It will be remembered, if at all, as the Foul Fight, but for the wrong reason. Before Heavyweight Champion George Foreman ever hit Jose Roman while he sat helpless on the floor of a Tokyo ring, the fight had been decided, and by one terrifying punch. The blow, a right hand that exploded on the left rib cage of the challenger, lifted Roman off his toes only 45 seconds after the start. If Roman had ever harbored any strong desire to stand in with the champ—which seems dubious—it deserted him directly. Nicknamed King by some mischievous con artist, Roman fell down then and, unnecessarily, two more times before being counted out at two minutes of the first round. From a suddenly sophisticated Japanese crowd—which a year earlier had politely endured its first "big-time" heavyweight fight, 15 shuffling rounds between Muhammad Ali and Mac Foster—there came a scattering of boos and cries of "Damasareta!" best translated as, "We wuz robbed!" In the sense that this was a classic mismatch—a journeyman unknown with a record made in purgatory against the best in the world—the fans were. And they were truly fouled. But someday they may recall, too, that they were witnesses to the first title defense of perhaps the hardest puncher in the history of the ring. Slimmed from 250 bulging pounds to 220 pounds of solidly packed muscle, Foreman was awesome. With his power and always surprising speed of hand, he could afford the gaucheries of style that have distressed purists but which have resulted now in 39 straight victories as a professional, 36 of these by knockout, the last 23 in a row, a majority in the first several rounds. On those terms, top ringside at $188 may have been a bargain.
Clearly the winner in the war before the war was Roman. Constantly gracious, polite and interested in all that he saw, the Puerto Rican, who grew up in the seamy ghetto streets of New York, signed autographs gladly, met the press and the people and showed up at appointments on time. He and his longtime trainer, Al Braverman, sought to give the impression that he expected to win, hopefully by backpedaling through the early rounds and then coming on against a tired Foreman. Braverman admitted that his charge had at one time been irresponsible and fun-loving and broke training rules at the drop of a glass, but, he said, all that changed in 1972 after Roman won a decision over Jose Urtain, a Spaniard of mild reputation. "He's hungry now," Braverman announced in the best tradition of gate building.
Foreman, by contrast, was surly, sometimes almost morose as he shed the last of 30 pounds. He squirreled himself away in his $250-a-day hotel suite—where he shut off the air conditioning to ward off the chances of catching cold—brusquely refusing invitations and putting off all sightseeing until after the fight. To stay one loafer ahead of the press, he wore his gym shoes from the hotel to the gym where he trained. While the writers, as required by custom, were taking off their shoes at the doorway, he was in the gym and already working out. Afterward, he was always in his car and moving off by the time his pursuers got their shoes back on. He did pause long enough to make it plain that he was his own manager and arranged his own arrangements, which may have contributed to his edginess. It was also plain that he was rounding into superb condition. For his two working minutes, Foreman took away a quarter of a million dollars. (Roman made under $100,000.) While rumors persist that Foreman's next fight will be this November in Houston against Joe Frazier, from whom he won his title, Foreman insisted in Tokyo that nothing was settled. After what he has done to his last 23 opponents, one wonders that there is anybody left who will agree to fight him. It falls short of being the most comforting prospect in the world.