Shocked! That is what I was when Robert Duran, aka “Hands of Stone,” the maestro of machismo, said “no mas” and quit against the Sugar Ray Leonard.
Surprised! I certainly was when Fan Man banged against the ring ropes with his paraglider during the seventh round of the second fight between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield.
Stunned! Was I ever, when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ears.
Flabbergasted!!! What else could I have been when Charley Polite gave a quick kiss to George Foreman in the center of the ring?
The Smooch was delivered before the final bout on a show billed as “Foreman vs. The Five,” a Don King brainstorm that took place at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and was televised by ABC on the afternoon of Saturday, April 26, 1975. Foreman, whose psyche had been badly bruised when he was knocked out by Muhammad Ali in Africa on Oct. 30, 1974, returned to the ring with five scheduled three-round bouts on the same afternoon.
It was wackiest boxing event I ever was involved in. It should have played Broadway. But while it was hilarious, Foreman never cracked a smile. The Foreman who joked about cheeseburgers and waistlines was not born until his second boxing career.
King said he also had two alternate fighters available. Why?
“I once did a fight with Reco Brooks,” King said. “At the weigh-in, Reco Brooks was there. When it was time to eat, Reco Brooks was there. At fight time, Reco Brooks was not there.”
A couple of days before the show, Tom Cushman, writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, was talking to Jerry Judge, one of The Five opponents, in a Toronto gym. Judge told Cushman he thought he and his teammates could give Foreman trouble. As they were talking, Boone Kirkman, another of the chosen, was on a platform punching a heavy bag. Suddenly there was a crash. Kirkman had missed the bag and fallen off the platform. Judge did not think it was a good sign.
King was also asked what would happen if one of the five opponents did get lucky and clocked Foreman? “I love George like a brother,” he replied. “But my heart goes where the wild goose goes.”
King was not joking. He had gone with Joe Frazier to Frazier’s defense against Foreman in 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica. After Frazier was stopped in the second round, King accompanied Foreman back to the new champion’s hotel. “I went to the fight with the heavyweight champion and I left with the heavyweight champion,” he said.
Michael Dokes, a King fighter, was still lying on the canvas when the promoter entered the ring after Gerrie Coetzee won the WBA heavyweight title on a tenth-round knockout in 1983. King stepped over Dokes to get to Coetzee.
With Ali at ringside annoying broadcaster Howard Cosell, the Toronto show opened with Foreman against Alonzo Johnson, who had gone 10 rounds with Ali in 1961, but who had not fought since 1972. Johnson was stopped in the second round.
Jerry Judge was opponent number two, and near the end of the first round he got Foreman’s attention with a punch to the head. Big George got to Judge in the second round, but they continued fighting after the bout was stopped.
Third up was Terry Daniels, who had been stopped by Joe Frazier in the fourth round of a title bid on Super Bowl eve in 1972 at New Orleans. Daniels had weighed in for that fight at 195 pounds while wearing cowboy boots. Daniels and Foreman also fought after the bout was stopped in the second round. Now the fun began in earnest. One of Foreman’s seconds ran across the ring and decked a Daniels’ handler with a left hook that sent the man’s eyeglasses soaring over the top rope and into the crowd. It was the best punch of the night.
Batting cleanup was Kirkman, who had tasted Foreman’s power when he was knocked out in the second round in 1970. Kirkman managed to last three rounds, but he did not stay upright the whole time. Once when moving backwards rapidly he tripped and fell flat on his back.
I was having difficulty dictating a running account of the shenanigans because I kept laughing. It was about to get harder to talk. Into the ring wearing a robe lettered “Kid Spiffy” came Charley Polite, who had been knocked out in the fourth round by Foreman in 1970. The two fighters were facing each other in the center of the ring before the bout began when Polite suddenly gave Foreman a peck.
Polite’s action obviously was a prank. Maybe he just wanted to try to discombobulate Foreman. Whatever, the crowd went nuts, but Foreman’s expression remained stony. Polite managed to last three rounds, but to most onlookers the show had already closed with The Smooch.
Johnson, whose 1972 bout had been his first in 6½ years, would never again put the gloves on, at least in public.
Judge would fight several more times, losing four before retiring in 1979.
It would have been smart for Daniels to follow Johnson’s example. Instead he would have thirteen more fights and lose twelve of them, seven by knockout, before retiring in 1981,
Kirkman had been knocked out in the third round by Memphis Al Jones, stopped in the sixth round by Ken Norton and stopped in the eighth by Ron Lyle before he became one of The Five. In his next real fight he lost a ten-round decision to Randy Neumann, then won four straight bouts before retiring in 1978.
Polite also should have taken the Johnson route, but he would fight until 1978, posting a 3-7 record.
Foreman would knock out Ron Lye in the fifth round of a brawl and stop Dino Denis in the fourth round in 1976, and he would knock out Pedro Ageist in the fourth round and lose a twelve-round decision to Jimmy Young in 1977. Immediately after being upset by Young, Foreman would have what he said was a religious experience, and he would leave boxing to become an evangelist.
A decade later, Foreman came back as a sort of boxing lounge act, joking about bulging waistlines and his fondness for cheeseburgers. George II would have had a lot of laughs that afternoon in Toronto thirty years ago.