Every aspiring heavyweight's ideal opponent, George Chuvalo, is aging at 32, enduring under punishment and just about washed up as a prizefighter. It took Joe Frazier a mere four rounds to stop him three years ago. It took George Foreman only three last week to halt this block of a man who never has been knocked off his feet, whose battered face records the history of his 14 years as a fighter, whose wife wrings her hands at the very thought of his getting into a ring again.
Blood dribbling from his mouth, his eyes glazed and his hands only half-raised in a futile pretense at defense, Chuvalo stood in his corner and seemed about to go down with every punch that Foreman threw—every one of them delivered with all the power that this 21-year-old Olympic champion, idol of the hard hats, could put into them. The power was there, no question about it, but it was opposed by Chuvalo's singular talent: his ability to absorb punishment.
The beginning of the end came a minute into the third round, when Foreman crashed his left fist against Chuvalo's chin. It seemed for a moment that the Canadian must go down and, indeed, the seat of his royal-blue velvet trunks did touch the ropes for an instant. Unlike many young fighters, Foreman did not step back to admire the effect of his work. He followed the hook instantly with a succession of rights and lefts that drove Chuvalo's helpless hulk reeling about the ring. The young fighter was landing punches at the rate of almost one a second, and he kept the fusillade going for a full 40 seconds. Then, with Chuvalo's manager, Irving Unger-man, mounting the ring steps, intent on ending the slaughter, Referee Arthur Mercante stepped between the two men and signaled that it was all over. The time was 1:41.
Even the first two rounds had already established that George Foreman, who first came to international fame by winning a gold medal at Mexico City and flaunting a tiny American flag rather than a black-gloved fist, is vastly improved over his amateur and early professional days. With Dick Sadler as tutor, Foreman has lost much of the awkwardness that goes with being a converted southpaw. He has a reach commensurate with his height of 6'4", and he uses it to deliver a jab that is full of authority. He hooks well, too, as Chuvalo now knows. It was the reach, though, that foiled Chuvalo's fight plan. "I figured to stay in close to smother the jab," Chuvalo explained. It couldn't work, though, because Foreman kept his short-armed opponent out of range.
Afterward, Madison Square Garden boxing officials let out the word that they planned to pit Foreman against Jerry Quarry, that other, younger trial horse, on Oct. 23. Manager Sadler was not committing himself, though. "We're a long ways from being a journeyman fighter," he said, employing the pugilistic "we." "He and I will sit down and evaluate our position. If it requires to fight Quarry to get a shot at the title, then we will fight Quarry."
Certainly, Foreman must now leap into the ranks of the top 10 challengers for Joe Frazier's championship. However, he is, just the same, far from being ready for Frazier. Sadler's problem is to keep his charge from being knocked out of contention during the year or two that Foreman must put in studying for his master's degree. The climb to the top becomes most perilous at the very end.
"He's good, really good," Chuvalo says. "Right now he's probably too much for just anybody who's around today—any of the contenders. But he's a long ways from being ready for Joe Frazier. Perhaps a year and a half of fighting steadily would do it. It's amazing for a young fighter, a guy who's been in the ring for a couple of years, to have his poise. He's really confident, and he takes command from the go. You can feel it when you're in the ring with him—his concentration and intensity. Those are qualities that are hard to develop. A fighter has it or he doesn't. That's the real plus for Foreman. Technically, he makes too many mistakes. But so far the pressure he puts on with that stiff left hand allows him to get away with it. George Foreman's no fancy technician, but he's a hell of a fighter, and maybe that's enough."
The consensus in the boxing ranks is that a good counterpuncher (Quarry has the tools but not the cool, a trainer says) would try to take advantage of Foreman's fault of dropping his left after jabbing. Well, it is a fault that Joe Louis had and learned to correct after the first Max Schmeling fight.
His other faults, and they are not so glaring as they were in earlier appearances, can be corrected, too. He has not yet learned to slip a jab—but then, Chuvalo is no great jabber, so Foreman did not need that move against the Canadian. Also, he does not yet know how to move backward away from a charging opponent, which means that he can get caught against the ropes or in a corner.
Foreman's chief deficiencies, in other words, are in the area of defense. There is nothing much wrong with his offensive style. Chuvalo professed to have no great regard for him as a puncher, but Chuvalo never has been known to admit that any punch hurt him. Foreman's punching is, in fact, quite respectable. After all, 19 of his 22 opponents have been knocked out.
The morning after the fight, Foreman, dressed in gray slacks and a short-sleeved jersey, came down to breakfast in the hotel coffee shop. The only mark of the previous night's violent action was a slight bruise under his right eye. Across the aisle from him sat Jimmy Ellis, ranked by the World Boxing Association as the No. 2 heavyweight contender.
Foreman was asked why, in the first round, he had flung Chuvalo across the ring. He only grinned and rolled his head about in imitation of Chuvalo's favorite punch—a butt. "The man's tough," he said. "You can't take chances with old George. That's why I was happy to have him out of there early."
Foreman was more interested, however, in chatting with Jimmy Ellis than in discussing the events of the previous night. Ellis has a sleek and affluent look about him now, a look that George Foreman aspires to but cannot yet afford. He was to be paid a guarantee of $17,500 for fighting Chuvalo, whose cut was $50,000—out of a gate of $107,085 that the crowd of 12,526 paid. So there was a bit of money coming to George, with much more in prospect, and he was beginning to dream of ways to spend it, ways that might yet give him the Jimmy Ellis look.
Jimmy told about how he bought his first Cadillac. "I just walked into the showroom," Jimmy said, acting out the grand manner in which he had done it, "and I said to the guy, 'Give me one of them.' "
Jimmy laughed and slapped his leg and so did George.
"Lord," he said, "you should have seen this joker when I did it."
Everyone laughed again. George Foreman enjoyed the tale so much that he asked Jimmy to tell it once more. Jimmy did, and George asked him for still another encore.
Jimmy obliged for a third time, and George Foreman looked off into the distance, seeing what? Castles in the sky? No. Most likely the vision was of a gleaming Cadillac in a showroom.