweight Sonny Moore in two rounds last December, there was nobody left but Tiger.
Getting Tiger took $100,000. the guarantee that Salow talked Vince McMahon, a wrestling and boxing promoter in Washington, into putting up. In late April, Foster disappeared into the Cats-kills to train. He ducked everything not associated with fighting, including an invitation to appear at a Harlem dinner with Tiger and a Harlem block party sponsored by Mayor John Lindsay. "I've got too much at stake," he said. "I've waited seven years for this chance."
After seven weeks Foster was sure he was ready. "The other day," he said, "I was sitting at dinner. All of a sudden the muscles in my stomach started twitching. They would jump like somebody was shooting an electric current into them. I was really scared. I thought, 'Oh no, what now?' But it turned out that I was just in fantastic condition. I had gone to extra trouble getting my whole mid-section in shape and the muscles were just reacting to it. The next day I found that out for sure. One of my sparring partners gave me a left hook right in the solar plexus. Sometimes that will finish a guy off, but this time—honest, it almost tickled."
Tiger, meanwhile, trained in New York, living in a small hotel on the city's West Side, running miles around the reservoir in the morning and working in the gym in the afternoon. He could not conceal his anxiety about his family, trapped in the war of independence that his native Biafra was waging against Nigeria. He had not heard from them since he arrived in New York in March. "I do not worry so much anymore," he said unconvincingly. "The children have learned to take cover when they hear the planes. It is the fighter planes we worry about. If you see them you can run away. But you never see the bullets."
To the 11,547 who turned out at the new Garden, Tiger and Foster face to face looked a lot like Wilt Chamberlain and Flip Wilson. Foster, 6'3½", towered over his stockier opponent. In the clinches Tiger's nose was never higher than Foster's breastbone. Foster had an 8" advantage in height and a similar edge in reach. Indeed, the first few exchanges showed clearly that if Foster exploited his left jab to the fullest he would be halfway home. When Foster's left hand was jammed in Tiger's face, the smaller man's lefts and rights, churning below, came no nearer Foster's body than his outstretched elbow.
Tiger, however, won the first round, chiefly because Foster was too worried about Tiger getting inside to throw those jabs effectively. Late in the round Tiger broke through and volleyed to Foster's body, and the challenger's legs wobbled. In the second, Foster was even more anxious to stay away from Tiger. He had been hurt, and he had not forgotten. Feinting one way, moving the other, he would snap out a left and pull it back as if he had touched a hot stove. Foster was throwing the jab, but he was still preoccupied by the need to protect his body. Then, unaccountably, Tiger gave away the initiative, and that eventually cost him the fight. Instead of slipping under the left hand—or taking one to get in several of his own as he always has done—Tiger stopped moving. Stationary, his head was a perfect target for Foster's long leads, and soon it was clear Foster had determined what Tiger could and could not do.
In Tiger's corner Manager Chickie Ferrara urged him to hit and follow. In Foster's corner the opportunity was obvious. As the challenger got up for round 3, the seconds yelled at him, "Take charge, baby. Take charge!"
Much more confident now, Foster measured Tiger with lefts and followed up with hard rights into the face and body. Tiger was frustrated by the left hand; it destroyed his concentration and kept him from moving inside. A minute into the fourth round Tiger lunged at his tormentor. Foster, backing off, fired a right uppercut into Tiger's face and followed with a left hook along the cheek. Tiger pulled up short and started to counter with a left, but he wasn't fast enough. Foster threw another right uppercut and then a powerful left hook—the first really loaded punch in the combination. It crashed against Tiger's head, and the champion fell backward to the floor.
At the count of seven Tiger had managed a sitting position, his arms splayed out behind him. At eight and nine he made rocking motions, trying to lurch back to his feet, but he couldn't.
Later the pair sat side by side for a press conference held outside their dressing rooms. Tiger appeared to be more embarrassed by the knockout than disappointed at his loss. "You do the talking," he said to Foster. "You the champeen." But he did say, "I had not started to fight yet"—which was true enough.
Foster insisted that now all he is looking for is the money. He claimed he would fight anyone, anywhere—"in a backyard if they say"—if the money was right. And he probably meant it. He left Madison Square Garden for a victory party with 35¢ in his pocket.