He was doubled up at the bottom of the steps of his corner, and he was crying. Somebody had kicked him in the spine. His face and body were covered with blood, most of which belonged to Sugar Ramos. He reached out for a pail and put it over his head. A stone, just missing his trainer, glanced off the pail, and his handlers raised him to his feet and tried to carry Carlos Ortiz, the lightweight champion of the world, back to his dressing room.
The Mexico City cops, who could not police a flower show, were in front of the champion, their pistols drawn. Halfway to the dressing room, one of them put his gun in his holster and turned and took a swing at the head in the pail. He missed, but he did catch another policeman with his follow-through. The two cops began throwing punches at each other. Some of their colleagues stepped in and arrested them.
By this time Ortiz and his handlers had made it to the dressing room. Beneath the window of the room hundreds of Mexicans, waving their fists and flapping their mouths, assaulted the police who were guarding the entrance to the fighter's room. The rest of the mob screamed and threw handfuls of Mexican peanuts at the window. "Cover the window. Cover it," Ortiz shouted. Dabbing a towel at a small nick on the outside corner of his right eye, he then sat down calmly.
"I'll kill Ramos," he said, his voice rising with each word. "I'll kill him, if that is what they want. I'll commit homicide if that is what the commission wants."
"I wouldn't send him back in there for 50 million dollars," said his manager, Bill Daly, his head and face smeared with blood.
Meanwhile Sugar Ramos, his left eye bulging and cut deeply just below the bone ridge, sat by himself in his corner of the ring. The arena echoed with his name. He did not acknowledge the roar, but instead sat rigidly on his stool. He was waiting for Ortiz to return to the ring.
"Mr. Daly," said Sergio Vela, the secretary of the Mexican boxing commission, who had made his way down to Ortiz' dressing room, "you have 10 minutes to return to the ring. If you do not, Ramos will be declared the lightweight champion of the world."
"Listen, you punk," said Daly, "you couldn't get us out there if you put a machine gun on us."
"In that case," said Vela, "this is a fraud, and you will not receive one penny. Sugar Ramos is now the champion."
"Get lost, ya bean eater," Daly shouted. "Sugar Ramos is the champion of nothing, and you people are nothing. You aren't even good bandits. The Mexican people ought to be ashamed of what happened here tonight." And that was how the fight for the lightweight championship of the world ended last Saturday night.
The bad feeling hung on you from the start, like the black shawls worn by the old, toothless peasant women. Even as the cold, late-afternoon Mexican sky began to hide, you could reach out and feel the strangeness and the ominous hum that would explode and rip the night apart and turn the Plaza del Toreo into a nauseating zoo unsuitable even for a jungle full of monkeys.
It was a night for pickpockets—the smoothest in the world are in Mexico City—and a night for every shut-out marksman looking for a score. A night for the old women to peddle their leather goods and their fried pork meat and beans; a night for the unrelenting lottery-ticket salesmen; and a night for the kids with the sad, larcenous eyes and gaunt faces to polish their beginners' crudeness in petty theft, a subject meticulously taught in the Herradura de la Miseria, the Horseshoe of Misery.
Twenty-three thousand pushed and jabbered their way into the bullring where Manolete had performed and where Antonio Ordó√±ez had made one of his flawless fights against a bull named Cascabel. They came from the Horseshoe, which is on the rim of Mexico City, where the bullring is located, and they came from downtown to see Carlos Ortiz defend his championship against Sugar Ramos, a Cuban who now lives in Mexico City.
None of them, it seemed certain during the preliminary bouts, which were splashed with blood, would consider the evening a success unless they saw tragedy or cruelty spread before them. Blood and stupid courage—this is what boxing is to them, this is why the peons who make only 120 pesos ($10) a week will hit the loan companies for the price of a ticket. A lot of them pack a gun or a blade. Everyone was searched before entering the bullring, but inside you could still see gun butts dangling out of coat pockets.
"They're animals," said Daly.
"We've been all over the world," said Ortiz, "and we've never seen anything like it."
Ortiz has seldom looked sharper anywhere else. The 30-year-old champion, stronger and cockier than ever before in training, stayed with his punishing left jab in the first round. He was beating Ramos, who catches a lot of punches, with the jab and forcing him to come in close. In the second round Ortiz jabbed again, and then made the mistake of dropping his hand too quickly. Ramos came in with a right, and Ortiz went down. He was up immediately, shaking his head and smiling. He never really believes anyone can hurt him.
In the third round Ortiz, wary of Ramos' right hand, began to hook off his jab. Flurrying with his hook and following with solid rights, Ortiz started to close Ramos' left eye. In the fourth. Ortiz clubbed away at that eye, and blood flowed from an inch-long cut. Ortiz put a rocking combination together, Ramos' legs wobbled and the blood from Ramos' eye was all over Ortiz now. Billy Conn, the referee, stepped in and signaled for the boxing commission's doctor to come up and look at it. The crowd exploded. The doctor refused to enter the ring.
At the end of the fourth round Conn walked over to the doctor and said, "Listen, Doc. You better get in there and take a look at that eye. I don't want the boy to get hurt." The doctor remained seated, telling Conn to wait and see how the eye held up in the fifth round. If it became worse, stop the fight, the doctor said. Ramos' corner men could not close the cut, and in the fifth a pair of jolting right hands extended and deepened the wound and sent drops of blood spraying over ringside.
Conn parted the lighters and motioned once more for the doctor. When the doctor did not move, Conn stopped the fight.
The bullring seemed to shake under the roar of protest from the crowd. Rocks, peso coins, chairs and a shower of flaming newspapers were thrown down at the ring. Reporters pulled their coats over their heads and dropped to the dirt. By this time the doctor had recovered his nerve and had scrambled into the ring. His forehead was cut by the flying debris, and blood trickled down his nose. He told Conn that he was right in stopping the fight. He was. It was only a matter of time before Ortiz' whiplike punches would have leveled and perhaps permanently injured Ramos.
In the meantime Ortiz, his gloves covering his head, groped for his corner, and Bill Daly jumped into the ring. He had been hit by a rock, and his head and face dripped blood. He guided Ortiz to his corner, and they started down the steps. But Ramon Velazquez, a Mexican boxing official and the Secretary-Treasurer of the organization sanctioning the fight, the World Boxing Council (not to be confused with the World Boxing Association, with which it is at war), motioned angrily to them not to leave the ring. Daly made an appropriate motion in reply, and then jumped down the steps where Ortiz, having just been kicked in the back, was on one knee in the dirt. Daly bent down and was kicked in the ribs before he could get Ortiz up and moving toward the dressing room.
Conn escaped from the ring without harm, but he had to swing his way through a few Mexicans to get to his dressing quarters. "Ramos would have lost his eye if the fight continued," Conn said. "I kept asking the doctor to come in, but he was scared. He seemed to know how this crowd would react, and he did not want to be put on the spot."
Half an hour after the decision was announced, Daly decided he and Ortiz would leave. When the police said it was not safe to go, Daly started to grab a gun out of a policeman's holster and shouted, "I'll get us out of here." But the police got Daly calmed down, and 90 minutes later Ortiz and Daly were still in their dressing room. Daly, his cracked rib taped, peered out the window. Outside, a crowd of somber-faced Mexicans stood, their faces pushed against the iron bars of a gate.
"Well, let's go, Carlos," said Daly. "There's some money we got to see about."
The manager and the fighter left.
"Se√±or Daly," a police captain called, "wait for the protection."
"Ha!" said Daly. He and the lightweight champion of the world moved through the crowd, and their eyes did not miss a face.