Bob Foster, who died this past Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was a tough, powerful boxer best remembered by some, not for his being one of the most dominant champions in the history of the light heavyweight division, but for his defeats to fellow Hall of Famers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. As unfair as this may be, it reflects a simple truth about Foster’s career. At 6’3″ and with a 79″ reach, he was a huge light heavyweight, but just not strong and heavy enough to compete with the big men.
Foster began boxing at the age of 13 and continued to pursue pugilism after he joined the Air Force where he was a three time All-Service Champion. He also won a silver medal at the 1959 Pan Am Games before turning pro in 1961. In those days, undefeated records were not essential to ring success. Foster’s early losses to heavyweights Doug Jones and Zora Folley, among others, did not undermine the fact that Foster was one of the most dangerous fighters in the light heavyweight division, so dangerous that champion Dick Tiger was not at all anxious to face him.
In fact, Foster had to put up his own money to get the chance at the title. At the time, Tiger, a tough Hall of Fame champion with wins over Gene Fullmer and Jose Torres, was protected by the powerful bosses at Madison Square Garden and most suspected Foster would be too much for the Nigerian to handle. The champion would not agree to face Foster until he was guaranteed a cool hundred grand by the challenger. The agreement meant Foster actually lost money to win the world title. Tiger was a formidable foe, but he was overwhelmed by Foster’s advantages in height, reach and punching power. A huge left hook put Tiger down and out in round four.
As a light heavy, Foster is an all-time great and belongs on anyone’s list of the top fighters ever at 175. However, the real money was to be made at heavyweight, but no matter what he tried, Foster could not gain significant weight. He ate huge meals and even drank beer in an effort to put on the pounds, but his body just did not cooperate. As a result, he surrendered big weight advantages in his matches with the bigger men and failed to establish himself as a serious threat.
But as a light heavyweight champion, Foster ruled with near impunity for six years, defeating all opposition and racking up 14 successful defenses, a record for the division at that time. His stoppage wins over Frank DePaula, Roger Rouse, Vincente Rondon and Chris Finnegan, among others, established him as a fearsome force at 175. His one punch knockout of challenger Mike Quarry is legendary; a vicious left hook caught Quarry flush on the chin, knocking him out cold.
A loss to Muhammad Ali was followed by wins over Pierre Fourie and a draw with Jorge Victor Ahumada. Many at the time felt Foster was fortunate to get the draw against the tough Argentinian and the result prompted Foster to retire. The obligatory comeback a few years later led to no significant wins. Foster’s final tally was 56-8-1, with almost all of his losses to heavyweights.
Foster’s finest hour is arguably his win over Tiger, a dangerous and durable champion who had never before lost inside the distance. The win was dominant and comprehensive, much like the six year reign that followed and firmly fixed Foster’s name in the pantheon of great champions. — Robert Portis