Recently I had the great pleasure to speak to former Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster. Without question, he was one of the greatest light heavyweights of all time, and there are those that say he may in fact be the greatest.
Foster had limited success as a heavyweight, but he owned the light heavyweight division. He beat Dick Tiger in 1968 for the world title. He was stripped by the WBA of his title in 1971, but kept on defending his WBC portion. In 1972 Foster unified the title, beating Vincente Rondon by a second round KO.
Throughout his career he would defend his title fourteen times. He would fight twice for the heavyweight title, losing to Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Foster retired in 1974, but came back in 1975 and fought seven more times, winning five. He retired for good in 1978 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Shawn Murphy: Mr. Foster, the light heavyweight division has been filled with many great fighters over the years-Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Gene Tunney and Billy Conn. Point blank, are you the greatest of them all?
Bob Foster: "Yes!"
SM: Letʼs go back to the beginning. How did you get your start in boxing?
BF: "I started boxing at the age of thirteen in the Golden Gloves in Albuquerque. Joe Louis Murphy was the main trainer of the kids in the gym. Joe Louis Murphy left to go into the Air Force, and then I went into there as well. In the Air Force I just continued to box."
SM: Muhammad Ali [known at the time as Cassius Clay] was chosen in the light heavyweight division on the 1960 Olympic team over you. How upset were you by this?
BF: "It didnʼt bother me. They wanted to drop me to middleweight, which I couldnʼt do. If they would have put Ali at heavyweight, we would have won more medals that year. It was a bad coaching decision. Ali told the coaches that too. I tried to get to middleweight, but I couldnʼt get down past 168; I was getting weak. It didnʼt faze me, I went back and turned pro."
SM: In the 1960ʼs, you moved up and fought well known heavyweights like Doug Jones, Ernie Terrell and Zora Folley, losing to all three. Were they better overall or was it simply the weight difference that got you?
BF: "They had been pros longer, and they were better fighters at the time. I took the fights because I needed the money. I wasnʼt even a ten round fighter when I took those fights. Jones, Terrell and Folley were all top contenders. And I only weighed about 170 pounds. These fights would have been a different story later in my career. I wasnʼt even rated then, I just filled in for who they were supposed to fight."
SM: Take me back to 1968 and the Dick Tiger fight. Had Tiger ducked you until he had no choice but to fight you?
BF: "Yeah, he ducked me, and he would have continued to duck me if I didnʼt put up $100,000. I was the #1 contender for three years, but Tiger was a Garden fighter. So it was hard for me to get a shot. He wouldnʼt fight me until I put up $100,000 to get a title shot."
SM: You knocked him out in the fourth round; was that the best punch you ever threw?
BF: "Every left hook I threw was good. That shot wasnʼt my best, it just landed in the perfect spot."
SM: Was this fight the highlight of your boxing career?
SM: In 1970 ,you stepped up to the heavyweight division to fight Joe Frazier for the title. Did you think you had a legitimate chance to beat Frazier or was it too good a payday to pass up?
BF: "Yeah, I thought I could beat Frazier. If he would have fought me in the second round like he did in the first round, Iʼd have knocked him out. I would have been the Heavyweight Champion of the World!"
SM: Did you and Frazier really go out after the fight and have a few too many drinks as has been reported?
BF: "I canʼt exactly remember if we did that night or not, but we were good friends. After that fight, Yank Durham became my manager too."
SM: What do you remember most about the Ali fight in 1972? You were outweighed by just over 40 pounds. Would it had been different if you were say 200+ and not 180?
BF: "Yeah, it would have been different. Ali even said it wouldʼve been different if 'Bobby weighed 190-195. If I had weighed 200 lbs, I would have beaten them all. I would have knocked Joe Frazier out."
SM: In 1973, you fought Pierre Fourie twice, winning 15 round decisions both times. I have read that it was at this point that you said you "just werenʼt right anymore." Can you elaborate on that?
BF: "I said that after my fight with Jorge Alhumada. I just knew I didnʼt have the strength and energy to box like I used to."
SM: You retired in 1974, came back in 1975 and fought seven more times through 1978. For you personally, what were the reasons for the comeback?
BF: "I wanted to see if I wanted to continue fighting. I didnʼt know if I was really ready to give it up. I just got tired, and it wasnʼt fun anymore."
SM: Since retirement I know you worked and retired from the San Bernalillo County Sheriffʼs Department in New Mexico. What else has Bob Foster done in retirement?
BF: "Not too much these days."
SM: Do you keep in touch with any former fighters?
BF: "Not too much. I see some of them at the Hall of Fame dinner, and sometimes at other events."
SM: Any thoughts on the current state of boxing and do you follow boxing much these days?
BF: "I think there are too many champions. You donʼt know who the champions are today. Boxing is like a game, it has been ruined by money."
SM: Mr. Foster, is there anything else you want to tell your fans out there?
BF: "Please tell all my fans that I love them, and they can find me at my website www.bobfosterboxing.com ."