I USUALLY write about British boxing, but I would like to recall some events from another interest of mine; 1970s heavyweight boxing, and in particular, from 1973, the year in which I first started to become seriously interested in the sport and its history. I am extremely fortunate to have grown up during this era and to have been able to follow the exciting heavyweight action ‘live’, so to speak. In those days, one might have to wait a week for the next copy of BN to find out the results of these contests, as many of them were not widely reported in the UK press. How much has changed! The year was notable for some memorable one-round victories in the heaviest division and it is these that I want to concentrate upon.
George Foreman was crowned champion in the first month of 1973 after demolishing Joe Frazier. The bout could easily have been stopped within the first round, during which Frazier was severely thrashed. “Smokin’ Joe” somehow managed to make the bell but, after a repeat performance in the second round, the fight was mercifully halted. The power that Foreman unleashed that night in Kingston, Jamaica has only been repeated since by Mike Tyson, and by Sonny Liston beforehand, in my opinion. The young champion looked truly frightening.
In the first defence of his title, Foreman met the unheralded Joe “King” Roman, of Puerto Rico. Roman was not rated anywhere near the top 10 and most observers felt that the contest was a mismatch, and so it proved. The Puerto Rican failed to land a single punch during the two minutes that the fight lasted and the 8,000 crowd at the Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan witnessed a heavyweight title mismatch to rank alongside Joe Frazier-Dave Zyglewicz, Floyd Patterson-Pete Rademacher and Joe Louis-Johnny Paychek. This added further to the aura of Foreman’s invincibility and yet, with some fresh new talent emerging, the heavyweight division was starting to look interesting, with some exciting potential challengers.
One of these was Earnie Shavers who, after two quick wins against Jimmy Young and Harold Carter, was matched against Jimmy Ellis in a 12-rounder at Madison Square Garden. Earnie had won 44 of his 46 bouts, with all but one of these victories coming inside the distance. Ellis was a big step up in class. Rated at number-five in the world, Ellis was a proven campaigner and, although he was a late replacement for Jerry Quarry, who had caught the flu, BN described him as a cagey customer who could not be written off. BN tipped Shavers to win on points.
Shavers blew Ellis away in two minutes and 39 seconds with the sort of firepower that only he had in common with Foreman. His victory propelled him into the rankings and the match with Quarry, another seasoned veteran, was rearranged to take place in the same ring at the end of the year. Quarry had already pricked the bubble that was Ron Lyle, punching out a 12-round decision in February 1973, and the match between the two was a potential eliminator, alongside the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch due to take place the following month. Once again, Quarry proved that he was far from finished when he demolished Shavers in two minutes and 21 seconds. A left hook, his best punch, proved decisive, although Earnie would come again to prove himself as one of the best, and most entertaining, heavyweights of the decade.
Another young heavyweight of potential was Jeff Merritt. In a five-year career his record stood at 18-1, with 14 early victories. When he was matched against Ernie Terrell in September, he had been out of the game for over a year. The contest proved to be another quick one, with Merritt winning in two minutes and two seconds at the Garden. Unlike Shavers, Merritt never fulfilled his promise and became one of the great mysteries of 1970s heavyweight boxing.