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Ajagba vs. Joyce: A Heavyweight SuperFight on Track for 2021

Bernard Fernandez

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Ajagba vs. Joyce: A Heavyweight SuperFight on Track for 2021

Every successful speculator, from P.T. Barnum to Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg to today’s pitchers of products on Madison Avenue, know that the secret to making a really big score in the marketplace is to know what the public will want before people realize they want it. Consumers at various times were subconsciously primed to buy heavily into traveling circuses, personal computers, social media innovations and frozen pork-belly futures because swayers of mass opinion predicted it would be so, and then took the necessary steps to turn their vision into reality. Not that every smart guy’s wager on what will be pans out, which is why some unfortunate executive at the Ford Motor Company wrongly gambled that highways in the late 1950s would soon be traveled by happy owners of new Edsels.

And so it is with boxing, particularly heavyweight boxing, where fortunes can be won or lost on the unhindered development of relatively little-known, at least for now, big men who might, if sufficiently talented, reasonably charismatic and properly handled, blossom into the next Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson.

Pugilistic visionaries willing to go on the record are Richard Schaefer and Shelly Finkel, men with established track records for coming up with massive winners in the ring and at the box office. Each has a major stake in a different developmental project, undefeated fighters who will be appearing in separate bouts next month. If both prospects take another impressive step forward, expect the hype machines only now beginning to herald their potential superstardom to be cranked up a bit higher.

Are you, Mr. Average Fight Fan, ready to turn your heart and contents of your wallet over to a pairing of England’s Joe “Juggernaut” Joyce and Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba sometime in 2021, or thereabouts? You say you’re not quite sure? Well, maybe you should pay closer attention to what goes down when Joyce (9-0, 9 KOs) squares off against former world title challenger Bryant Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs on July 13 in the 12-round main event in London, and Ajagba (10-0, 9 KOs) swaps punches with Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KOs) on July 20 in a 10-rounder at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, on the undercard of a show headlined by  WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman’s defense against living legend Manny Pacquiao.

Because Joyce, the super heavyweight silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, is 33 years of age and Ajagba just 25, Schaefer, the former CEO of Golden Boy Promotions who now heads up Ringstar  Sports, said his guy’s march toward high-visibility and big-bucks fights of necessity must be at an accelerated pace.

“When Joe signed with me he was 31,” Schaefer noted. “He’s 33 now, so he has to be fast-tracked. He made it clear that he didn’t want to be babied and, like (Vasiliy) Lomachenko, doesn’t want to fight 20 times before he fights someone who is ranked.”

So why the delay in Joyce, who is 6-foot-6 and was 261 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, a third-round stoppage of Russian veteran Alexander Ustinov on May 18, in turning pro?

“His dream was to go to the Olympics and represent the United Kingdom, but the super heavyweight qualification pool in England (for the 2012 London Games) was very deep, and Anthony Joshua filled that slot and won the gold medal,” Schaefer explained. “Joe had to wait another four years, and he went to Rio and got the silver medal. A lot of people thought he beat (France’s) Tony Yoka in the final and should have won the gold. In any case, his new goal is to become heavyweight champion of the world.

“If he beats Jennings he is in line to fight for the WBA `regular’ heavyweight title against the winner of (Manuel) Charr and (Trevor) Bryan.  The mere fact that his next fight is against an experienced contender like Jennings shows he is not afraid to step up and expects to continue to pass all tests with flying colors.”

Schaefer dares to compare Joyce to another ponderous puncher not known for swiftness of hand or foot.

“Some say Joe is very slow, and I wouldn’t disagree with that,” he conceded. “He is slow. But he’s big, very strong and he has an unbelievable chin, an iron chin. It’s going to take a missile to put this guy down. He reminds me of George Foreman. People said George was slow, but he was a terrific puncher and he also had a great chin.”

Ajagba’s main claim to fame to date is a bout that was scheduled to have taken place on Aug. 24 of last year, against journeyman Curtis Harper in Minneapolis, Minn. Harper (13-6, 9 KOs) left the ring and headed to his dressing room as the chiseled, 6-foot-5, 240-pound Ajagba made his way toward it, leading to claims that Harper had bolted in fear of taking an inevitable beatdown. Although Harper has insisted his retreat owed to unhappiness over the purse he was to have received, the legend of Ajagba as a Listonesque or Tysonesque intimidator – someone whose mere scowl can turn opponents into quivering mounds of jelly – has taken on a life of its own.

Finkel, who has managed such megastars as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, and currently has a managerial role with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, has high hopes that Ajagba will become as key a player in the big-man division as the aforementioned greats, and sooner rather than later.

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“It’s early, but he has all the skills,” Finkel said of Ajagba, who is based in Stafford, Texas. “He trains all the time with Ronnie (Shields), which is a blessing, and he punches as hard as anyone, ever. Time will tell, but there’s no limit on how good he could become.”

Schaefer said there is ample reason for fight fans to begin looking ahead to a possible showdown of Joyce and Ajagba, if only because of the individuals who are backing them.

“Efe is with Shelly Finkel, Joe is with me,” he said. “I think Shelly and I have shown we have a great eye for talent, particularly with heavyweights. Shelly was telling me this is the most excited he’s been since he had Tyson.”

There are uncommonly deep eras for heavyweight boxing, sometimes followed by periods where lesser fighters are elevated to a status they could not have imagined a few years earlier. The talent-rich era that spanned the careers of Ali, Foreman and Joe Frazier, which also teemed with such gifted non-titlists as Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers, was followed by a more fallow period in which various alphabet belts were passed around by the likes of Mike Weaver, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tubbs, Trevor Berbick and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and Michael Spinks, all legitimately terrific, served as a bridge between the Ali/Frazier/Foreman glory days and the next golden age, when Tyson, Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and Riddick Bowe helped to resuscitate big-man boxing.

It remains to be seen whether the present crop of top-tier heavyweights, headed by the presumed Big Four of Wilder, Tyson Fury, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua, is eventually held in the same esteem as the Ali/Frazier/Foreman and Tyson/Holyfield/Lewis/Bowe elite groups. Maybe that will be the case, and maybe not. There is still much evidence to be provided that would serve to buttress either argument.

In 2021, when their promoters foresee Joyce and Ajagba crowding their way to the front of the line, will they find that one or more members of the current Big Four are still blocking their path? Might Wilder and Ajagba square off in a megafight in which Shelly Finkel is the only guaranteed winner?

There is always turnover, today yielding to tomorrow. Schaefer and Finkel agree that a bright new age of heavyweights is just beyond the horizon, boxing’s equivalent of baseball players who soon will make the jump from Triple-A to the majors and dominate when they get there.

In addition to Joyce and Ajagba, heavyweights who in time might take the place of more familiar names in the ratings include Yoka (5-0, 4 KOs), the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist from France; Filip Hrgovic (8-0, 6 KOs), a bronze medalist from Croatia at that Olympiad, and possibly the winner of the all-British matchup of Nathan Gorman (16-0, 11 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (11-0, 10 KOs), who vie for the vacant BBB of C title on July 13 in London.

“The next generation not only is going to be knocking on the door in the not-too-distant future, they’re going to kick down the door,” predicted Schaefer.

It should be remembered, however, that even those who would seem to have inside information are not always correct. In the Aug. 13, 1992, edition of the Philadelphia Daily News, I polled nine experts – past or future heavyweight champions Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Michael Spinks, Tim Witherspoon, Ernie Terrell and Tommy Morrison, onetime contenders Earnie Shavers and Marvis Frazier and legendary trainer Angelo Dundee – as to who would be the last man standing from a group that included Holyfield, Lewis, Bowe and Razor Ruddock. Tyson was then incarcerated on a rape conviction, and a sort of unofficial tournament was about to commence in which Lewis would mix it up with Ruddock on Oct. 31, 1992, in London and Holyfield, who had won the WBA/IBF/WBC titles by knocking out Tyson conquerer Buster Douglas, would defend against Bowe on Nov. 13, 1992, in Las Vegas.

The tally favored Ruddock, who received votes from Holmes, Witherspoon, Terrell, Shavers and Morrison. Bowe was the pick of Marvis Frazier and Dundee, Lewis got a single vote from Spinks. Holyfield was blanked, and Foreman, who picked winners of the two “semifinal” bouts, abstained from making a selection for the final on the basis that he would want to fight the survivor himself.

Said Shavers: “Ruddock is a real big puncher, and you know I’m partial to big punchers. You can never count a big puncher out. He’s got a chance to end things with one good shot right up to the last bell.” That view was seconded by Terrell, who opined that “Ruddock is too much of a puncher for Holyfield (in the final). Nobody can take Ruddock’s punch.”

Almost 27 years after I authored that story, this is what we know: Holyfield, Lewis and Bowe are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Razor Ruddock is not.

Proving, as if we didn’t know it already, that nobody knows with any degree of certainty how the future will play out.

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Will Leo Santa Cruz’s High Volume Punching Stymie Big Hitter ‘Tank’ Davis?

Bernard Fernandez

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WBA “super” 130-pound champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis, short (5’5½”), short-armed (a 67½-inch reach) and powerful, has been described by some as a miniature Mike Tyson, which seems reasonable for an undefeated fighter who has won all but one of his 23 professional bouts inside the distance, more than a few of those knockouts of the spectacular variety. And if Davis’ comparisons to “Iron Mike” weren’t enough to stamp him as an emerging superstar, there is also the fact that he is a protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the vainglorious owner of a 50-0 record and distinction as the richest prizefighter ever to lace up a pair of padded gloves. “Money” bills himself as TBE, “The Best Ever,” and he goes so far as to suggest that the big-hitting southpaw from Baltimore for whom he has such high hopes might someday approach his status as a cash-cow and true icon of the ring.

“The ultimate goal is to get him to surpass me,” the 43-year-old and ostensibly retired Mayweather said of the financial and fistic potential of Davis, who turns 26 on Nov. 7 and arguably is in the early stages of his prime. “I’ve been his age. Where he’s trying to go to, and what he’s trying to accomplish, I’ve already accomplished.”

Although Davis has appeared on the undercard of two Pay-Per-View shows headlined by his famous and fabulously wealthy mentor, both he and Mayweather consider his watershed Halloween night confrontation with WBA “super” featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), in San Antonio’s Alamodome, as Tank’s real coming-out party. It is, after all, Davis’ first time atop his own Showtime PPV event, perhaps the first of several such marquee appearances if the level of public interest in him continues to spike. Ascending to PPV status is a rite of passage both men consider to be a significant key to all the boxing kingdom has to offer, an exclusive club to which many aspire but only a chosen few are allowed to join. The tariff to boxing fans is a $74.95 subscription fee.

“I said, `Tank, you under Mayweather Promotions. So, it’s May-Per-View,” Mayweather told the kid who would be he during the first episode of Showtime’s “All-Access,” the infomercial whose purpose is to help convince pandemic-strapped fight fans to open their wallets.

“I’m grateful for what Floyd did for me, as far as opening doors,” said Davis, who signed with Mayweather Promotions in 2015. “If it wasn’t for Floyd, I wouldn’t have been a champion at 22. He gave me a chance to fight on his Pay-Per-View card. Now I’m here, on my own Pay-Per-View.”

To hear Mayweather and Davis tell it, it is Tank’s singular, reputation-boosting turn in the spotlight, with Santa Cruz more or less along for the ride. The Vegas sports books seemingly are complicit in that perception, with Tank anywhere from a -$350 to a whopping -$710 favorite, odds which could fluctuate throughout the rest of the week as more and larger wagers are placed. Despite his being a four-division world champion, Santa Cruz, the 32-year-old, Mexican-born resident of Rosemead, Calif., whose current title is that of WBA “super” super feather ruler, also considers this particular bout to be historic as it is also his first PPV appearance. And, no, he isn’t bothered by the long odds against him (which range from +260 to +475) or Davis’ reputation as a compact instrument of pugilistic destruction.

“Nobody believes in me,” he said, almost reveling in his rare role as an underdog. “They think I’m this other guy. But I asked for this fight for a reason ’cause I want to prove myself. I’m going to compete and give my all. I’m not scared.

“Gervonta Davis is a great fighter with great skills, great power. I think he’s the most dangerous fighter in the division. Why not go after him? To prove to the people that I’m not scared of nobody.”

Santa Cruz might not pack as much power as Davis, but his forte is high-volume punching. When he defeated Vusi Malinga via 12-round unanimous decision for the vacant IBF bantamweight strap on June 2, 2012, in Carson, Calif., CompuBox statistics revealed he had unfurled a remarkable 1,350 punches, an average of just under 113 per round. Nor were those numbers an aberration for the human perpetual motion machine; in his two confrontations with Abner Mares, both of which were won on points by Santa Cruz, the read-out showed Leo connecting on a combined 730 of 2,115. Many opponents scarcely have time to think, much less react, when Santa Cruz is firing shots with machine-gun rapidity. No wonder he dares to believe Davis will be similarly flustered.

“I think so,” Santa Cruz said when asked if the quantity of his fusillade will more than offset Davis’ superior quality in terms of power. “When you have a fighter on top of you, throwing punches, he’s not letting you think; he’s frustrating you. He’s not letting you do nothing.

“If I do that, it could be dangerous ’cause he’ll be waiting to counterpunch me, to land those big shots, the uppercuts and hooks. So, I got to do a very smart fight, a perfect fight, to beat him.”

For TV purposes, the storyline outside the ropes sometimes is nearly as important in selling the product as what takes place inside them. In that regard Davis and Santa Cruz, so seemingly different in some regards, are strikingly similar in that they were children of poverty, hardly unusual for a sport where years of deprivation can stoke a burning desire to succeed. Santa Cruz’s motivation might even be hiked a bit higher because of the ongoing medical circumstances of his trainer-father, Jose Santa Cruz Sr.

Jose Sr. could be the star of his own medical reality series, the most recent episode being his near-death brush with COVID-19. But the patriarch of a boxing family (brothers Jose Jr., Antonio and Roberto are also involved in Leo’s career) had previously survived a bout with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection, and, in 2016, the diagnosis of Stage 3 myeloma, a blood cancer, that invaded his bones. The father had to undergo weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and although he pulled through Leo cited concerns for his dad’s health as a contributing factor in his sole pro defeat, in which he relinquished his WBA super featherweight title, by 12-round majority decision, to England’s Carl Frampton on July 30, 2016. Santa Cruz avenged that setback, also by majority decision, six months later.

Jose Sr. continues to serve as Leo’s trainer, but so many medical crises have been met and overcome by the father that the son has learned, as best he can, to cope.

And the COVID-19 which again could have brought Jose Sr. the eternal 10-count?

“When he went (into the hospital), they gave us little hope,” Leo said of his dad’s most recent downward plunge on an emotional roller-coaster on which the entire family has been obliged to have seats. “They said he was going to pass away, that he wasn’t going to last the night. We were all depressed and crying. His lungs were failing, his heart was failing. He coded two times; he died and they brought him back to life.

“I had memories of when he used to go on the bus with me, pushing me in the gym, telling me what to do. All those memories were playing in my mind. I really didn’t think he was going to make it. I thought they were going to call us and say, `Hey, your dad passed away.’ But we prayed, we had hope. Thank God, the next day we were told our dad was still in critical condition, but he was doing a little bit better. Day by day he improved. God listened. He made a miracle. My dad survived. Even the doctors were saying that they didn’t know how that happened.”

As was the case with Santa Cruz, who recalls the occasions when the family’s electricity was shut off because of unpaid bills, Davis’ childhood also was hardly a real-life version of Leave It To Beaver. In 1999, while his father was in prison and his mom was battling drug addition, he was placed into child protective services at the age of five. For the next several years he shuttled between foster homes and shelters. But then, at seven, he found his way into the boxing gym run by Calvin Grove, who knew the pitfalls of life on the streets (he had served 10 years behind bars on drug offenses) as well as the need throw-away children such as Gervonta Davis had to finding someone and something to believe in. Ford, now 56, is so much more than Tank’s trainer now; he also is his father-figure and inspiration not to become another faceless, nameless crime statistic.

“Boxing, I would say, saved my life,” Davis said. “All the guys I came up with that were older than me, they got killed. If you got one foot in the street and one foot in the gym, it’s not going to work. You got to be all the way committed with something.

“When I came to the gym, I felt the love that I needed as a child. Calvin basically raised me. What I been through and what I seen coming up, I knew I don’t want to go backwards in life. I know what that brings.”

In addition to Davis-Santa Cruz, the PPV portion of the undercard features the return, after a layoff of 13 months, of former WBA and WBC Diamond super lightweight champion Regis “Rougaroo” Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs), in a 10-rounder against Juan Heraldez (16-0-1, 10 KOs); the WBA junior welterweight title matchup of San Antonio’s Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Ryan Karl (18-2, 12 KOs), and a lightweight scrap pitting Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) against Isaac Cruz Gonzalez (19-1-1, 14 KOs).

Photo credit: Esther Lin / Mayweather Promotions

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HITS and MISSES from Another Weekend on the Boxing Beat

Kelsey McCarson

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Unlike last weekend, there wasn’t just one big fight card for everyone to watch. Instead, the boxing audience in the United States primarily had two separate fight cards to enjoy, one on Friday night from Mexico City featuring stalwart super flyweights, and another one on Saturday night from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut featuring an important welterweight matchup between hopeful contenders.

Here are boxing’s latest HITS and MISSES from this weekend.

HIT: The Super Super Flyweights

Two of boxing’s best were on display when Juan Francisco Estrada stopped Carlos Cuadras in the 11th round of the main event in Mexico and Roman Gonzalez won a unanimous decision over Israel Gonzalez in the co-feature.

Both Estrada and Gonzalez are exceptional talents who have accomplished more during their impressive careers than most fighters could dream. The two rivals were thought to be on the way to an important rematch against each other a few years ago when Wisaksil Wangek, who fights under the name Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, burst onto the scene in 2017 to shockingly hand Gonzalez the first two losses of his Hall of Fame career as well as Estrada his first loss since Gonzalez defeated him by decision six years prior.

But Estrada has won five straight now, including his rematch against Sor Rungvisai last year, to set up one of the most scintillating fights in the super flyweight division in ages. Gonzalez is already considered by most to be an all-time great, and Estrada isn’t far behind him. After both won their latest fights, it looks like a rematch between the two is finally going to happen.

MISS: Long Delays for Viewers Between Bouts

It boggles my mind how none of the various television networks and streaming platforms in the sport have figured out anything to do worthwhile when fights end sooner than their scheduled number of rounds. It happens so often in the sport that it would seem reasonable to suggest somebody would have come along by now with some kind of plan. Just a few years ago, it seemed swing bouts were still on the table. What happened to those?

On Friday night, if one tuned in to watch the main card tripleheader on DAZN, one was presented with over 45 minutes of waiting around for the next fight to happen after WBC flyweight champ Julio Cesar Martinez needed just two rounds to stop Moises Calleros.

The single most frustrating part of the equation, which has probably been mentioned in this column before, is that Dana White and the UFC pulls it off every single fight card. So, the template already exists, but boxing television partners, even on ESPN where both the UFC and Top Rank coexist, refuse to use it.

HIT: DAZN’s Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora Impromptu Roadshow

Regardless, while I don’t believe it’s reasonable to hope for the beautiful accident that was Friday night on DAZN for every card, I could hardly be mad when DAZN’s dead air was filled with the antics of Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora, who were calling the action on the night. Both are probably underrated at what they do.

Their sometimes jovial, sometimes hostile banter is fun. No, people don’t tune in to hear these guys go back and forth with each other, but it was at least entertaining to hear their near-comedic and entirely impromptu routine, especially because it also surrounded the surreal experience of watching WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman make his in-ring television interview debut with boxing titleholders Mikey Garcia and Emanuel Navarrete.

Boxing is a strange culture. Sometimes even the bad parts of the sport can be good.

MISS: Lip Service from Everyone About Boxing’s Biggest Issue

One of the biggest boxing stories of the weekend was when retired boxing champ Floyd Mayweather ranted against title belts. Indeed, one of the most difficult things to explain to any outsider about the sport is how boxing’s complicated and somewhat absurd championship system works.

Of course, Mayweather is right about there being too many world champions in boxing. But the problem is that people who might actually be able to make those kinds of changes in the sport say things like that without actually doing anything about it. Heck, even WBO president Paco Valcarcel publicly stated that he agreed with Mayweather, even though that sanctioning organization now offers something called a WBO “Global” belt.

Mayweather, Valcarcel and others can’t simply point their fingers about the issue in hopes of getting it fixed. Instead, both men (and others) who wield actual money, power and influence in the sport, would be better served by actually taking measures to change things.

Mayweather, as a promoter, could keep his fighters from the alphabet gang altogether. And Valcarcel? The shortest and easiest path for him to help, short of shutting the WBO down right now, is to stop offering so many titles.

HIT: Matchmaking for Showtime’s Tripleheader

The matchmaker listed at BoxRec for Showtime’s tripleheader was Tom Brown, and it really should be pointed out what a terrific job he did in putting last Saturday’s card together. Of the three fights we saw on our televisions on Saturday night, all six fighters competing had a legitimate chance to win.

There were no gimmes on this card, and that’s rarely the case.

In fact, all the so-called A-sides had rough nights. Undefeated junior lightweight prospect Malik Hawkins suffered the first loss of his career via stoppage to Puerto Rico’s Subriel Matias. Rising 130-pounder Xavier Martinez almost did the same when he was knocked down twice in one round by Claudio Marrero before digging down deep to earn the decision. And the main event? Sergey Lipinets vs. Custio Clayton was such a hotly contested fight that it was scored a split-draw. So, Showtime’s latest card was a breath of fresh air in a sport sometimes too obsessed with promoting future fights over present matters.

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A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon

Thomas Hauser

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Book Review by Thomas Hauser — Carlos Monzon was born into extreme poverty in Argentina on August 7, 1942. He was mean, violent, surly, brutal, arrogant, occasionally charming, handsome with a smoldering sensuality, and remorseless. His life was marked by street fighting, drunken behavior, domestic violence, and more than forty arrests. In the midst of it all, he found boxing.

Monzon’s story is told by Don Stradley in A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon. It’s the latest in a series of short books from Hamilcar Publications published under the imprint Hamilcar Noir that deal with boxers whose lives were marked and often terminated by violent crime. Told in 128 pages, the story moves at a brisk pace.

Monzon had one hundred professional fights in a career that began in 1962. He reigned as middleweight champion from 1970 until his retirement in 1977 and was honored as the 1972 “Fighter of the Year” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. All told, he compiled an 87-3-9 (59 KOs) record with 1 no contest. The three losses came during the first two years of his career when he was a novice.

Monzon was a big, strong, tough fighter with a good chin and a basic skill set: stand tall, throw a sharp jab, and follow with a hard right behind it. Mark Kram described him as “a perfectly shaped middleweight, tall with long arms and with style running through every sinew up to his dramatic Belmondo face.”

By contrast, British boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge described Monzon as having “little ring grace” and added “he clubs as if wearing a Roman cestus on his fist.”

Those who question Monzon’s greatness point to the fact that the best of the fighters he beat were past their prime (e.g. Nino Benvenuti) or past their prime and naturally smaller men (e.g. Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles). Monzon was also held to a draw by Benny Briscoe before besting Briscoe on a close decision in a rematch. And he only narrowly defeated Rodrigo Valdez in the last two fights of his ring career.

But as Stradley writes, “A strange thing happened to Monzon in retirement. He became a better fighter. The boxer who had often been dismissed as a classless thug was now revered as an all-time great. During the next decade when lists were made of the top middleweights or of great championship reigns, Monzon’s name would always be near the top.”

How good was Monzon?

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler says that he would have been competitive with any middleweight in any era. More significantly, in 2007, I had a conversation with Bernard Hopkins in which I asked Bernard to speculate as to how he would have fared in the ring against Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, and Monzon. Hopkins’ answer is instructive:

“Sugar Ray Robinson at 147 pounds was close to perfect,” Bernard said. “But at middleweight, he was beatable. I would have fought Ray Robinson in close and not given him room to do his thing. He’d make me pay a physical price. But at middleweight, I think I’d wear him down and win. Me and Marvin Hagler would have been a war. We’d both be in the hospital afterward with straws in our mouth. We’d destroy each other. My game-plan would be, rough him up, box, rough him up, box. You wouldn’t use judges for that fight. You’d go by the doctors’ reports. Carlos Monzon? I could lose that fight. Monzon was tall, rangy, did everything right. I see myself losing that fight more than winning it.”

Stradley’s recounting of Monzon’s ring career is largely pro forma. The more compelling portions of the book lie in the portrait he paints of Monzon’s personal life.

Monzon had virtually no formal education and was close to illiterate. At age 19, he married 15-year-old Mercedes Beatriz Garcia. The newly-wed couple lived with her family in a two-room shack where they slept on a mattress on the floor.

“In many ways,” Stradley writes, “Monzon was the typical wife abuser. He was obsessed with control; he had an evil temper; he drank too much.” In 1973, Mercedes shot her husband in the arm and shoulder after a quarrel between them.

Monzon’s pattern of physically abusing women, assaulting people in public, reckless driving, and other anti-social acts was a constant in his life before, during, and after his championship reign. But as his fame grew, so did his following.

“Monzon,” Stradley notes, “didn’t look like other fighters of the day. He was photographed to look like a stylish Latin pop star, usually in a long leather coat, with plenty of gold jewelry. Argentina’s El Grafico [a popular magazine] treated Monzon like a model, featuring him in regular photo spreads.”

In 1974, while married to Mercedes, Monzon met Susana Gimenez (a popular actress and talk show host). Soon, they were involved in a torrid affair that lasted for four years. At one point, Mercedes complained to her husband about Susana and he punched her in the face, breaking the superciliary arch above her eye. Monzon was arrested and avoided a prison term by pleading temporary insanity. A divorce followed.

Susana’s film credits included adult-oriented comedies. In Stradley’s words, “Monzon had abandoned the mother of his children for a slutty clown. It didn’t help that her sartorial sense ran towards pink denim.”

Even so, Stradley recounts, “Monzon and Susana were now the most photographed twosome in Argentina. Journalist Alfredo Serra estimated they appeared on more than three hundred magazine covers, describing the pair as combining ‘the strength, beauty, fame and glamour of the world in a single couple.'”

During his championship reign, Monzon parleyed his fame as a fighter into several film roles. Then he retired; his relationship with Susana ended; and he met Alicia Muniz Calatayud.

Alicia had worked as a model and belly dancer in addition to once managing a hair salon. She and Monzon married in Miami because his divorce from Mercedes wasn’t recognized under Argentine law. They lived together from May 1979 through August 1986 and again during a brief reconciliation in 1987. On several occasions, Alicia filed complaints with the police alleging that Monzon had beaten her.

By 1988, Stradley writes, “Monzon was still famous but no longer important. Most of the time he was drunk.”

On February 14, 1988, during a weekend they were spending together, Monzon murdered his estranged wife.

“Here’s what probably happened,” Stradley posits. “When Alicia came for the weekend, she reminded him that he was late with his monthly payments [for child support]. They returned from their night out, a night where they’d been unfriendly to each other and a witness had seen Monzon hitting Alicia. At some point before 6 a.m., she said something that made the dynamite in his head go off.”

Monzon told conflicting stories after Alicia’s death, all of which centered on the claim that she’d accidentally fallen over a balcony railing during an argument between them. Then an autopsy report revealed that Alicia had been strangled to death.

“Medical examiners,” Stradley recounts, “estimated thirty-five pounds of pressure or more had been applied to Alicia’s throat. Strangling only requires eleven pounds. They estimated it had been done with a two-fingered grip, probably thumb and forefinger in a kind of one-handed death clamp. It takes only twenty seconds or so to strangle someone into unconsciousness. The damage to Alicia’s throat would take much longer. It wasn’t done by accident or in the heat of the moment. It took a few minutes of full-on rage. Alicia had been strangled long after she had passed out. It’s also rare that a strangling victim has visible marks on the neck or throat. The imprints on Alicia were clear and deep, as if someone had tried to squeeze her head off at the neck. He dumped her body over the balcony to make it look like she’d fallen.”

Monzon was charged with murder. The trial was broadcast live on radio throughout Argentina. Monzon testified that he and Alicia had argued about money and admitted that he had slapped her. “I have hit women on other occasions and nothing happened to any of them,” he told the court. “I hit all of my women except one. My mother.”

A three-judge panel found Monzon guilty of murder. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison with the possibility of time off for good behavior.

By 1993, Monzon was allowed to spend daytime hours and weekends outside of prison. On Sunday, January 8, 1995, after attending a barbeque, he was behind the wheel of a car, probably drunk and definitely speeding.

“By the rules of his furlough agreement,” Stradley writes, “he had to be back at the Las Flores prison by 8 p.m. He didn’t want to risk being late. He only had a short time left to serve on his sentence and didn’t want any infractions on his record. So he drove fast. He’d always been a terrible driver. Being in prison hadn’t made him any better at it.”

While speeding back to the prison, Monzon lost control of the vehicle which turned over multiple times, killing him instantly. Two other passengers also died in the accident. He was 52 years old.

After Monzon’s death, his body lay in state at City Hall in his hometown of Santa Fe. An estimated ten thousand people filed past it. Twenty thousand more lined the route to the Municipal Cemetery while six thousand mourners waited at the cemetery entrance.

Argentine president Carlos Menem told the nation. “Remember Carlos Monzon as a champion, not as a man jailed for murder.” But Argentinian journalist and political commentator Bernardo Neustadt took a contrary view, declaring, “We are a macho society that idolizes a man who beats or violates a woman; a macho society that taught Monzon to dress up, to speak a bit better, but didn’t teach him to think; a macho society that wasn’t horrified when Monzon said he beat all his women.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

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