There may have never been a more talent-rich period in the heavyweight division than from 1968 to 1978.
With Muhammad Ali (a.k.a. Cassius Clay) on the sidelines from mid-1967 to late 1970 due to his draft case, other big men emerged.
They would compete with each other on an almost equal basis for the next decade.
Joe Frazier rose to the top of the heap but the level below him would remain as mainstays in the ratings for years to come.
Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonevena, Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, and Henry Cooper would eventually give way to Ron Lyle, Joe Bugner, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, and Jimmy Young.
All-time great champions like George Foreman and Larry Holmes also made their mark and Ali, himself, re-emerged to reclaim his throne.
Lost among the giants of that time period was a fine heavyweight from Venezuela named Jose Luis Garcia (30-8-1-1NC, 19 KO). Although Jose never challenged for the world championship he did meet three who did.
He also met three world champions in a career that never seemed to reach its full potential.
Jose turned pro in his native country in 1968. He would go undefeated in his first nine bouts before losing a decision to future light-heavyweight champion Vincente Rondon. And three fights and eight months later, Jose suffered after setback as he was TKO’d in six by tough Allen Thomas in the former’s U.S. debut.
As time progressed, the lean Garcia grew into a full-fledged heavyweight and on July 2, 1970, Garcia scored the biggest victory of his career.
As a heavy underdog, Jose met unbeaten and upcoming future champion Ken Norton in the latter’s native Los Angeles. Shockingly, Garcia’s superior hand speed and deceptive power sent Norton crashing in round eight.
The huge upset of Norton landed Garcia smack in the middle of the heavyweight picture.
Four months after Garcia’s upset of Norton, Garcia halted shopworn ex-contender Thad Spencer. By this time, Garcia had gained substantial weight. A 188 lb cruiserweight by today’s standards when he beat the 207 lb Norton, Garcia had ballooned to over 200 lbs soon thereafter.
In 1971, Garcia moved up in the ratings with wins over veterans Charlie Polite, James J. Woody, John Griffin, and Alberto Lovell. After going 5-0 that year, Jose opened 1972 with victories over Roby Harris, Florida Al Jones, and Johnny Hudgins… But it all came crashing down on October 23rd, 1972 when ex-WBA champion Ernie Terrell came to Caracas.
Ernie had been written off after late 1960s losses to Thad Spencer and Manuel Ramos. Yet against Garcia, Terrell looked the part of a rejuvenated former champ as he pounded the Venezuelan into submission in the sixth round.
In Jose’s comeback bout seven months later, Joe Alexander stopped the Venezuelan in one round in May 1973 and a crushing kayo loss to Ron Lyle would follow three months later.
To his credit, Jose put together four wins in a row but then lost a decision to Jimmy Young in July 1974. And in his proceeding bout, Garcia was stopped by Joe Bugner in two in October.
And finally, on August 14, 1975, Jose got a rematch with Ken Norton who, at this time, was an elite heavyweight and top contender. They met in St. Paul, MN and the result was quite different from their first encounter. Although Garcia provided fireworks, Kenny took all Garcia could throw at him this time around and eventually wore Jose down, stopping him in the fifth round of a tough fight.
Even in defeat, Garcia proved he was still world-class.