'The Caracas Caper': Remembering George Foreman's Destruction Of Ken Norton

Foreman asserted himself as the heavyweight to beat by decimating Norton in Venezuela
07:00, 25 Mar 2022

Imagine for a moment a heavyweight contender arrives and bulldozes all in his path with unprecedented power and a mean streak a mile long. Now picture that contender stopping Oleksandr Usyk inside two rounds. Then I want you to imagine him bowling over a solid contender type, perhaps a Hughie Fury or a Robert Helenius, in a single round before going on to destroy Anthony Joshua in another two-round demolition. 

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Nobody takes out two of the very best heavyweights in the world in less than four combined rounds, while finding time to blitz a world-ranked challenger in between. But George Foreman did. The big man from Marshall, Texas was a 3-1 underdog when he ripped the world heavyweight title from ‘Smokin’’ Joe Frazier with via vicious two-round TKO. He followed that up by knocking tough Puerto Rican Jose Roman out in a round. Then, in 1974, Foreman destroyed Ken Norton in two rounds. Such a feat is unthinkable today, but even at the time crowds spoilt by the heyday of Muhammad Ali were awestruck.

‘The Black Hercules’ was an underdog against Foreman, but a live one. The ex-Marine was coming off a brace of fights against Ali. In the first, he had broken the jaw of ‘The Greatest’ before beating him via split decision. The second was another tight affair, this time going the way of Ali on another split verdict. Norton had proved his mettle, becoming only the second man to beat ‘The Louisville Lip’. So why was he the underdog for this fight? Probably because Foreman had just destroyed the first man to beat Ali. 

Caracas, Venezuela would play host to this huge heavyweight attraction, and the card would be promoted by monument-haired fight baron Don King. Perfecting the art of staging heavyweight title bouts in unusual locales, King had been involved with Foreman’s win over Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica. Foreman’s next defence would define the artform, and reportedly King had already inked the deal for ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ before Norton and Foreman had even touched gloves. In fashion typical of ‘The Don’, Caracas was chosen to host the fight as their government offered to waive the taxes involved in staging the fight. Or so they said…

The durable Norton had only been stopped once in his career and perhaps Foreman had this at the front of his mind from the start. The two men fought a cagey opening, looking to establish range without leaving themselves open to their opponent’s power. ‘Big’ George was rightfully considered the puncher, but Norton had 23 knockouts from his own 30 wins, and enough dynamite in his fists to have crushed the most active jaw in heavyweight history. 

However, only one man would emerge for the second round with the same caution. Foreman rocked Norton a minute into the stanza and lived up to his reputation as a relentless finisher by almost immediately dropping him with a combination. Brave Kenny rose but was sent back from whence he came by a crunching left hand. Again Norton got back up, showing the steel that got him through 24 rounds with Ali. Foreman had no respect for such valour though, and another combination had Norton flat on his back, ending the fight. The beaten challenger rose again but the referee correctly spared him further punishment. 

While the in-ring action was over, the drama was just beginning. The Venezuelan government reneged on their original tax-free offer for the promotion, and demanded 18% of Foreman and Norton’s purses. Norton relented first, paying $47,000 in taxes and posting a $60,000 bond. Foreman endured five days of negotiations before eventually being allowed to leave. These difficulties led to the fight being dubbed ‘The Caracas Caper’.

The 1970s was a banner era for the heavyweight division, and in one fell swoop Foreman had carved right through to the heart of it. The two men who had beaten Muhammad Ali were almost effortlessly felled by the menacing heavyweight ruler. The most impressive thing about this achievement in hindsight is what the men Foreman defeated would go on to do. 

Frazier would defeat some of the era’s quintessential contenders in Joe Bugner, Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis, as well as going the distance twice more in defeat to Ali. Their third bout, ‘The Thrilla in Manilla' is held up as the greatest heavyweight fight of all-time. Unfortunately for Joe, he would then run into Foreman again, this time losing by fifth-round TKO. 

Norton went on to become heavyweight champion of the world himself. ‘The Black Hercules’ was awarded the title by virtue of a win over Jimmy Young when the WBC stripped Leon Spinks of the belt for rematching Ali rather than facing Norton. He would also meet Ali again in their controversial third fight. Norton tasted another points defeat, but many observers felt Norton had done enough to win the fifteen-round world title bout.

Foreman’s next step is the most well-documented. ‘Big’ George would defend his title in Zaire in October of 1974 against another underdog: Muhammad Ali. I wonder how he got on…

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