The first mistakethe Parisians made was to let one of their airports lose the luggage of HaroldConrad, the New York boxing entrepreneur who likes to think that if he stoodnext to Beau Brummell, people would start straightening Mr. Brummell's tie.When his bags dropped out of sight in the jabbering acres of the Orly arrivalbuilding, Conrad was stuck with the same gray wool shirt for two days. He woreit like a leper's bell, and by the end of the second evening his habitualtributes to the city were having trouble getting past his grinding teeth."Yeah," said a sympathizing friend, "if these guys were going tolose something, maybe it should have been Monzon."
The man wasanticipating the locals' second mistake, which was to persuade themselves, byself-hypnosis at its most convincing, that Jean-Claude Bouttier was France'sgreatest martial hero since Charles de Gaulle and fit to be in the same ring asCarlos Monzon, the middleweight champion of the world. It was indeedunfortunate for French pride that no one at the airport thought of mislayingthe Argentine visitor, for Bouttier scarcely belongs in the same country asMonzon, let alone inside the same ring.
This is not tosay Bouttier was disgraced. He fought as he had trained—with resolution and asense of responsibility toward those who had let affection and loyaltyoverwhelm judgment to the point where they shared his quixotic dream. But therewas never any serious likelihood that this former butcher boy from northernFrance could vindicate the most aggressive of the banners flourished atringside in the Stade Colombes on Saturday night: BOUTTIER—LE BOUCHER,MONZON—LE MOUTON, it said.
Monzon is thekind of lamb to make wolves seek other employment. He is tall for amiddleweight, only an inch short of 6 feet, with a torso that is compact ratherthan dramatically muscled. His reach is exceptional, but the slim arms do notgive that impression of dangling limpness seen in lesser fighters. There isfrightening strength in the elasticity of those long muscles, and the wholebody has the kind of fundamental power that is deeply embedded in his inheritedphysiology. He has learned much in his nine years as a professional (not theleast being the value of using a refined left jab to open the way for thethunderous cross fire of his hooking), but the qualities that set Carlos Monzonapart were given to him in the womb.
June 25, 1972
Technically he isnot difficult to fault. He stands up straight, so that his rather long neckputs the handsome head well above the line of his shoulders. "Like alantern in a storm," said a veteran American critic at Colombes. The answeris that pedantry is for those who need it. Monzon's method is related toprofound confidence, the conviction that he has the animal authority todominate almost any man they put in front of him. He has never been knockeddown and, as someone once said of Marciano, he finds it hard to forget howstrong he is. It shows in his eyes. They look out over the high, moldedcheekbones with relaxed steadiness, following the opponent with a gaze that isthorough but dispassionate. The insistence on hunting by sight like agreyhound, the refusal to fight by Braille, gave Monzon a huge advantage overBouttier. It was a major irony that the Frenchman should be retired on hisstool between the 12th and 13th rounds because the vision of his left eye hadbeen badly flawed by Monzon's thumb. A couple of instances of thumbing werediscernible, and by the end of the 10th round Bouttier was already blinkingconfusedly out of his left eye. The irony lay in the fact that while he hadfull vision, he made poor use of it.
Bouttier'sEuropean title had been won by controlled attacking. The emphasis then was onthe systematic application of an economical and impressively vigorous rightcross and some reinforcing skills—particularly a maturing left hook—that he hadacquired on regular study tours of gyms in the U.S. But on Saturday all thatgave way to blind lunges, attempts to launch himself, head down, through theviolent ambush of Monzon's long arms. His regular reward was to find himselflooking at the floor and seeing stars on it. The explanation of this haphazardimpetuosity was cruelly simple: Jean-Claude Bouttier, fighting for the big onein front of 35,000 of his own people, feeling their will welling up in the softParis night, was cripplingly overawed. At first the effect was to stun him intoa condition close to paralysis. He listened to the introductions with his eyesclosed and boxed the first two rounds like a somnambulist, his lips movingnervously as if making a running commentary on a black dream.
Monzon did nottrouble to probe for targets. He walked in with the same unhurried stride heuses on the street, and as he swung he had the air of a man who felt the onlyrisk he ran was of being bored. When Bouttier's spirit reoccupied his body inthe third round, the Argentine was obliged to show more concern. Even so, hetook enough sharpish rights and firm left hooks to persuade many at ringsidethat it was Bouttier's round. There was probably only one other, the ninth,that could be seen that way—but it is the sixth that will be remembered.Through the fourth and fifth Monzon stood above Bouttier's groping crouch andslashed him with hooks, and when the bell sent them out again, the same patterndeveloped, with Bouttier staggering along the top rope as if it were the railof a pitching ship. Then suddenly Monzon was caught by a left hook that carriedthe weight of the Frenchman's thick shoulders, the leverage of his steadyinglegs. Monzon was hurt, perhaps in some slight danger, but his intimidatingpower of recovery was again immediately evident, and he came back to punishBouttier painfully. Yet it was when trying a retaliatory punch that the weakerman reeled backward on his heels and, helped by a light blow from Monzon, tooka mandatory eight count. Astonishingly, Bouttier managed a further rally, shookMonzon before wrestling him to the floor, took another battering when theArgentine rose, and was still there throwing punches several seconds after thebell. That round should be preserved in a war museum.
Everything thatfollowed had to be anticlimactic. It was, brutally so for the sufferingFrenchman. But the fight went on until finally came the cryptic announcement ofretirement on the very brink of the 13th, a happening as startling as a splashof cold water. Bouttier, the 27-year-old country boy who had been asked tobring back the championship France last held with Marcel Cerdan in the 1940s,had quit on his stool. But, as they learned that there was to be a hospitalexamination on Monday to check the possibility of damage to the retina, few ofhis countrymen were inclined to condemn him.
The physical harmthat may have been done to Bouttier could be the lesser result of the defeat.He is a warm, instantly engaging young man with the virile looks, intelligenceand individualism to make him at once an idol of the masses. But he readilyadmits that he is deeply emotional, and no one can be sure about the effect onsuch a sensitive person of being thrust beyond his limitations. There werehints of a mounting awareness of his situation as he prepared to meet Monzon,and at the weigh-in one could almost see him contract under the clampingpressure. That ritual was conducted in a tiny, cheaply ornate cinema in thefoothills of Montmartre. The place, smelling of worn carpets and disinfectant,was crowded on the one side by fans and temporary fugitives from the streetsidecafés, on the other by promoters and agents from all over the world who hadcome with their stockyard gaze to scrutinize Bouttier. The tension that showedthen was multiplied as he walked toward the bright square of the ring laterthat day. On that second occasion his eyes were moist.
He was moved toomuch by the thought of what he was about to do. Equally, in the futureJean-Claude Bouttier may be moved too much, too hurt-fully by the knowledge ofwhat he cannot do.