Davey Moore stood in front of a mirror in his $800 blue Giorgio Armani suit, watching his fingers knot his green and purple silk tie. It was 5 a.m. Sunday in Monte Carlo, and the former WBA junior middleweight world champion had been drinking champagne and partying all night in the piano bar downstairs in Loew's Casino and Hotel, but for him the party of his life—his new life, that is, his second life as a prize fighter—was just beginning. Late as it was, he said, "I'm going to a party outside the hotel."
Just five hours earlier in Louis II Stadium, before a crowd of 3,000 that included Prince Rainier, Moore had scored a second-round technical knockout over Wilfred Benitez. An overhand right in the first round had splayed Benitez's legs like a newborn foal's, his right ankle breaking as he hit the canvas. Then in the second, Moore had clubbed a stationary Benitez until Gerlando Lucia, the referee, called a halt.
"The first round he came to me, and I was waiting for him," Moore said minutes after the fight. "I told you what I was gonna do to him."
"Bop, bop and over the top," his trainer, Johnny Persol, crowed.
July 22, 1984
In Moore's room at Loew's at 4 a.m., Persol was lying on the floor with a tray of miniature liquor bottles at hand. He was finishing off one drink and about to pour himself another when he shook his right leg in the air.
"I never saw Benitez's legs go like this before," he said. "Thomas Hearns fought him, Roberto Duran fought him, Ray Leonard fought him, but nobody ever knocked him out or beat him like Davey Moore did tonight. Nobody ever completely destroyed him like Davey did." Persol looked up. "Anybody who only thought Benitez was finished knows it after tonight," he said. "If there's any doubt that he had anything left, Davey Moore removed it."
Moore grinned. "My mother said to me after the fight, 'Benitez might as well get himself a job.' "
Moore's mother was as accurate as Davey's punches had been. Though Benitez is only 25 and has held the junior welterweight (which he won at age 17), welterweight and junior middleweight titles, he hasn't won an important fight since he decisioned Duran on Jan. 30, 1982. "At one time he was the best fighter in the world," said Teddy Brenner, matchmaker for Top Rank, which promoted this bout as the GRAND GALA DES CHAMPIONS.
Benitez had won upwards of $7 million but had squandered that fortune, just as he had his talent, and had come to Monte Carlo so deeply in debt to the U.S. Government that he might never get out. "He didn't pay his taxes," said Bob Arum, the president of Top Rank. For this fight Benitez earned $60,000 to Moore's $110,000. Benitez had shed his longtime manager, Jimmy Jacobs, and was back with his father, Gregorio, proclaiming he had found a new sense of order and purpose in his life—had found it in his marriage last year to his childhood sweetheart, Isabel, and in the birth of their daughter three months ago: "She brought me back to discipline," Benitez said. "I was sleeping for 24 years. I have waked up."
In religion: "God is alive! The Bible is a good story."
In his dreams of future glory: "This year I will become the first boxer in history to win a fourth world championship. I'm going to beat [middleweight champion Marvelous] Marvin Hagler. Moore's tough, but he's young. He cannot win. It's a new beginning for me in boxing. I call this fight 'my last chance.' "
Moore was at approximately the same crossroad where Duran had left him in Madison Square Garden in June 1983 by exposing him as a mere amateur. Duran thumbed him in the first round, closing Moore's right eye, and whipped him mercilessly, finally stopping him in the eighth round to lift his title.
After the thumbing, Moore was hopelessly out of the fight. "That was the whole ball game," Moore says. "I didn't really get a chance to show what I could do. Then he wore down my body. Wow!"
"His confidence was so badly shaken then," Arum says. "He had it in his mind that Duran was washed up and the fight was a no-contest. And then to get beat that way! He became totally incoherent. You couldn't discuss anything rationally with him." Moore and Leon Washington, his manager, parted ways and Moore began managing himself. He had had only one fight since Duran, knocking out Monte Oswald in March.
When the Benitez fight was made, Moore was ecstatic. "I'm in this to redeem myself," Moore said. "I'm in it to get my title back. This guy can't beat me." That exuberance notwithstanding, no one knew where either fighter's head truly was. "This is for the psychiatric championship of the world," Arum said on the day of the fight. "They don't need a referee in there tonight. They need a shrink."
Two minutes into the first round, Benitez threw a jab, and Moore fired his right over the top, hitting Benitez flush on the potato. Wilfred crumbled, his ankle broken. He got up shaking his head to try to clear it and blinking wildly, his eyes glassy. He staggered and shook his right leg and retreated to his corner. Moore pounced on him, but Benitez put on a masterful display of defense, ducking and slipping most of Moore's bombs.
"I got excited," Moore said. "He's slippery."
Persol exhorted him between rounds: "You're headhunting too much. Take your time."
In the second, Benitez stuck to his corner, and Moore teed off. He missed often but finally caught Benitez with a left hook, then staggered him with another right. That was when Lucia stopped it, 1:18 into the round. "That was too easy," Moore said. "I want Hearns [the WBC junior middleweight champ, who last month destroyed Duran]. Hagler or Hearns. What I really want is Duran, but he's gone. I'm going to take a bath in Dom Perignon."
Benitez limped back to the dressing room past a politely clapping Rainier. The fact that he had survived on his feet seemed to please Benitez. "I don't know how I did it," he said. "I didn't get hurt. I'm clean. I should have won. I know I could beat him. I know I can fight as a middleweight and become champ. I will have to continue training."
It was on such a curious and bizarre note, with each fighter calling for Hagler, that this tempest in a bouillabaisse pot ended. "I want to go to the gym and spar tonight," Moore said. "This was no work. Easy money, and that ain't funny."
Especially when you've just thrown your punch line.