When it was all over last Saturday in Monte Carlo, Carlos Monzon gingerly eased the position of his battered body on the rubdown table and permitted himself a small, almost silent laugh. He was still the middleweight champion of the world, but Rodrigo Valdes had forced him to fight 15 punishing and bloody rounds to prove it. At the end, it took a great effort for Monzon just to stand and hear the decision. His face was cut and puffed, his right hand was almost useless. And now, only minutes after returning to his dressing room, he seemed ready at last to give it all up.
The bitter amusement passed swiftly. Monzon seldom shows emotion and he is even more miserly with any sign of humor. "It is done," the now full-time Argentine film star said flatly. "I have done it all. I leave it now to the young fighters."
It is the right time. Monzon has been champion for nearly seven years and he has been undefeated in 83 fights since 1964, but age has started robbing him of his marvelous skills and awesome power. He will be 35 in a few days. His film career is launched; he has $2 million salted away in a New York bank; he owns apartment houses, thousands of acres of ranchland and a Mercedes-Benz agency in Argentina. What does he need boxing for?
"He needs it because he is an animal and he lives for macho," said Rodolfo Sabbatini, who promotes Monzon's fights in Monte Carlo and produces his films in Rome. "He says he is retiring, but next January or February he will call me and say, 'How come you haven't got me a fight? I'm coming back.' By the end of the year eliminations will bring a new champion, and then Monzon will have to fight the man who succeeds him. It's his macho."
Proving his macho has always been Monzon's undoing. Because of fights in the streets he spent a lot of time in jail between the ages of 16 and 26. He was lucky that his manager, Amilcar Brusa, also trained the police boxing team. They say that Monzon was paroled on Saturdays so he could fight as a professional. On Sundays it was back into the slammer. There may be some truth to it. He recently appealed and won a release from another 18-month sentence for assault but reportedly still faces an eight-month sentence on another charge.
"He's got a big file, about 40 arrests," says Sabbatini. "It's not true when they say the best fighters come from ghettos. The best ones come from jail. But that is good. If they didn't lock up those animals, the streets wouldn't be safe for us."
When Sabbatini speaks of Monzon, it is with the curious mixture of amusement and an almost parental pride. With great relish he tells of Monzon meeting Helmut Berger, the German movie star. It was last February in Rome, just after Monzon had completed his most recent film, one aptly titled II Macho.
"Berger was pretty drunk and he sat on Monzon's lap," Sabbatini said. "Then he tried to put his hand inside of Monzon's shirt. Monzon threw him across the room and was going after him when my driver Gino stopped him. Gino is a big guy. He is Monzon's bodyguard in Rome."
To protect Monzon from the adoring public?
Sabbatini roared with laughter. "No, to protect him from what can happen to the public."
Monzon refuses to play the role of a bad guy in films. He sees himself more as a new James Bond (he looks like a cross between Charles Bronson and Jack Palance) destroying evil international cartels and saving old women and children. Monzon also refuses to play the role of a boxer. He has drawn rave advance reviews for Il Macho, which will be released soon. In the film Monzon plays a double role. First he is a murder victim and then, as his double, assumes the victim's identity and destroys an army of bad guys. "He throws a lot of punches in his films," Sabbatini says, "but never as a boxer. He always wins in the end. With Monzon, the public would believe nothing less."
Monzon has been mildly threatening to retire since 1972, and after he beat Valdes on a close decision in Monte Carlo 13 months ago, there were doubts that he would fight again. But there was the fact that he had merely decisioned Valdes—who had then called him a coward. And here came this offer of $500,000 plus about $60,000 in Argentine TV rights for a rematch. "O.K., one more," Monzon said. "Then I retire."
Monzon finished his movie and went into intense training. "I have never seen him more serious about any fight," said Brusa. Sabbatini admitted that he had been worried about Monzon's condition. Because of the film, Monzon hadn't had a fight—at least not in the ring—since Valdes, and Valdes had fought twice. "But now he looks in superb condition. It just proves to me that he is an animal. A beautiful animal."
Valdes, 30, worked equally hard and came in just as finely tuned. "He just knows he's going to win," said Gil Clancy, the Colombian's manager. "One day he told me to go out and bet his whole purse on him. Of course, I let that go over my head. Anything can happen. But that's the kind of confidence he has."
Monzon said it didn't matter how confident Valdes was. "I will batter him before the limit. Then comes the true life: the champagne, the Beaujolais, the music, the dance." And to prove that the good life could wait, Monzon didn't bring his movie-actress girl friend Susana Gimenez to Monte Carlo. Before the first Valdes fight Monzon's handlers claimed the champion was putting his love life ahead of his work and had asked the actress to move to another hotel. This time, in effect, she was asked to move to another country. She wondered at all the fuss. "All we do is play gin rummy," she said.
Despite Valdes' confidence, no one, not even Clancy, expected him to do much more in the early going than survive. He is a notoriously slow starter, and in the first fight it took him six rounds to get into gear. "Then he only has one gear, like Joe Frazier: smoking," Clancy said. "You just have to get him into it."
At the bell, Valdes was obviously geared to smoke. He is a buzz saw, short and furious, a hammer that never stops, and from the onset he carried the fight to the champion. In the second round, Valdes opened a cut on Monzon's nose, then knocked him down with an overhand right over a left lead. Monzon hadn't been off his feet since Jorge Fernandez floored him in 1966.
Leaping up, Monzon raised both arms and took a standing eight count. Then, clearly irritated, he went to work. He was crisp, zeroing in on a target that moved ever closer, cracking jabs and throwing crushing right hands. By the fifth round Valdes' left eye was swelling and his face looked as if it had been attacked by a swarm of tiny razor blades. Then the fight swung direction once more. Boring in constantly, Valdes began double-hooking, over and under, and followed with jolting right hands. Monzon looked confused. Valdes was taking the fight away from him.
Valdes won the seventh and eighth rounds easily and was winning the ninth. Then, just before the bell, Monzon came up with a new trick: step right, throw right. Simple. He caught Valdes lunging and staggered him as the round ended. Monzon stayed with the tactic until he had Valdes hurt. Then he went to both hands, opening holes in Valdes' face, slicing him over the left eye—a 10-stitcher—raining blood on himself and the ring. The 12th round was brutal. Valdes took massive punishment, gave almost none. At the end of the round, Clancy worked feverishly to close the eye cut. Across the ring, Monzon was telling Brusa, "I've hurt my right hand. I don't know if I can use it anymore." The hand is arthritic, and his handlers deaden it with no-vocaine before a fight. But the novocaine was no longer effective. Looking across the ring at Valdes, Brusa said, "You won't need it. Just keep hitting him with the left." "This eye is bad," Clancy was telling Valdes. "You better go out firing. You got to gamble."
Clancy had worked a miracle on the eye. Valdes set out to work one in the ring. He pressed Monzon, who tried to hold him off with the left hand, and suddenly the champ was in trouble. Desperate, he went back to the right hand in the 14th round, threw six straight, hard punches with it and finally slowed Valdes. In the last round, they reduced boxing to its most primitive form. Both were covered with blood, most of it Valdes', and each was going for the kill.
The officials all gave the fight to Monzon, two by three points, one by two.
Back in the locker room, 11-year-old Abel Monzon approached his father, who sat slumped on the rubbing table. "When you were knocked down I cried many tears," he said. Rising, Monzon put one hand on the boy's thin shoulder. "O.K. In life you get knocked down many times. The important thing is always get up."
That, Abel, is macho.