Mac The Knife, AKA “MacArthur” Foster, owing to his patriotic father’s christening as an admirer of General Douglas MacArthur, the two tours of Vietnam combat duty ex-marine, and former heavyweight contender Mac Foster passed on yesterday at age 68.
Standard abbreviated obit essentials and final Ring stats of 30-6, 30 KO don’t do the man justice. He followed his own muse and was his own force of nature, widely respected in his spheres both in and out of the ring.
Foster joined the Marines after fine high school athletic achievements fielded him a scholarship offer to throw the discuss and shotput at Fresno State University. After his honorable discharge from the Marines, the popular, affable Foster launched his pro career, becoming a self promoted legend by winning all the fights by KO, usually not needing more than a few rounds, so soon enough the world stage beckoned.
Of course everything has a beginning, and Foster’s beginning was as a young Marine stationed in Tokyo attending service bouts where he boisterously shouted out a challenge to one of the Marine fighters. Weeks later his commanding officer scheduled him a day off in Tokyo after ordering him to fight the Marine. A day off in Tokyo for a young Marine was like a vacation in Disney World for a kid, but he was quickly exposed to boxing’s storied underbelly when he found himself fighting an experienced Army fighter instead. After having his ears boxed off he landed a left hook and knocked his “inter-divisional” rival out, the rough beginnings of a 20-1 amateur service record, 17 by KO with the one loss highly contested.
This limited experience was the platform that he launched his pro career from, fighting hometown and local west coast matches in a popular era for boxing. Because of his formidable KO record and reputation, it was difficult to get name fighters in the ring, but one day he got an offer to spar with Sonny Liston who was preparing to fight Henry Clark.
Mac went in completely untested at world class level and hoping to hold his own against the still frightening Liston, but the first left hook he landed left Liston sagging on the ropes and with a right hand he was ordered to land by Liston’s manager, Dick Saddler, he knocked him face first to the canvas.
Poor Liston didn’t have anyone looking out for his interests that day.
Reputation growing, Foster did manage to lure in Thad Spencer and later Cleveland Williams twice for the fatal results. He was poised for a title fight against champion Joe Frazier, but had to clear one more hurdle. He had to go through Jerry Quarry, another popular California fighter out of the same era who’d already challenged Joe Frazier in 1969’s Fight of the Year and had been in against the best and mostly come out on top, as severe a challenge as any title aspirant ever had.
Foster entered 24-0, 24 KO, a perfectionist’s perfect record. Joe Frazier was on a tear and was building up for his 1971 epic Fight of the Century with Muhammad Ali to give context. Mac could beat Ali to the Frazier alter with a win over Quarry, but big Mac was cut down to size by the Irish Bellflower who made a habit out of cleaning the clocks of his era’s contenders. After targeting the body with a series of left hooks, Quarry knocked Foster down for the first time in his career and then finished him off by knocking him through the ropes, one of Quarry’s finest fights ever.
This Ring Cover sums up the bout perfectly after all the action had ceased, the perfect denouement flash moment to the fight.
Foster, however, had turned pro with the expressed intent of whupping the jinn out of Ali who stood against every thing Foster cherished, of being a Christian and patriotic combat Marine who took grave offense at Ali’s “draft dodging” and his statement that “It takes more courage to face a man in the ring than to face bullets.”
So Foster got his wish in his home away from home, Tokyo, Japan when he challenged Ali in what could best be described as an unofficial 15 rd eliminator for the right to challenge Joe Frazier. Foster had never needed more than 8 rds to dispose of his opposition, and usually much less than that, and now he was going up against in my opinion the finest version of Ali who ever existed in the ring for the full 15 rd championship distance.
Foster was never gonna win a decision against Ali, but he was awkward and gave Ali hell for 15 rds, and fairplay, Ali is seldom given proper credit for standing up to the outrageously powerful arsenal of Foster, but he did even if he was dragging at the end as was Foster.
That year, 1972, Ali was 6-0, 4 KOs against Mac Foster, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Al Blue Lewis, Floyd Patterson, and the other era Foster, Lightheavy champ Bob Foster, so Mac was in some mighty elite company knocked off by the soon to become Ring Legend.
The Ali loss led to a sea change in Foster’s career. His weight balloons and his power deserts him as he goes into later rounds losing decisions against respectable journeymen he was knocking out the year before.
He retires to move on with his life as a local icon active in his community. Perhaps with better management and more grit in the face of the Ali loss, Mac Foster could’ve secured that cherished title challenge that was denied him, but he always accepted the cards that Fate dealt him and knew the timing was just a little off for him, after all, he was in the middle of the most hallowed heavyweight era in the world where Ali, Frazier, Foreman, and Norton were the gilded era fighters of record.
With an incalculable assist from Jerry Quarry, another warrior no longer of this world who said Foster hit him harder than he’d ever been hit before, Boxing wouldn’t be the legendary sport of Kings without these noble fighters throwing in against the best.
God bless and thanks for all the upsets, drama and intrigue. Their fighting spirits live on in another place a few universes down the road somewhere. Perhaps some day all will be reunited for another go of a new storied era.