“When I gazed at him I was thinking: ‘Tonight, I’m going to kill you.’” — Carlos Monzon on Nino Benvenuti
The Romans didn’t know Carlos Monzon. He was nobody. Took some title in South America, but would be no match for the World Champ, for their Champ. Nino.
Giovanni “Nino” Benvenuti, from the little fishing town of Isola d’Istria in Italy (now Izola, Slovenia). The young Giovanni, just a happy little boy, running around with a buddy. Suddenly he falls down, crumpled like a rag doll. His friend says, “Hey Nino! What’s the matter?” Giovanni struggles to his feet, wobbly, saying, “I don’t know. Feels like somebody just punched me out.”
That was the right hand of Carlos Monzon, echoing, rattling back through time.
Monzon, thunder from Argentina. Monzon the Monster. Monzon whose women had to wear sunglasses in public. Monzon who threw one off a balcony, killed her. Monzon the Beast, Monzon who ended up in prison. Monzon who died in a car crash, driving back to his jail cell after being granted a weekend away. A dark, ugly night, rolling over and over, out of his mind.
But before all that, above all that, there was Monzon the boxer. And the overhand right that made them say goodnight. Monzon the Champion. November 7, 1970, Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome. Home crowd behind Nino, and nobody, least of all Benvenuti, expecting the assault about to be unleashed by the challenger.
So here is Carlos Monzon, up off the stool. And he starts coming on, fearless, biting, snapping. Very early, Benvenuti realizes he can’t hurt him. Looks to the ref, but there’s no help to be found. There is nowhere to run. Monzon the Hungry Dog. It’s nasty, it’s back-alley, it’s pure and constant pressure. Monzon just takes it to him, walking him down. He’s fearless. The fight is his. The night belongs to him. Carlos the Argentine Spider, silk ropes around the ring, and Nino is trapped, wriggling in circles.
In the twelfth, Benvenuti’s bouncing, backing up, trying to get free. Winds up in the corner, and Carlos sees the opening. He fires the big one off and lands it clean. That overhand right, Benvenuti’s head nearly comes off – spins on his neck like he’s trying to see what’s behind him. Nino falls down, crumpled like a rag doll. He gets up, wobbly, grabs the ropes for support, but the ring is already full of people.
A monstrous punch. Your stomach clenches. You see it, it kind of sickens you. Then you watch it again. In slow-motion. The thunder. That big, big thunder.
Carlos Monzón took the The Ring, WBA & WBC middleweight titles that night. He retained them all right up to his retirement seven years later, defending a total of 14 times, a record. After his retirement, the dark clouds descended. On came the aimless violence, the rage and terror. Vicious Carlos, awful Carlos, the murderer, the prisoner.
But before all that, above all that, there was another.
The sun beats down on the waterfront in Sante Fe, Argentina, lighting up the face of a statue known as the “Constanera.” A fighter, raising his hands to the sky, proudly displaying the world middleweight championship belt.
This is Carlos the boxer, Monzon the champion. — David Como