The weigh-in, conducted in a spirit of rancor and confusion, wound up in a dispute reminiscent of the Dempsey-Tunney long count at Chicago way back in 1927. Bob Foster, a deputy sheriff from Albuquerque who was recognized by the World Boxing Council as light-heavyweight champion of the world, came in to the Miami Beach Convention Hall weighing 175 pounds, precisely the upper limit of the division. Vicente Rondon, a Venezuelan recognized as light-heavyweight champion by the World Boxing Association, weighed 177, which made him a heavyweight by any definition except that of the Miami Beach Boxing Commission, which studiously ignored the scales though they had been tested and approved by the Dade County weights and measures department. Charlie Bookbinder of the commission clearly announced Ron-don's weight as 177, and then for some reason laughed. Others laughed later when he denied that he had said it. In any event, the commission ruled that the fighters weighed a neat 175 pounds each, by fiat if not by the scales, and with $50,000 guaranteed to both contestants, a sum that light heavyweights don't see very often, nobody was about to argue. Leastwise, not Lou Viscusi, Foster's manager, who said, "Their guy is over the limit. We can't lose the light-heavy title."
It was all academic. Foster knocked out Rondon in 2 minutes 55 seconds of the second round and is now beyond question the light-heavyweight champion in everyone's eyes and is being widely hailed as the hardest puncher the division has known. It might even be true. Rondon was down and out far longer than the 10 seconds counted over him by Referee Cy Gottfried. Perhaps for as long as two minutes he lay face down on the canvas, his heels twitching, causing considerable alarm. It was announced later that he could not attend a press conference because he had suffered a concussion. All knockouts are concussions. Rondon had suffered an embarrassment.
When the fighters came into the ring before 6,131 fans—some of whom had even paid the $50 top for ringside seats—it was clear that Rondon, dressed in red and gold trunks, was apprehensive. His sensitive features could not conceal fear. The only disgrace was that while almost all intelligent boxers feel fear, they usually manage to hide it.
During the first round, Rondon stayed away from Foster, hunting shelter along the ropes and in the corners, and if the object was to make the bout a race rather than a fight, he was successful. Foster's jabs, among the best ever seen, were falling short. Approaching the Venezuelan in that sideways, crablike, left-leading style that makes him so hard to hit—only his left flank is exposed—Foster let almost two minutes go by before he landed even moderately solid blows. Then his punches began to take effect. There were two quick jabs to the belly and chest, a right and a hook to the head, another right and left to the jaw and a right to the belly. All these punches scored solidly. Just before the bell ended the round, Rondon landed his one scoring punch, a feeble right to the head. It was not enough to impress anyone, to say nothing of Foster.
Between rounds Rondon's corner exhorted him to make a fight of it, an inside fight, his most effective style, and to his credit Rondon did his best to follow orders. He walked into two jabs but then, to the delight of his fellow Latin Americans, he actually scored with a right to the head and he followed that with a jab. In return, Rondon took a few punches, but they appeared to sting him into what up to then was the best action of the fight.
Rondon got inside Foster's long left and proceeded to tangle at close quarters, safe country. There was a furious flurry of punches from both men, but in the end it was Rondon who broke off, discovering the country wasn't all that safe. Seconds later, Rondon went down from a left and right to the head that, in fairness, might have been aided by a slip. Before a count could begin, he was up, his nose bleeding slightly. Foster next landed a couple of good jabs, but then both stood, as two in wonder. Suddenly Foster threw a combination that consisted of a powerful right and two hooks. The right really did it. Rondon was on his way to the canvas when the other blows caught him. That is when he began to twitch.
The lanky Foster—he stands a slender 6'3½" and looks as if he had the punching power of a healthy girl—moved quickly away from his fallen foe as Gottfried began the count. The now undisputed champion's face was creased with a grin so broad that it distorted his Fu Manchu mustache. At the instant the count was completed, Rondon's seconds rushed to his aid but were cautioned not to get him up until he had regained full consciousness.
It had been a true grudge fight all the way, by no means faked for promotion purposes. Foster was consumed with hatred for the World Boxing Association because it stripped him of his title 15 months ago. He despised the Miami Beach commission, an aggregation of restaurateurs and car salesmen, because of its inept, self-serving handling of the weigh-in. And he had not the least love for Rondon.
Through an interpreter, Rondon had said before the fight that he was not impressed by reports of Foster's punching power. "I like to get hit hard," he said naively. "It wakes me up and makes me fight harder." This time it made him sleep better.
In training, Rondon had looked to be a more worthy opponent than, in retrospect, he was. Two inches shorter than Foster, he was strong and showed he could be particularly damaging on the inside with his uppercut. No light heavyweight ever had beaten him. Since the WBA awarded him Foster's championship on the strength of a victory over swift Jimmy Dupree, Rondon had defended his version of the title four times.
Neither had Foster ever been defeated by a light heavyweight. The fight that did him in with the WBA was against Joe Frazier, who was to win the heavyweight championship four months later. Frazier knocked Foster out in the second round, and the WBA said sternly that Foster should have been fighting light heavyweights. Maybe so, except a man would like to make a little money out of his championship, and nowhere was there a light heavyweight with the drawing power of Joe Frazier.
Thus it was that Foster entered this fateful match—it was promoted as THE SHOWDOWN—with a heart that rankled against injustice. And when victory finally came, it did not soothe the vengeful Foster. He paid none of the customary graceful tributes to his opponent's courage and skill.
"He was scared to death," the now indubitable champion declared at the postmortem. "And he's dumb. I'd just as soon it had gone the full 15 rounds so I could have punished him." Not very sporting, but understandable under the circumstances.
It was only the weigh-in that made the fight memorable. Rondon had spent the two previous days wearing a sweat suit and a worried look. When he came to the scales he was obviously unhappy about something. Weight? He got on the scales. Bookbinder made his call, and his gaffe. But pragmatists make the calls in this sport. Although it was clear that Rondon was dehydrated and could not lose another pound, he was going to make the weight if it took the weight of the commission to insure it.
When the fighters came into the ring that night their weights were brazenly announced as 175. Manager Viscusi had said bravely and philosophically, "If they want me to fight heavyweights, I will fight heavyweights. We're still champions, no matter what. We'll fight, and we'll have the title, regardless."
In an aside, Viscusi disclosed that on his own personal scales, Foster had weighed less than 175 pounds a half hour before the weigh-in. "He weighed 174 and a heavy half," the manager said. "It was a little more than 174½ and not quite three-quarters."
And that was the end of it, so far as everyone connected with the fight was concerned. It was also the end of Rondon's brief reign.