The speed bag was moving in a rackety-rackety rhythm, constant as the sound of express-train wheels. The hands that were making the bag move were held high, in front of a square, sweating face. They were slipping cute little cuts and turns into the rhythm—two backhand pops instead of one, a cuff with the wrist, a flick with the fingers. Behind the hands the face was bored. The dark eyes rolled up and blinked at the sweat dropping off the eyebrows. The mouth opened in what could have passed for a sigh of weariness. The knees were lifting and the feet were shuffling as if what they wanted to do was march out of that makeshift gym at Kutsher's Country Club in the Catskills outside of New York and carry that dissatisfied face to some happy place where a bowl of linguini and a dish of pistachio ice cream might be waiting. But the bag kept moving in its rackety-rackety rhythm, and the hands that moved it probably are the fastest and classiest hands in the upper society of the boxing world today.
A week from Tuesday night those hands and the shifting, sliding, never-where-you-thought-it-would-be face of Light Heavyweight Champion Willie Pastrano (see cover) will be in the ring at Madison Square Garden for a championship fight against tough José Torres. There will be no boredom in the face then. Willie Pastrano and José Torres, finishing up on a doubleheader card that also matches Welterweight Champion Emile Griffith against José Stable, should put on one of the best fights of the year in any weight. Torres has fast hands, too, and backs them with rattling force. Pastrano, who has been called, unavoidably, Willie the Wisp because of his dancing-ghost style, will need to be at his wispiest to evade the combination punching of Torres, a man who is getting his chance after years of frustration.
With a boxing revival going on at Madison Square Garden—if the recent Ernie Terrell-Eddie Machen frug in Chicago did not turn everybody back to Peyton Place—the two champions, Pastrano and Griffith, will be handsomely paid for their work. Pastrano has his choice of $100,000 or 30% of the net. Griffith has the option of $70,000 or 20%. The challengers, Torres and Stable, will get $10,000 each. The Garden has been scaled for $250,000, with ringside tickets at $30, and last week people were already standing in line at the windows. But most of the purse will come from closed-circuit telecasts at theaters spread around the country. "One fight by itself wouldn't be enough of an attraction for theater TV," said Harry Markson, the Garden's director of boxing. "The two, however, should draw very well. Griffith and Stable are good punchers. In Pastrano vs. Torres we have the classic situation of a boxer vs. a puncher."
Torres, a 29-year-old Puerto Rican, used to draw large and fanatical crowds when he fought as a middleweight at New York's St. Nicholas Arena and Sunnyside Gardens. But his manager, Cus D'Amato, then feuding with the old International Boxing Club, kept Torres out of Madison Square Garden. Torres could not get a championship fight, although he met and soundly whipped some of the best young fighters around, among them Al Andrews, Benny Paret and Randy Sandy. In 27 professional bouts Torres knocked out 21 fighters; he never lost, and he was never knocked off his feet. But with few fights, and none of those of any real moment, Torres became discouraged. In May of 1963 he was knocked out by Florentino Fernandez and woke up broke. Then he met Cain Young, a Brooklyn real estate dealer, and found a friend and sponsor. Torres became a 170-pound light heavyweight. Cain Young offered a $10,000 guarantee to Bobo Olson—at the time the No. 3 light heavyweight contender—for a fight at the Garden last November. Torres knocked out Olson with a dizzying combination of punches in the first round and thus earned his shot at Pastrano's title. To get the fight, however, Cain Young had to guarantee Pastrano's purse.
March 22, 1965
Pastrano and Torres have somewhat similar reputations when it comes to training. Neither of them likes it. Both prefer city lights, good food and entertaining companions. The necessary discipline of a training camp is repulsive to the laughing Torres and the epicurean Pastrano, who was raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans by Italian and Spanish parents.
"But I am training to fight 20 rounds," Torres said last week at his camp in the Stoneybrook Hill Club in Hillsdale, N.J. "I'm training harder and longer than I ever have in my life. I feel better now because I don't have to strain to be a middleweight on the scales."
Pastrano's ability as a master boxer means Torres must prepare for a great deal of movement if he is to locate his target. Pastrano protects his head very well. He has never been knocked out and has seldom been cut. Pastrano did lose to Heavyweight Brian London after suffering a deeply cut eyebrow, but he insists the blood was started by a butt, not a punch. It is reasonable, then, that Torres may attack Pastrano in the body to try to open a path to the head.
"I am working on infighting more than usual," Torres said. "I think I know what Pastrano will do. He will press me, try to discourage me. He knows Fernandez beat me by pressing me, and Gomeo Brennan gave me a good fight by pressing me. But Fernandez lost every round to me until I lost the fight in the fifth round. And I know Terry Downes did very well hitting Pastrano in the body until Pastrano knocked out Downes in the 11th round. In the movies I saw, Downes won nine rounds with body punches and getting inside."
D'Amato, who is training Torres although Cain Young is now José's manager, does not believe there is a boxing gap between his man and Pastrano, despite the champion's admitted excellence. "You may think this is a peculiar statement," D'Amato said, "but Torres will outbox as well as outpunch Pastrano. José has a better left hand than Pastrano. Is that crazy? It's true. Take away Pastrano's left jab and you remove his major weapon. He will get disgusted. Like taking the bullets out of a gun. José can take the left jab away by beating Pastrano to it. José's jab does damage. It's like a punch, not a flick. José is a fine body puncher and has tremendous combinations. He can throw a five-punch combination in such a short amount of time that I hesitate to speak of it. People would think I'm lying."
In his last fight Torres hit Olson a left hook to the kidney, a right cross to the jaw, a left hook to the jaw and a right Uppercut to the jaw faster than you can say Heinie Manush. Olson did not have time to wave good night before he was on his way down and Torres was on his way up to a party in Harlem. At least, that seemed to be the combination. Torres himself felt that was how it was. But D'Amato says that was only half of it.
"I slowed down the film of the Olson fight," said D'Amato. "That was no four-punch combination. José hit Olson seven times so quickly you couldn't see three of the punches. Pastrano fights with his hands down. Against a fighter who throws one punch at a time, Pastrano can make him miss all night. But he'll be amazed by the combinations he sees from José. He'll have to keep his hands up to protect his head, because any single punch by Torres can do damage. Torres has good, shifty legs. Pastrano likes people to come straight at him so he can make fools of them. José can move in, jab, be shifty, unload a combination, move out. I expect, if Torres does what he's capable of, he'll be the first fellow to knock out Willie Pastrano."
Such a thought is met with sneers and hoots at the Pastrano camp. The champion labors in a pastel-colored gym that is decorated with red, yellow and orange autumn-leaf arrangements on the walls. In the institutional atmosphere of Kutsher's—where everybody is doggedly determined to have fun even if it means taking ice-skating lessons—Pastrano plays a lot of cards and yawns quite a bit. But under the eyes of Trainer Lou Gross, Pastrano keeps the speed bag racketing with his astonishing quickness, and he does his sit-ups—does them as if he had cockleburs in his T shirt, true, but does them.
"Willie's a lazy guy," Gross said, watching the speed bag flipping back and forth. "You have to stay after him all the time. If I had $100,000 coming to me for this one fight, I wouldn't look cross-eyed at anybody. But not Willie. He thinks he gets paid for fighting, not for training."
"I'm looking for an easier way to make a living. Got any ideas?" Pastrano asked.
"Yeah," said Gross. "Sell newspapers on the street for a dollar and a half a day."
"I got a better idea than that," Pastrano said. "I'll become a trainer. Couldn't be anything easier. When I win a fight, it's we won it. When I lose a fight, I lost it."
"Well, that's how it is," said Gross.
A suggestion that Torres had proved himself really formidable by his sudden dispatch of Olson made Gross chuckle.
"Throw that out," Gross said. "Throw out that fight. Olson? He was 36 years old, and Torres hit him early. Let it go another round or two and it might have been a different fight. Listen, we know Torres. We've seen him. He's fast, but he can't punch unless he stops his footwork. When he does that, he can be hit. And Torres ain't the bravest guy in the world. He can't take a punch like Willie can. Willie can take a punch better than anybody. Willie is the best fighter there is, a sweetheart. He's the smartest fighter in the ring. Outside the ring, I won't' say."
Pastrano began fighting at the age of 12 to protect himself from skinny little kids in the Vieux Carré who would run up and punch him in the stomach and then run off yelling, "Fat Willie!" He was five feel tall and weighed 180 pounds when he started going to Whitey Esneault's gym with his friend, Ralph Dupas. The other kids still laughed at Fat Willie. So Pastrano and Dupas would train at night and get up very early for their roadwork. He dropped his weight to 126. He was always an expert boxer who did not have a debilitating punch but could dodge in and out behind a fast left and leave the ring with his face unmarked. "I don't like to get hit," Pastrano said. "You know why? It hurts."
Willie Pep, an outstanding boxer, once advised Pastrano: "It's not smart to get hit, kid. Every time you do, it shortens your career. The public likes a fearless slugger, but that won't pay your hospital bills."
"So I avoid getting hit," Pastrano said. "Defense is part of boxing. So is brainwork. I don't want my brains upset. Anybody who likes to get hit is crazy."
Weight has been something of a problem to Pastrano. He fought as heavy as 196 pounds during his tour as a heavyweight. "I used to hit the heavyweights with my best shot, and they'd just smile at me. It was depressing," he said. During his career Pastrano has lost to some fighters who will never be in the Hall of Fame. Joe Erskine, Jesse Bowdry and Alonzo Johnson are among those who beat him. Chuck Spieser drew with him. The word was that Pastrano's unenthusiastic training was the reason for the defeats. Less than four years ago Pastrano quit the ring. After a year of retirement he went back. He has five children. Then the break came. Fighting for Angelo Dundee out of Miami Beach, Pastrano beat Harold Johnson in a controversial match in Las Vegas and became light heavyweight champion. Last year after his TKO of Downes in his third title defense, Pastrano was voted Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association.
It is an impressive fact that Pastrano has never been knocked down. "I can't imagine Torres doing it, either," said Lou Gross. "The guy Pastrano ought to fight is Cassius Clay. We'd bring Clay to his senses. Clay can't fight a guy he'd have to hunt for. We'd give him that side-to-side action, and Clay doesn't have the experience to find us."
"Us?" said Pastrano.
For Emile Griffith, a championship doubleheader calls up ugly memories. Two years ago in Los Angeles, Griffith lost his title to Luis Rodriguez, and on the same night Sugar Ramos killed Davey Moore, who was then the featherweight champion. Griffith, a wide-shouldered man with long sideburns, could have some difficulty with Stable, a 24-year-old Cuban now fighting out of New York. Stable is a bob-and-weave fighter who is fairly hard to hit and has an adequate punch. In his last fight, a non-title match with Manuel Gonzalez in Houston, Griffith lost, but the welterweight champion will go into the ring against Stable a decided favorite.
Boxing attendance at Madison Square Garden has doubled—from 4,000 to 8,000 on an average night—since the Floyd Patterson-George Chuvalo fight on Feb. 1. That one drew 19,100. The double-header should do as well. "At the Patterson-Chuvalo fight we saw the old fans coming back," said John Condon, boxing press agent at the Garden. "You can't fool the real fight public. The Terrell-Machen thing slowed the momentum of the boxing revival to some extent. It proved matchmaking should be left to professionals. A good fight will draw a good crowd. That's the way it was in the past and always will be."