In all of sport there is no title more coveted than Heavyweight Champion of the World. Its owner today can earn millions along with instant international fame, and his influence reaches out to touch the lives and livelihoods of countless others in boxing. Usually there is an almost palpable aura surrounding the champion, but in 1973 the excitement was oddly missing. The year began with quiet, unassuming Joe Frazier (right) in full command of the division, a man of new wealth who had not fought often or against worthy opponents but who always, in his artless way, gave dollar value, steaming in to trade harder knock for knock. Yet, with guaranteed further millions if he gave Muhammad Ali a chance to win the title back, Frazier inexplicably chose to swap punches with George Foreman, a decision he survived to regret. Faster than he had seemed before and possessed suddenly of a Louis-like left, Foreman destroyed Frazier. He claimed that he would be a busy champion, but he was not, and through his inaction he might have wrecked boxing, too, were it not for the Fighters on the next pages, some old and some new. Determined to cash in themselves, they kept the sport alive and gave promise that 1974 could begin a bright new era.
For Frazier—at the start a proud, almost disdainful world champion of three years, at the end a battered wreck on the canvas—the five minutes he spent with Foreman were crushing. With stunning suddenness, the challenger became the latest heavyweight titleholder on Jon. 22 in Kingston, Jamaica. He sent a cruel left to the body, then crossed with a right to the head and Frazier was on his way down for the first of six times.
The outcome of the first Ali-Norton fight was unexpected but the excuses that followed were not: Ali was (at and unconditioned, he sprained his ankle a week before the bout, he fought from the first round—or fifth or some round—with a broken jaw. Besides, he underestimated Ken Norton. That was so. In March, nursing his jaw and his pride in his dressing room, Ali knew why so many others had avoided Norton. The big, fast and aggressive unknown took Ali's best punches and stepped inside to destroy the myth that the ex-champ was untouchable. Better trained in September, Ali barely won the rematch. It was evident his exquisite skills had begun to desert him.
Rounding out the year, Foreman did little for his, or boxing's, image by slaughtering a lamb named Jose Roman (below). Better were Frazier, who despite a right from England's Joe Bugner went on to win handily, and Jerry Quarry, supposedly a test but in fact too testing for Ron Lyle of Denver. Quarry won their exciting bout and reemerged as a serious challenger. And winging in the wings was Duane Bobick (center, right), who kayoed a steady march of setups, explaining once, "It was one of those hooks nobody sees."