Recently on the Boxing Channel I did a “What If” feature between former light heavyweight champions Bob Foster and Michael Spinks. “What If” fights match two greats or near greats from different eras who fought at the same weight and held the same title. Obviously there’s no right or wrong answer but trying to see who has the best case to warrant the nod is fun.
In pro football, there’s a big debate as to whether Tom Brady is the “GOAT” at quarterback. And without being able to say for sure because it’s subjective – I sum it up this way: I’m not sure Brady is the best QB I’ve ever seen, but it’s impossible to make a case anyone was better. So if we were debating quarterbacks, the best case can be made for Brady being the greatest but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was.
In regards to Foster vs. Spinks, no doubt both are among the all-time top 10 light heavyweight champs and it wasn’t easy to project a winner, at least not at first. Foster was the best light heavyweight of the late sixties into the early seventies and ruled at 175 during four of the years Carlos Monzon ruled at 160. For a brief moment Monzon flirted with the idea of fighting Foster but soon realized that wasn’t a great idea and remained in his lane.
Spinks was the best light heavyweight in the world circa 1980, a year before he won the title, until he relinquished it as the undefeated and undisputed champ in 1985. And like Foster, Spinks reign at 175 overlapped another middleweight great in Marvin Hagler during the first four years of Hagler’s tenure. Only Hagler was a little smarter than Monzon in that he never once mentioned Spinks name, let alone suggesting a fight between them. Marvin knew the lane in which he belonged.
In preparing for the Foster vs. Spinks feature, I went back and re-examined their records, especially during their title tenures. In light heavyweight title bouts Foster went 14-0-1 (11) and Spinks was 11-0 (8). There are, however, two things that separate them when doing a side by side comparison. For starters, Spinks was the more versatile fighter in that he could fight on his lead or back foot. He was capable of using the ring to keep from being cornered or pinned against the ropes and he had a more imaginative offense. Foster was more or less a straight line attacker behind his long left jab that he used to set up and camouflage his lethal left hook.
The other area where there’s a gulf separating them is in the level of opposition they faced in their light heavyweight title bouts. Granted, fighters can only fight those who are around during their era. But when it comes to who fought better opposition as light heavyweight champ, there’s a big cavity in favor of Spinks; a cavity so wide that you could drive a car through it. Foster knocked out Dick Tiger to win the title. Tiger was 38 years old and was really a middleweight. (Even Foster said many times Tiger was too small to fight light heavyweight.) If you look at the opposition Foster defeated in title bouts, you will find a plethora of fighters with few noteworthy wins on their record.
If you go to YouTube you’ll be able to see particular bouts of Foster fighting Frankie DePaula, Andy Kendall, and Kendall fighting Dick Tiger. You’ll see Ray Anderson, who fought Foster, fighting Victor Galindez. And you’ll also see Foster devastate Vincente Rondon and Mike Quarry who were second tier fighters compared to the opposition Spinks defeated in four or five of his title bouts. There are also videos of Foster fighting Chris Finnegan and Jorge Ahumada. And lastly, while there are no videos that I found of Foster fighting Pierre Fourie who went the distance with Foster twice in 15-round title bouts, there is a video of Fourie fighting Victor Galindez.
After watching the mostly limited contenders Foster defended the title against at 175, don’t ask how they would have fared against Spinks, but instead ponder how they would’ve done against Marvin Johnson and Yaqui Lopez who Spinks knocked out before winning the title and then imagine how they would have done against title challengers Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, both of whom, I believe would’ve gone through everyone that Foster beat. And I believe it’s better than 50-50 that Johnson and Lopez would have come out on top against them too.
It’s not Foster’s fault that Mustafa Muhammad, Muhammad Qawi, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Marvin Johnson weren’t around in his era, but other fighters are taken to task for the suspect opposition they fought, yet I’ve never heard anyone do the same regarding Foster.
After looking at the opposition Foster thrived against, I think his dominance is a little misleading. Factor in that Spinks was clearly the superior technician and boxer and it’s easier to conclude that he was the one most likely to come out on top had they met during their respective primes….and that’s not taking into account that Spinks was much more successful as a heavyweight, taking the title from Larry Holmes and then winning the rematch.
Bob Foster was a great fighter but if I’m going to call out Floyd Mayweather and others on their opposition I can’t give Foster a pass. In all honesty, after reviewing his record in title bouts, I’m not sure Bob beats Eddie Mustafa Muhammad or Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Would I favor him? Probably. Would I bet on him? Absolutely not.
I believe Michael Spinks beats Bob Foster nine out of 10 times. Furthermore, there are only two light heavyweight champs circa 1950-2018 who I would have reservations about picking Spinks to beat, namely Archie Moore and Harold Johnson, and both of them would have defeated Bob Foster.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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