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Boxing Historian

Unbeaten champ Joe Frazier hits the deck against George Foreman

Down goes Frazier!
'The Sunshine Showdown'

By Christopher James Shelton
Historian for The Boxing Amusement Park


 “The Sunshine Showdown,” 1973, has lost some of its luster due to the “Rumble In The Jungle,” 1974, and “Thrilla In Manila,” 1975. The time of the bout appeared to be a weaker moment in world heavyweight history.  Only the undefeated champion, Joe Frazier, and a tarnished Muhammad Ali, held names of high recognition and esteem.  Within two years, that perception would change so drastically that this period is currently viewed as one of more beloved and respected eras of the heavyweight division. 


Don Dunphy proved yet again during his broadcast that he is the best announcer in boxing history, but it was an impassioned (and nearly hysterical) Howard Cosell whose imprint permanently marked this sporting event.  American Broadcasting Company, via “Wide World Of Sports,” replayed the television friendly bout in its entirety several times.  If the fight retains any permanent personality or identity, it is with the unofficial renaming of the “The Sunshine Showdown” into the “Down Goes Frazier!” bout.

At age 12, George Foreman was destined to be a "bum."  That was how he viewed himself when not consumed by grandiose dreams of greatness.  Foreman was doing what he liked best -- skipping school, then sneaking back into the family home and flopping his oversized body onto the bed for more sleep.  A female family member caught him "playing hooky," but instead of the expected scolding, she said this as she prepared for work:  “Go back to sleep. You ain’t never gonna be nothing. Nobody from here ever became anything but dead or drunk.” 


"Go back to sleep.
You ain't never gonna be nothing.
Nobody form here ever became anything
but dead or drunk"



In the midst of an America and world in turmoil, along with social revolution, the moody teenaged Foreman received a miracle.  "The Great Society" of President Lyndon Johnson provided Job Corps, which assisted dropout kids to learn skills for the workplace.  Something in Foreman’s psyche -- that anyone cared about him ... not just individuals but a nation -- altered his feel-sorry-for-himself attitude into something more disciplined.  Foreman learned carpentry, bricklaying and electronics.  After failing to land a job in his native Houston, an embittered Foreman was hired at the California Job Corps as a physical education instructor.  He was encouraged to join the Job Corps boxing team, where he compiled a 16-4 amateur record.   As his self-esteem improved, Foreman imagined preaching to others that anyone who prayed to God, stayed off drugs and the streets, and retained a work ethic, could accomplish their goals.  Foreman also fantasized about being a millionaire, which made him love America even more.


 But Foreman’s greatest amateur boxing achievement -- heavyweight champion of the '68 Olympics in Mexico City -- made him even more a "bum." He incensed sections of America by waving an American flag after his gold medal match -- patriotism that was mockingly compared to the "black power" fist salute that same year by American track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the medal podium.  Just 10 days before those Olympics, the Tlatelolco massacre had occurred -- thousands of students were arrested and scores had been killed by Mexican military troops.  If Foreman’s flag-waving had been contrasted with Mexico’s violence, it might have been viewed as more heroic.  Foreman refused to apologize to the black community, while expressing appreciation for LBJ and Job Corps.  (Ironically, Lyndon Baines Johnson would die the same day as “The Sunshine Showdown.”)



One person who had no regrets for waving an American flag, or speaking openly of his love for America, was Don King.  The wishful promoter was a former Cleveland numbers banker who had killed two people.  The manslaughter-convicted felon latched onto former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali by lamenting the lack of black boxing promoters. In the process, King had placed himself in position for one of the richest promotions in boxing history:  Ali versus Frazier II, with $1.5-million guaranteed for both fighters


Champion Joe Frazier did not like King, and liked Ali even less, so he ignored a lawsuit forcing the title showdown, and instead chose to face the undefeated Goliath challenger.  Ali was openly perturbed:  what if Frazier loses?  Don King likely held similar thoughts, but refused to show the world anything other than a dazzling smile.


Don King would learn from “The Sunshine Showdown.”  Madison Square Garden, which had hosted the lucrative Frazier/Ali bout, lost its bid to the Government of Jamaica.  Alex Valdez had promoted Frazier’s European singing tour,  “Joe Frazier and The Knockouts,” and Frazier liked him enough to grant him negotiation for his upcoming title bout.  Valdez teamed with a Chinese-descent Jamaican named Lucien Chen, who had worked illegally inside America as a waiter for a Chinese restaurant and saved enough money for a return to Jamaica as a bookmaker and boxing promoter.  Valdez and Chen convinced the Government of Jamaica, through local lawyer, Paul FitzRitzson, to bid against Madison Square Garden through the name National Sports Limited.


  Madison Square Garden guaranteed Frazier $800,000 and Foreman $250,000, with the State of New York lowering their taxes to 10%.  National Sports Limited, with a Jamaican bank offering collateral, guaranteed Frazier $850,000, Foreman $375,000, with 0% taxes.  When Foreman was threatened with a lawsuit from a theatrical agent with whom he had signed a long-term contract -- any injunction not enforceable outside America -- National Sports Limited won the bid and the Government of Jamaica had its heavyweight championship bout.  Jamaica would attempt to recoup its investment through closed-circuit television and the box office from its national stadium.  (A crowd of 36,000 would be the paid attendance for the 42,000 capacity Kingston venue).  Only Playboy publisher, Hugh Hefner could enjoy the fight from the comfort of his home. Paul FitzRitzson:  “Mister Hefner is paying us in money and bunnies.”


Don King is a numbers man, and the idea of a poorer nation sponsoring a heavyweight championship bout would eventually lead to “The Rumble In The Jungle” (Zaire) and the “Thrilla In Manila” (Philippines).



Most viewed Muhammad Ali as the No. 2 heavyweight in the world, but Frazier openly courted the undefeated Olympic champion, Foreman, as the legitimate No. 1 contender.  Frazier was perturbed that Ali gave him no credit for his unanimous decision victory in their 1971 fight.  Ali continued to insist that he had won their fight (despite being knocked down) and that the judges cheated because he was Muslim and did they not agree with his views on Vietnam.


   Frazier had gained 10 pounds since the Ali bout and did not appear to care. For Ali, millions of dollars were riding \a Frazier victory.  Most newspapers viewed Frazier as a likely knockout winner over Foreman, and the gamblers made him a 3 ½-1 favorite.  Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis, not an Ali fan, probably made Ali more concerned by predicting the underdog would win. Said Louis: “You don’t have to have experience to beat Frazier.  You don’t have to outthink him, the way you do Cassius Clay. (Frazier) is always in front of you and easy to hit. I’ll tell you about that (Frazier-Ali) fight: Clay’s taken something out of Frazier.  There’s no doubt about it.”


 Joe Frazier had become a blue-collar hero and icon for America. The teenaged Frazier had built his own punching bags in South Carolina out of corn cobs, pine tree sap and cotton. It was Frazier -- not the fictional Rocky Balboa -- whose training included jogging those 72 steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It was Frazier -- not Rocky Balboa -- who pounded raw meat at a Philadelphia slaughterhouse before an eight-hour shift of mopping blood. Frazier had won the heavyweight division of the 1964 Olympics and parlayed that into an undefeated professional career with high-profile victories over Oscar Bonovena, Jerry Quarry and champion Jimmy Ellis.  Frazier went to ‘work’ inside the ring, always coming forward, throwing punches with gritty determination. Frazier’s victory over the previously unbeaten Ali had elevated his status as possibly one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.  One thing was definite, and both Frazier and Foreman knew the truth: When they stepped into the ring on January 22, 1973 in Jamaica, only one of the boxers would be afraid -- and it would not be Frazier.

Joe Frazier was the psycho robot cowboy killer from Westworld, played by Yul Brynner: Dismember him, throw acid in his face, and he'll come alive again, stepping forward without emotion.  Joe Frazier was Michael Myers from Halloween, Jason from Friday the 13th, Freddy Krueger, or Schwarzenegger’s Terminator.  Frazier is the crazy man with the hockey mask in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Frazier’s energy, lack of fear, and tenacity were impossibly intimidating.  Oscar Bonovena knocked Frazier down twice in the second round of their encounter, but Frazier smiled and seemed to enjoy the pain.  Frazier tenaciously rose from knockdowns with non-stop punches.  The worst strategy against Muhammad Ali is to step forward relentlessly, but Ali underestimated the conditioning and drive of the "non-human" champion.  George Foreman wanted the heavyweight championship more than anything in the world, but the challenger also knew he might have to kill Joe Frazier to achieve that dream.  It was both awesome and frightening.


Don Dunphy (1/22/1973): 
“Here’s the challenger for the heavyweight title, Big George Foreman.  The undefeated heavyweight was born in Marshall, Texas, January 10th, 1949, which makes him twenty-four.  He now lives in Heywood, California.  Foreman won the Olympic crown in 1968, turned pro, and guided by the canny Dick Sadler; he has won all his 37 fights, scoring 34 knockouts.  He’s six-feet-four, and he has a reach of 78 1/2 inches.  George Foreman, the challenger!  His biggest achievement is the knockout of George Chuvalo.
Here comes the undefeated Champion, Joe Frazier.  Joe was born in Buford, South Carolina, January 12th, 1944, and now lives in Philadelphia.  Frazier won the Olympic crown in ’64, and guided by Yancey Durham, has won all his professional fights, getting him 29 straight victories, with 25 knockouts.  Frazier won recognition as heavyweight Champion by defeating Jimmy Ellis by a knockout.  He cemented his position with a unanimous decision over the undefeated Muhammad Ali, in 1971.  Joe is five-feet-eleven, with a reach of seventy-three-and-a-half inches….  The heavyweight championship of the world!  The biggest event in all sports….  And I hope you’re as excited as I am, because one never knows what might happen at a heavyweight championship fight, or any fight for that matter.”



Both are aggressive.  Foreman misses with left jabs, but lands rights to body.  Frazier head bobs while bouncing on feet.  [Dunphy:  “Frazier in the white trunks.  Foreman in the red trunks.”  Frazier steps forward, but not throwing punches.] 

Foreman slightly backs, but still lands to body with long arms and raw physical power.  Foreman lands two left jabs to face that slightly back up Frazier.  [Dunphy:  “Foreman a little tense looking.”]

Foreman lands a left jab and pushes Frazier backward.  Frazier does not throw punches though he is the aggressor.  [Dunphy:  "Frazier rarely wins the first round.  I’d be surprised if he won one now.”

They exchange jabs.  Frazier lands another left jab to body.  Foreman lands a left jab to head, misses with his right, and then shoves Frazier backward.  Frazier bounces forward again.  Foreman lands a left jab to head and then misses with his right.  Frazier lands a hard left uppercut hook to the jaw.  [Dunphy:  “Foreman has been nailed, and nailed good.  Joe Frazier’s best punch is his left hook.”

They move in close with Frazier determinedly stepping forward.  [Dunphy:  “Foreman apparently not trying to back Frazier off with his left jab.”]

  Foreman lands a left jab to face and follows with a hard right uppercut that lands to chin.  Foreman pushes Frazier backward.  [Dunphy: “Now Foreman looks a little looser.”]

  Frazier seems confused, but tenaciously steps forward.  Foreman’s powerful long arms push Frazier backward.  Frazier continues forward with an attempt to land a left hook to chin, but it falls short.  Frazier’s momentum takes him forward until Foreman pushes him backward.  Foreman steps forward and misses wildly with two punches, as Frazier head ducks, but continues with a hard left jab that lands to chin.  [Howard Cosell:  “There’s another left by George.  He’s getting into Frazier’s head.  We’ll find out tonight how much the Ali fight took out of Frazier.  If anything.  And we’ll find out tonight just how good George Foreman is at giving and taking a punch.”]

  Foreman wildly throws punches while missing half of them.  Foreman lands a left jab to face and follows with a right that misses. [Dunphy:  “Foreman with a good, smart, snappy jab.”  Foreman lands a hard left punch to head and follows with a right to head that misses.  [Cosell:  “I THINK HE HURT JOE FRAZIER!  I THINK JOE IS HURT!”  Dunphy:  “Foreman is having a very good round.”]





  Foreman lands a left to head, follows with a right that lands to head, and then follows with a left that grazes the side of head.  [Cosell:  “Down goes Frazier!  Down goes Frazier!  Down goes Frazier!”  Dunphy:  “Joe is down.”]

  Frazier bounces to his feet and walks a bit in circles while Foreman relaxes his long arms on the neutral corner ropes.  [Cosell:  “The heavyweight champion is taking the mandatory eight count, and Foreman is as poised as can be!"]

  Both men step forward.  Foreman lands a hard left punch to body, and then follows with a right that lands on top of head.  Frazier lands a left hook to chin.  Foreman pushes Frazier backward.  [Dunphy:  “A minute to go in the round.”  Cosell:  “We have a minute left in this round and alrady the bout has turned out as some have expected!"]

 Foreman steps forward while Frazier determinedly holds his ground.  They exchange punches.  Foreman throws wild lefts, rights to head that graze instead of landing clean, but are still punishing.  [Dunphy:  “Frazier’s in real trouble here.”

Frazier backs into the ropes.  Foreman steps forward and lands a left jab to face.  Foreman slows his pace with momentary patience as he searches for an opening.  Frazier head bobs with his back against the ropes.  Foreman lands and misses with powerful lefts and rights.  [Cosell:  “Ohhh, that left is getting in there!"  Dunphy:  “Frazier seems to be hurt.  He’s being rocked.”]

  Foreman utilizes his left arm reach advantage.  Frazier surges forward with a wild left hook to chin that misses short.  Foreman pushes Frazer backward into the corner ropes.  Foreman misses and lands with wild lefts, rights to head while leaning and pushing a trapped Frazier backward into the corner ropes.  [Cosell:  “Frazier is dazed! He is getting hit over and over and over again! The same head that was hit so often by Muhammad Ali! Frazier is dazed!"   Dunphy:  “Foreman in complete control of the fight.” ]

Foreman pins Frazier with his long, outstretched left while landing powerful rights to head. [Cosell:  “Foreman has not panicked! Foreman is going about his job!"]

  Frazier is trapped and confused with his bobbing head and determination to step forward.  [Dunphy: “Frazier is fighting back gamely, but he’s having trouble.”  Cosell:  “Foreman is all over Joe Frazier!"  Dunphy:  “Twenty seconds to go.” ]

Foreman lands a powerful right that lands clean to jaw.  [Dunphy: “Frazier is down again.”  Cosell:  “Frazier is down again, and he maybe ... no, he is rising! He is game!"]

Frazier quickly rises glassy-eyed, wobbles a bit, and pounds his gloves. [Cosell:  “He is dazed! He doesn't know where he is!”  Dunphy:  “Frazier is wobbling around.  He’s taking a mandatory eight-count.”  Cosell:  “He is taking a mandatory eight-count! He doesn't know where he is!"]

Frazier steps forward with guarded gloves to protect his face.  [Cosell:  “He is ... now the round is about to end! Two knockdownsin the round of Joe Frazier!"  Dunphy:  “Frazier has never taken this kind of punishment.”]

  Foreman aggressively steps forward with a wild right to head that grazes, follows with a wild left to head that grazes, and then lands a powerful right to chin.  [Cosell:  “Down again!  No saving by the bell!” Dunphy:  “Frazier goes down at the bell.”  Cosell:  “He's up, so the bout continues!”]

Muhammad Ali (reviews round one):  “Foreman is like an amateur with his punches.  His left jab is good, but he doesn’t know how to follow it up.  If Frazier could have kept distance, he would have done better.  He’s making a mistake by standing up to Foreman and fighting him after the knockdown.  He’s a little too proud.  He thinks he’s the heavyweight champion, so he thinks he’s gotta go get his man.  He needs to retreat and cool off rather than going right back there to fight again.  He’s running right into wild punches.  George, you see, is not aiming his punches, he is just throwing them.  He’s just throwing hard, wild punches and Frazier stands right there and allows himself to be hit by them.  If he could get off the ropes and stop trying to slug it out, he could win this fight, because right now George is very, very tired.  George is aiming.  He’s just throwing wild, amateur punches.”




Both are offensively aggressive while simultaneous stepping forward with wild punches.  Foreman expends tremendous energy.  Foreman attempts to hold Frazier with a long left on top of head while punching to the face with his right.  Referee Arthur Mercante steps between the boxers, taps Foreman, and then orders him to back away.  [Dunphy:  “Foreman is being warned.”]

  Frazier steps backward and traps himself into the corner ropes.  Foreman steps forward and pounds away with powerful lefts and rights.  [Dunphy:  “Frazier is being battered in Foreman’s corner.”  Foreman pounds at the head of a trapped Frazier.  Cosell:  “Ohhh, he is all over Frazier again!"]

  Frazier attempts a sideways escape, trips over Foreman’s foot, then trips over his own feet as he stumbles in retreat.  [Cosell:  “Frazier's knees buckled!”]

  Foreman steps forward with a hard swatting right that lands to the back of head.  [Dunphy:  “Joe goes down again.  He goes down again.”  Cosell:  “He is down for the fourth time in the fight! George Foreman is doing to Joe Frazier what a 19-year-old dd to a veteran Russian, a fellow named Ionas Chepulis, in October, 1968, in the Mexico City Arena!"]

  A stunned Frazier rises, wobbles a bit, and then steps forward towards Foreman.  [Dunphy:  “Forty-five seconds into the round.  Joe has been down four times.”]

  Foreman easily lands a left to chin.  Foreman aggressively continues with wild lefts, rights that equally miss and land.  Cosell:  “A quick left! Another!"]

  Foreman lands a short, compact left clean to chin.  [Dunphy:  “There goes Joe down again.”  Cosell:  “Frazier is down for the fifth time in this fight! Three times in the first round! Twice in the second!"]

  Frazier instantly rises and is ready to fight again.  Foreman throws wild, loopy lefts, rights to head that miss and land, while pushing Frazier backward into the ropes.  [Dunphy:  “Five times he’s been down.  Foreman is at him again.”]

  Foreman tees off with lefts, rights that land to head.  [Dunphy:  “It’s hard to see how Frazier can last.”]

  Frazier is confused as he allows himself to be repeatedly hit.  [Cosell:  “It's target practice for George Foreman! It is target practice!"]

  Foreman lands a right to chin and then follows with a short left that lands clean to jaw. [Cosell:  “There he goes!”  Dunphy:  “Joe is down for the sixth time.  Let’s see if the referee stops it.”]

  Frazier rises and begins wobbling forward in the wrong direction.  [Cosell:  “There are going to ... no, they are not going to stop it!"]


   Referee Mercante has hold of Foreman as he attempts to pull him away.  [Dunphy:  “He’s trying to get his man to a neutral corner.  Frazier doesn’t know where he is!”  Cosell:  “Angie Dundee is screaming 'Stop it!' "]

   Referee Mercante rushes over to the undefeated champion with waving arms.  [Dunphy:  “The fight is over!  The fight is over!  The winner is George Foreman!”  Cosell:  “It is over in the second round! George Foreman is the heavyweight champion of the world!"]


  The ring is dangerously inundated by a swarm of men.  Two fistfights erupt simultaneously.  The most determined person in the building is promoter Don King, who had arrived at the arena in a limousine with Joe Frazier, and would exit the arena in that same limousine alongside George Foreman.  Another determined man is Don Dunphy who, with the assistance of Dick Sadler, lands the first interview with the new heavyweight champion.  [Dunphy:  “It’s a madhouse here in the ring.  We have a new heavyweight champion of the world.  I can’t get near the new heavyweight champion.  I just hope I don’t lose my microphone. The ring is a madhouse.  A stunning upset ... I’m trying to get to George Foreman.  Out of the way, fellows, please.”]

  Both King and Dunphy push forward through the aggressive crowd until King has secured Foreman’s shoulder, while Dunphy has hold of his arm.


George Foreman (exhausted and bleary-eyed):  “Joe Louis, I have more respect for him than any man in the world.  Next to Joe Louis, Mister Archie Moore.” 

An ecstatic-looking Don King slaps an oblivious Foreman hard to the back of shoulder:  “My man.  I got it.  My man!”  

Foreman:  “What round is it?” 

Dunphy:  “You forgot what round you won in?”

  Foreman:  “I thought it was the fourth.” 

Dunphy:  “Do you know how many times you knocked Joe down?” 

Foreman:  “I can’t remember.” 

Dunphy:  “George, I got to know about your plans for the future.  Will you fight Joe Frazier again or Muhammad Ali?” 

     A beaming Don King continues to rub and hold onto the shoulder of the new money machine. 

  Foreman:  “Right now, my plans were to win the heavyweight championship.  I’d like to tell all the kids ... to preach that if you work really hard, and pray, that you can do anything.  I’d like to spend my whole life preaching.  Even more than fighting.  My next fight will be to work with all the juveniles. That’s the ring.  The world is my ring.”

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Image by FlamingText.com

 Christopher James Shelton is a product of the American West Coast. He has lived in Los Angeles and San Ysidro, California, Tijuana , Mexico, and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Shelton was the editor of CHEEERS Soundboard, the first solely written/produced mental health recovery center newsletter in America.  He has several credits as researcher/writer/interviewer for CyberBoxingZone including: “Scandal In San Francisco (1896).” “The Last Bareknuckle Championship Bout (1889)” and “The Art and Science of Daniel Mendoza.”

  His research discovery credits include 19th century pugilists George Godfrey, Professor Hadley, Tom Hyer, John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.  Family interviews, mixed with historical research, include lightweights Jack Britton and Billy Hawkins. 

Shelton conducted the final interview with legendary Phoenix manager Al Fenn, and asked candid questions about George Foreman and H.I.V. with former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison.  HIs favorite historical article, “124-year-old woman challenges John L. Sullivan for the title," recounts the life story of a feisty 19th-century female slave named Sylvie Dubois.

Contact Christopher Shelton


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