The fight ended with Mike Rossman sitting on the stool in his corner, unable to go out for Round 10. His right hand was broken and his WBA world light heavyweight title was lost to Victor Galindez of Buenos Aires, from whom he had won it seven months before. Rossman had fought as long as he could with just one hand, but after the ninth round in the New Orleans Superdome last Saturday afternoon, he knew he couldn't go on. And it was then that Jimmy DePiano, Rossman's father and manager, told Referee Stanley Christodoulou that Galindez had regained the title. As an afterthought, DePiano added. "It's a loan, not a gift."
Rossman figured that he had broken the hand on Galindez' head midway through the fifth, a round in which he had thrown at least 12 rights. From then on he had mostly used his left jab, a case of a pistol against a cannon.
"Mike could have quit after the fifth round," said Jim Robinson, Rossman's trainer. "But he didn't. His only complaint was that he couldn't get the right off. He fought four rounds in pain, trying to get lucky with the left. He couldn't even protect himself with the right. It hurt as much to block a punch as to let one get through."
From the start this was a far different fight from the one in New Orleans last September. On that occasion, Rossman, the challenger, had hammered a poorly conditioned Galindez, slicing up the champ's scarred face and forcing a halt after 13 rounds. Until that night Galindez, 30, had held the title for nearly four years, and hadn't been beaten since Dec. 18, 1971.
Then came last February's fiasco in Las Vegas, when Galindez pulled out of the rematch at the last minute after the Nevada State Athletic Commission had refused to allow the WBA to import its neutral (read Latin) officials.
But the WBA and Galindez did not have such problems with the Louisiana State Athletic Commission, which imported Christodoulou from Johannesburg, South Africa, Waldemar Schmidt from San Juan, Puerto Rico and Jesus Celis from Caracas, Venezuela. Christodoulou has a history of refereeing Galindez' defenses. In 1976 he allowed Galindez 10 minutes for repair work after Richie Kates cut him badly. Galindez then knocked out Kates in the 15th round. And when Yaqui Lopez fought Galindez in Rome, Christodoulou chose to ignore what Lopez called frequent low blows, butts, rabbit punches and hitting while holding. After 15 rounds, Galindez won by unanimous decision.
"Galindez must like these officials," Rossman had said in disgust a few days before the fight. "I haven't heard him say a word. If the Latins can reach in and steal the title from an American fighter right here in America, then there isn't any justice."
While Rossman's people feared a possible heist if the fight went 15 rounds, they were even more fearful that Galindez would be cut—and that Christodoulou would rule that it had been caused by a butt. If the fight was stopped on a cut, Rossman might lose the title by disqualification.
"If he cuts, I don't care what they call it," Robinson said. "I'm going to tell Mike to go out and rip it open as wide as he can, to chop Galindez to pieces. He also has to worry about the officials and he has to worry about a disqualification. They are holding all the cards. It's not right."
Perhaps Rossman should have worried less about the officials and more about his opponent. Galindez had trained long and hard and was in excellent condition. The last time they fought, the Argentinian had trimmed his body by starvation; this time he did it with grueling workouts. Galindez is a proud man and he was ready.
"All people want to talk about are the cuts on my face—the cuts, the cuts," Galindez grumbled through an interpreter. "But the cuts weren't what caused me to lose the last fight. I had personal problems, marital troubles, and I was out of shape. I couldn't concentrate on my training. And I had been sick. I weighed 190 pounds and I had to starve myself. I wasn't myself as a fighter."
After he lost, back home in Argentina, the fans would boo whenever Galindez showed up at a local fight. It stung him badly.
"The fans at home think he gave away the title to Rossman and they are hurt," said an Argentinian journalist. "So this fight is very big at home. And many, many people will be rooting for him to lose. After he lost in New Orleans, I met him on the airplane and he said for him it was the final curtain. So now he must silence the boos and the jeers. It is the only reason he is fighting."
Robinson's strategy was for Rossman to jab away at the heavy scar tissue over Galindez' eyes and to hook to the body. "After the fifth round we'll probably stay upstairs with everything," Robinson said, "but at first we've got to back him up, to make him move and exhaust himself."
In the opening round, Rossman threw more than 30 left jabs. Many of them fell just a tick short but he connected often enough to win the round on the cards of all three officials. Then Galindez unveiled his strategy, aimed at evading the jab and overcoming the disadvantage of his shorter reach. He began taking a quick step forward and throwing a lunging jab, following that with a wicked right. The 22-year-old champion countered with stiff right hands over the jab. After this round there were two votes for Rossman. Celis voted for Galindez.
In the third, Christodoulou warned Rossman for hitting low, and while Rossman got two of the official votes—again, Celis was for Galindez—that was the last round Rossman would take. Stung by a sharp right hand early in the fourth round, Galindez now began fighting with a fury, scoring with thunderous hooks from both sides. With Rossman hurt and reeling, Galindez even kept punching after the bell. Christodoulou, who said later that he didn't hear it, merely observed the action.
Just as Christodoulou finally realized that the round had ended, Rossman's younger brother Andy, who works the corner, bounded into the ring and rushed at Galindez. Andy threw a punch and missed; Galindez threw two and didn't. Then the Argentinians started pouring into the ring. By now the referee was in command. He shooed both factions out of the ring, and a possible brawl was averted.
In the fifth Galindez continued to dominate the fight, despite having suffered a cut high on his forehead. Rossman unleashed perhaps a dozen rights; on one of them he broke his hand.
From that point to the end, Galindez was in complete charge, throwing the savage blows that rocked Rossman several times. Near the end of Round 9, Rossman fired a final right hand to Galindez' head, then staggered forward in obvious pain.
When he got back to his corner Rossman said, "I can't stand the pain." Robinson turned and told DePiano what the fighter had said.
"O.K., that's it," DePiano said. "The fight is over. Let's get out of here."
When Galindez heard the news, he came roaring out of his corner—and he fell down. Leaping up, he charged Rossman, screaming taunts. Finally his people grabbed him and pulled him away.
In his dressing room, waiting to be taken to a local hospital where the hand would be put in a cast, Rossman said he had thrown that last right hand in pure desperation.
"I said, 'Hey, I've got to go for it,' " he said. "I couldn't just stand out there and go jab, jab, jab when he's throwing bombs. I was going crazy. I could see these big openings over his jab and I couldn't throw the right."
In his dressing room, the jubilant Galindez was telling the world that he would never fight Rossman again. "He chickened up" Galindez shouted. "He's a chicken. I'll never give him a rematch."
It was pointed out that Rossman had given him a return. "I got a rematch because I deserved it," Galindez said. "I won't give him one, because he doesn't deserve it."
That creates an interesting situation. After Galindez had been stopped on cuts last September, the Latin-oriented WBA immediately installed him as its No. 1 challenger. That made it mandatory that Rossman fight him again within six months. Now that Rossman has lost the championship—undoubtedly in part because of a broken hand—one has to wonder where he will be ranked among the WBA's contenders.