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A story of why the heavyweight class of boxing was better in 1970's than any other era.

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  • Heavyweight Boxing in the 1970s

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  • Heavyweight Boxing in the 1970s

    The Great Fighters and Rivalries

    JOE RYAN

    McFarland & Company, Inc., PublishersJefferson, North Carolina, and London

  • To my father James and my brother Michael, two real ghters who set the bar very high

    for those of us who must follow

    LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGUING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

    Ryan, Joe, 1963Heavyweight boxing in the 1970s : the great

    ghters and rivalries / Joe Ryan.p. cm.

    Includes bibliographical references and index.

    ISBN 978-0-7864-7074-7softcover : acid free paper

    1. BoxingHistory20th century. I. Title.GV1121.R93 2013 796.8309dc23 2012050319

    BRITISH LIBRARY CATALOGUING DATA ARE AVAILABLE

    2013 Joe Ryan. All rights reserved

    No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any formor by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopyingor recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,

    without permission in writing from the publisher.

    On the cover: Boxer Muhammad Ali (right), against Ken Norton in 1973 (Photofest); background image 2013 Shutterstock

    Manufactured in the United States of America

    McFarland & Company, Inc., PublishersBox 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640

    www.mcfarlandpub.com

  • Contents

    Acknowledgments vi

    Preface 1

    ONE. Comparing the Eras . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

    TWO. The 1960s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

    THREE. 1970 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

    FOUR. 1971 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

    FIVE. 1972 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

    SIX. 1973 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110

    SEVEN. 1974 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142

    EIGHT. 1975. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176

    NINE. 1976 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198

    TEN. 1977 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229

    ELEVEN. 1978 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249

    TWELVE. 1979 and Beyond . . . . . . . . . . 275

    Chapter Notes 295

    Bibliography 301

    Index 307

    v

  • Acknowledgments

    There are so many people I would like to thank in making the com-pletion of this book possible. First of all my wife Tracey, who has beensupportive from the start, and my wonderful children, Meaghan, Joshuaand Zachary, for putting up with the day-to-day lunacy it took to completea project of this size. A special thanks to my youngest, Zachary, who, onlytwelve, has been my on-hand technical support man, and kept me fromgoing crazy.

    Thanks to my loving mother Mary, who has always made me feelthat I could accomplish anything. To my big sister Cathy, my greatest exam-ple, constant supporter and lifelong friend.

    A special thank you goes out to my good friend Charles R. Saunders,who has been my editor, advisor and source of material and encouragementthroughout this endeavor. To Dave Somerton, who provided me throughthe years with the video needed to revisit these great ghts. To my sister-in-law Tina Taylor, for all of her help. And to my new friend Clay Moyle,a fantastic author who has gone above and beyond in his assistance to me.

    vi

  • Preface

    When I set out to write this book, my motivation was to revisit a periodthat gripped me throughout my youth. Muhammad Ali was the man whoinitially piqued my interest in boxing, as he did for many kids who grew upin the sixties and seventies. My interest eventually expanded to all of the erasand divisions in the sport. I would devour every book and magazine I couldget my hands on. Combing old bookstores and tracking down movies of theold legends, I became an accomplished boxing historian. Seniors would regaleme with tales of the old-timers, and I would listen intently. In time I couldhold my own in conversations with fans fty and sixty years my senior.

    My university studies led me to a career in history, and a love of historicalresearch. Summer employment at the National Museum of Man in Ottawa,Ontario, Canada, and provincial archives enhanced my knowledge of anddesire for research. New avenues of research were opened to me and I beganto utilize those skills to delve into my rst love, boxing.

    At this stage, I decided to write an in-depth study on the sport thatintrigued me so much. With the age-old questions in mind as to who wasthe greatest heavyweight king, and which era was the best, I decided to for-mulate a set of criteria that would conclusively determine the true goldenage of the heavyweights.

    Approaching this task with an entirely unbiased focus, I tackled this oldand controversial question. Using a fair and standard formula, I scrutinized,in great depth, every era from Jack Johnson up to and including the modernreign of the Klitschko brothers. Ironically, the conclusion brought me rightback to the period and characters that captivated me in the rst place, theheavyweights of the seventies.

    I hope you will follow me on this sentimental journey back to the timeof great ghters, great rivalries and an unprecedented interest in the sport ofsports.

    1

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  • One

    Comparing the Eras

    In the world of sports, no event can capture the worlds attention more readily than amajor heavyweight title ght. The mystique that surrounds such a ght often transcendsthe boundaries of athletics. And few news items can command the level of media hypeinvolved in a Superght.

    The heavyweight championship of the world has been called the greatest prize sportscan offer. A dominant champion is considered the supreme male, macho personied, thebaddest man on the planet.

    The glitter and ash of modern, big-time boxing often disguises the true nature of thesport: organized violence. Although the ght game is more rened and better controlledthan it was during the bare-knuckle days of the last century, the ultimate goal of its par-ticipants is the same as it has always been: to beat an opponent senseless.

    Like it or not, this inherent barbarism is still one of boxings main attractions. Themajority of fans would rather see a brutal knockout than a scientic encounter that goesthe distance. Thats why a defensive stylist like Jimmy Young could never accumulate asmany fans as crude sluggers like Earnie Shavers and George Foreman. The man who canput his opponents on the canvas is king at the box ofce.

    In a way, the sport is an embodiment of Darwins theory of survival of the strongestor the cleverest. Two men meet in a roped square of canvas, locked in deadly combat. Onlyone will emerge victorious.

    By its very nature, boxing is a contest for territorial domination. Like two bucks ghtingfor control of the herd, boxers ght for supremacy in the ring. Boxing is an individualstruggle of man against man, a ghter alone in the ring against a violent adversary. He mustcrush or be crushed.

    Unlike team sports in which a weaker member can be helped by his teammates, aghter must rely solely on his own abilities. A boxer who lacks the necessary strength, skill,and determination will be defeated and possibly injured. Thats the risk a boxer takes everytime he steps into the ring. For any ghter, regardless of his level of talent, that climbthrough the ropes represents an act of extreme courage.

    The individual nature of the boxers struggle leads to a more intimate relationship withthe public. Though most of us are part of a larger group, be it a family, team, or work group,there are times when, like a boxer, we must overcome obstacles on our own. For that reason,it is natural for the average person to identify with a successful boxer. Also, boxers tend tocome from humble beginnings, and most champions typify the rags to riches story.

    Over the years, thousands of young men throughout the world have laced on the gloveswith varying degrees of success. All ghters at some point in their careers entertain the ideaof one day attaining the fame, glory, and economic rewards a world title can bring. Mostare eventually forced to come to grips with the reality that theyll never come close to that

    3

  • pinnacle. They then readjust their professional objectives, set more realistic goals, and con-tinue or end their careers.

    Most ghters, however limited their abilities, manage to maintain a following even ata local level. On a higher plane, the champions represent the cream of the crop. Boxingchampions, especially the heavyweights, have become legends in Western society, with fansnumbering in the millions. They are perceived as real-life Supermen. Their lives have beenimmortalized and the tales of their accomplishments are told and retold long after theircareers and lives have ended.

    Comparisons of the styles and skills of these legendary heroes are inevitable. Through-out the years, boxing fans have carried on heated and ultimately futile debates comparingghters from different eras who never met in the ring.

    Pointless and inconclusive though such arguments may be, they are also inescapable.We all have our opinions, and I must admit to having engaged in more than one impassionedWho was the greatest? discussion.

    In these verbal free-for-alls, Ive found that older fans tend to favor the Dempseys andLouises, while younger ones support the Alis and the Tysons. It is, of course, impossible toaccurately determine which heavyweight champion was the best in the absence of actualring combat. Computer tournaments are a poor substitute that prove nothing.

    On the other hand, it is possible to compare the quality of the eras in which the cham-pions fought. I believe the decade of the 1970s is beyond a dou