Victor Galindez, the 31-year-old WBA light-heavyweight champion, raised his thick arms. His relatives and handlers from Argentina shouted gleefully. Excited fans in the audience pressed in closer as the photographers' motorized cameras clicked away. Yes, Galindez had not only made the 175-pound weight limit, he had made it with a quarter-pound to spare. After which he hurried out into the hall and savored an empanada, a pastry stuffed with meat and olives.
So much for Galindez' high points last Friday in New Orleans. That night in the Superdome, as part of ABC's Las Vegas-New Orleans prime-time spectacular, he defended his title against Marvin Johnson, a balding 25-year-old lefty from Indianapolis. Johnson outpointed him, outpunched him and finally TKOed him in the 11th round.
It was the second time that Johnson, a bronze medalist at the Munich Olympics, had won a light-heavy title. He took the WBC version from Mate Parlov of Yugoslavia in Sicily last winter but lost it to Matthew Saad Muhammad earlier this year.
To get ready for Galindez, Johnson trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., where his brother, Henry, is a staff sergeant and assistant coach of the boxing team. Their mother, Ruthie, was along to cook steaks, potatoes, black-eyed peas and three kinds of greens.
Johnson is a soft-spoken, religious man, but his pre-fight orations carried a touch of Ali: "I've got youth on my side. I also feel I'm going to win because I'm a better boxer than he is. I am more scientific. Plus the fact that I can do what he does best, which is punch, slug. Stand in the center of the ring and slug—I can do that."
Galindez worked hard, too, melting off the suet by taking long runs beside Lake Pontchartrain—and once startling his entourage by stripping to his trunks at 8:15 a.m. and plunging into the freezing water. After running and doing calisthenics every morning, he kicked a soccer ball around. He worked equally hard in the gym.
This was the champ's 12th title defense (he was 10-1 going in) and, as usual, his weight was the subject of much discussion. It wasn't so much a question of whether he would make 175, but after making it would he have anything more than a featherweight's punch? When he lost his title to Mike Rossman last year (he won it back on April 14, 1979), Galindez claimed that two days in the sweat box had hurt him more than his opponent.
On Friday night he wasn't the charging bull of old. His strategy was to lie against the ropes, cover up and hope Johnson would wear himself out. Occasionally in each round he would spring out and throw a few haymakers, but mostly he kept his gloves in front of his face and peeked out as Johnson banged away. All round the ropes they went, as if there were a snake pit in the center of the ring.
"I got ready for this," said Johnson afterward, "and I was able to punch three minutes a round for 15 rounds. So I knew I could do it with him."
In a sense, Johnson's most effective weapon was his right jab. It wasn't jack-hammer-powerful, but it was bothersome, not so much for any damage it did but because it made the champion change the arc of his fearsome left hook. He had to throw it over Johnson's thrusting right arm, and that took away much of its sting.
Two-thirds of the way through, Galindez had won two rounds at most, but he wasn't far behind on points, and points are what count under WBA rules. Yet the champion came out slugging at the start of the 11th round as if he had to douse the lights for his opponent right then or lose.
Instead it was Johnson who got the TKO. Twenty seconds into the round he caught Galindez with a long, looping left, and the Argentine went staggering across the ring and down, a peach-colored towel from his corner landing on the blue mat at the same time his body did.
"Galindez is a powerful fighter," said Johnson afterward. "Mind you, he's been champion a long, long time. Just anybody can't do to him what I did to him. In fact, that's probably the first time you ever saw him hit the canvas like that.
"And I want to say this in front of everybody. I'm a fair champion. The title belongs to the best man, and I feel that since Victor Galindez was kind enough to give me a shot, I'll be kind enough to give him a return any time he wants."
Given his problems with making weight, it seemed more likely that Galindez will either retire or move up to the new cruiserweight division, between light heavy and heavyweight.
For his part, Johnson is eager to battle and beat Saad Muhammad and thus become the undisputed world champ. But first it would be back home again to Indiana to rest. He planned to spend time with his wife and 4-month-old son and then go rabbit hunting with brother Henry. And there would be a happy, high-caloric little ritual to enjoy. After each victory an Indianapolis sportswriter, Jimmy Angelopolous, buys him a huge, gooey banana split. Marvin Johnson is too young right now to worry much about the scales.