Bob Foster after knocking out the light-heavyweight champion Dick Tiger during the fourth round in 1968. Foster successfully defended the title 14 times before his first retirement, in 1974. Credit United Press International
Bob Foster, Whose Left Hook Decimated All but the Heavyweights, Dies at 76
By RICHARD GOLDSTEINNOV. 22, 2015
Bob Foster, a devastating puncher who was one of boxing’s most dominant light-heavyweight champions but failed in his quest to capture a heavyweight title when he was knocked out by Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, died on Saturday in Albuquerque. He was 76.
Foster’s death was confirmed by his son Nelson Smith, who said Foster had been in failing health.
Foster won the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association light-heavyweight titles in May 1968 with a fourth-round knockout of Dick Tiger of Nigeria, who had previously been the middleweight champion as well.
The bout, at Madison Square Garden, was the first time that Tiger had been knocked out.
Foster, who had one of boxing’s most devastating left hooks, was unbeaten in 14 title defenses before retiring for the first time, in September 1974.
Fighting in a division with an upper limit of 175 pounds, Foster was unusually tall, at 6 feet 3 ½ inches, though slender, and he had long arms.
“It’s just timing and leverage,” he once said in accounting for his fearsome left hook.
The New York Times sports columnist Red Smith once wrote that Foster “was built like a fly rod with ears.”
Foster won 56 bouts (46 by knockout), lost eight and fought one draw and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
But he could not make a successful leap to the heavyweight division, which offered the biggest purses.
He was knocked out in the second round by Frazier in November 1970, seeking his W.B.C. and W.B.A. crowns, and by Ali in the eighth round in November 1972 for what was billed as the vacant North American Boxing Federation title.
The Foster-Ali fight ended after Foster, outweighed by 221 ¼ pounds to 180, had been knocked down for the seventh time. But Foster bloodied Ali’s face, which nobody had done in Ali’s pro career.
Foster raised a purple bruise under Ali’s left eye and cut him over his left eyebrow with a left jab.
Nevertheless, Ali’s left jabs kept Foster from unleashing his left hook.
“A man in the 220s is not supposed to have hands that fast,” Foster said after the bout. “I’m a believer.”
Bobby Wayne Foster was born on Dec. 15, 1938, in Borger, Tex., and his family moved to Albuquerque when he was a child.
He began boxing in the Golden Gloves at 13, played football in high school, and then joined the Air Force and fought in service bouts. He fought as an amateur afterward and then turned pro in 1961.
Foster became engulfed in South Africa’s apartheid drama in December 1973 when he defended his title in Johannesburg against the South African Pierre Fourie in what was described as the country’s first professional interracial boxing match.
Foster was mobbed by joyful black South Africans when he arrived at the airport.
But asked about apartheid before the fight, which came days after Arthur Ashe was defeated by Jimmy Connors in South Africa’s first interracial men’s tennis championship event, he stayed away from the issue.
Ashe had said that “being the first black here was just as important as winning the title.”
But Foster said: “I’m here to keep my title; I’m not here for politics. Ashe is more politically motivated than I am. That’s just the way things are.”
Foster, who got $200,000 for the fight, his biggest payday at the time, and had previously won a decision over Fourie in Albuquerque, was victorious by decision again.
Foster, who was stripped of his W.B.A. title for a time in a dispute over whom he should defend it against, retired after his last unified title defense when, as the champion, he was awarded the victory in a draw with Jorge Victor Ahumada of Argentina in June 1974. But he returned to the ring a year later, winning five fights as a heavyweight and retiring in 1978 after being stopped in his final two fights.
Foster was a sergeant in the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department in the Albuquerque area for many years.
In addition to his son Nelson Smith, his survivors include his wife, Rose; his sons Bobby Jr. and Tony Foster; and his daughters Mildred Foster and Yolanda James.
Foster fought a long-running, and losing, battle to gain weight so he would have a better chance against the heavyweights, and he tried drinking beer to do it.
While training in Spring Valley, N.Y., in January 1969, he recalled how he had worked in a hot bomb-manufacturing factory in York, Pa., in 1966 and drank beer at lunchtime and at night to put on weight.
“After a year of all that drinking and all my wife’s soul food, how much do you think I weighed?” he asked. “One hundred eighty-one pounds.”
A version of this article appears in print on November 23, 2015, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Bob Foster, Whose Left Hook Decimated All but the Heavyweights, Is Dead at 76.