By 1961, boxing had become an important part of my life. First, it appealed to me. It seemed a very fair sport where men of equal size faced each other, alone, in a ring with the only equipment they were allowed, a set of gloves of the same size, 8 oz. or 10 oz.
This seemed like the only sport where a 108 pound man could be considered as great a Champion as a man who weighed 224 pounds, and become as famous or as rich. Size did not matter for they always had to face someone of equal weight. Certainly such was not the case in football, baseball, basketball, rugby, soccer and the other semi-contact sports.
The more I studied it, the more I saw a boxing match as a microcosm of life. Not only was talent and conditioning essential, but desire and mental toughness was often the difference between winning and losing. Finally I agreed with what Cus D'Amato, the old Guru said, "It's in the head, winning or losing. You must impose your will on your opponent."
Angelo Dundee had come back from World War II with a burning desire to be in boxing with his brother Chris Dundee. Chris, a tough survivor of the thirties, and managed Ken Overlin to the middle weight title on May 1940 in New York. Chris was also starting to promote and he saw a way to stay involved with fighters by having his kid brother take over managing. He put the young innocent Angelo to learn from the masters at Gleason's Gym. He learned from he best: Al Goldman, Chickie Ferrera, Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel. These men knew everything there was to know about training, diet, corner work, and the strategies which won titles. They were what I called The Grey Men, the College of Cardinals of Boxing.
By the time Chris and Angelo brought their act to Miami Beach in the fifties the town was ready for first rate boxing. In the tough era of the thirties, The Boys had a huge interest in boxing. Chris still maintained ties with Blinky Palermo (who had Sonny Liston) and Frankie Carbo (Mr. Grey), and that put him right in the picture in Havana where Saturday night fights were an established institution. Cuba bristled with fight clubs, and any kid who could throw a jab rushed to join an amateur club. Consequently, Cuba had the greatest collection of contenders for the title ever seen, and Chris was the fox in the chicken coop. He had the connections, a great gym (the Fifth Street Gym), a talented corp of trainers and cornermen, led by the capable Angelo, and fights every Tuesday. Chris had positioned himself to raid the island and end up with champions when a great piece of good luck came his way. As the pugs of the Fifth Street Gym say, "He caught a break."
Fidel Castro and his ragged bunch strolled into Havana unopposed and began a year long celebration as the vanquisher of an evil dictator Fulgencio Batista. The people were wild with joy. In the State Department of the United States they were calling Fidel The Abraham Lincoln of Havana. Boxing continued every Saturday only now half the audience were bearded milicianos in their fatigues, carrying Thompson sub machine guns, and they had one thing in common, they didn't pay.
Before that first year the handwriting was on the wall, and it was in blood. There was unrest as thousands were executed, their properties confiscated, and all laws suspended. Communism had arrived. A second revolution to oust Fidel was brewing when Castro proved his cunning. He opened the gates to the United States and let everyone go. A huge avalanche of prospective revolutionaries descended on the sleepy port of Miami. Castro had defused a bomb.
Chris couldn't believe his good fortune. The Fifth Street Gym filled up with the slick, beautiful fighting machines of Cuba. Chris put Angelo to work with the great Cuban trainers and told him to learn Spanish, which, to his everlasting credit, Angelo did.
The superb boxing writers and radio-T.V. analyst proceeded the wave. Cuco Conde, Fausto Miranda. Jese Losada and Minito found jobs here continuing to write about the Cuban Champions arriving on the quest of a world title.
Trainers and cornermen, every bit as good as the Grey Men accompanied their fighters, and as Angelo worked with them he picked out a corp of men he could trust with any fighter. His biggest find was Luis Sarria, a quiet man who carried himself with the dignity of an African Prince. Training and massage was his forte, and eventually he would become Ali's favorite trainer. Along with Sarria were Kid Rapidez, Felix Masud, Pincho, Eugenio Ruiz, Marzo Fernandez, and others.
Boxers came tumbling out of the sky: Florentino Fernandez, the KO King of Cuba, a middleweight; Benny Kid Paret, Luis Rodriguez and Mantequilla Napoles, all welterweight world champions. Doug Valliant, a heavy hitting string bean, Jose Legra' and Ultimino Ramos, featherweight champions, and legendary journeymen Robinson Garcia, and Baby Luis.
It was a gold rush atmosphere in Miami. Every Tuesday night was an event of excellence with these talented hungry exiles. The presence of these Cuban fighters furnished me with an entrance into big time boxing.
All of them, with the exception of Florentino Fernandez were black. Chris knew he needed a doctor he could confide in who could speak to them in their own language, and who understood boxing. To add to my desirability, I had two offices in the vicinity of their apartments. The final qualification was uppermost in Chris' frugal mind: I wouldn't charge.
The first one that required my attention balked at going to the ghetto office. His reason was compelling:
"I'm not black, I'm Cuban."
This was in the days of strict segregation in Miami. My trail office was in the middle of the growing Cuban section and it was all white. I felt Cubans were color blind so I had all boxers come to the Trail Office. I was right. They were treated as heroes by my patients, and it proved to be a big plus to have them come for treatment. This is how I ended up working in corners as a cornerman, and how I got involved in the tough life and death work of championship boxing.
When I worked with Florentino Fernandez against Joey Giambra April 28, 1962 in Miami Beach, I got a taste of an excitement I'd not felt before. The lure of a big time sports event is great, and boxing is twice the charge. It has no certain time span. It can last 15 seconds or go to the full 15 rounds for 45 action packed minutes. You can't lose concentration, every minute is vital. It's like working a trauma center in the midst of a disaster, but with thousands of people yelling as loud as they can. It is an incredible high to be personally involved. I was hooked.
Considered the best of that talented crew was a thin black man who had very little to suggest he was a fighter, much less the best in the world.
Luis Manuel Rodriguez was 5'7" and weighed 145 pounds soaking wet. He looked anything but menacing in street clothes, and in his boxing shorts he looked unmuscled, slick, and skinny as a mosquito. His legs and arms were thin, and his torso did not show an ounce of fat.
He had a pleasant face, made so by a flashing smile. Luis had a thing for brushing his teeth, and smile showed it. Other than that the only distinguishing feature was a rock of Gibraltar nose. It was a real honker, the biggest I had seen this side of W.C. Fields. It was an inviting target, but few boxers ever get to it.
Luis' style was based on speed of hand and foot, a radar like ability to sense punches coming, and an intelligence seldom seen until Ali came to prominence. When the young Cassius Clay enrolled in the Fifth Street Gym to learn big time boxing under the brothers Dundee the one he tried to copy was Luis Manuel. Luis loved to teach, and it was common to see the huge 6'4" Cassius sparring with the mosquito-like Luis. If you compare films of both in their prime you'll see a lot of Luis Manuel in Muhammad Ali.
Luis Manuel was the only Cuban fighter to quickly adjust to Miami. He learned English and was quickly adopted by the fans of Miami. Once Ali was left outside without a ticket to a Rodriguez fight. Spotting him outside the Miami Beach Auditorium, Luis suggested he carry in his gym bag and so sneak in. The young Clay ate that up, and he came in, yelling at the top of his lungs:
"Hey I'm with Loonie, the Cuban Champion. Loonie gonna be the Champ of the Whole Wide World!"
Luis Manuel loved the tall, handsome, brash kid, and from the first time they worked together he predicted he would be a champion.
"The feet like he was on roller skates, the hands, like lightening, and he is so hard to hit," Luis would say in open admiration. Then when Luis would go into the ring to work, Ali would watch every move, and he would say the same thing. Luis and Cassius, they would both become champions, and then, disastrously, both would stay on too long. But that was in the future.
Luis Manuel Rodriguez is one of the saddest stories in boxing. It is a story of poor decisions, inopportune fights, bad timing, unavoidable accidents and plain old dogged bad luck.
Luis was a great prospect form the beginning. He was trained by an old crippled uncle, who was a student of boxing and a great teacher. He wanted Luis to fight in Cuba and never go to El Norte. Luis would become so great they would have to come to him.
At the end of the island a similarly talented kid, Benny Kid Paret, was coming up. He too had the potential for a championship, but Luis Manuel stood in his way. The amateur fight of the century had all Cuba looking forward to the day.
When it took place it was every bit the blazing fight the fans predicted and the end Luis Manuel won a close decision.
Television had found that the public loved title fights, and they drew great rating. The Welterweight Champion of the time was a half-Indian named Don Jordan. It was alleged that he was moved by Blinky and/or Mr. Greys. It was also rumored that Don Jordan had an affinity for fire water, and possibly stronger stuff. Whether true of not, the handwriting was on the wall. The next guy who fought Jordon would win the title. All that meant in boxing was that the present manager had better have a part of the next guy that fought Jordon.
Into the small home of Luis' Uncle came a couple of nice men from El Norte. Their deal was short and sweet. They take 50% of Luis, and Luis gets Jordon and the title. This was the way boxing was done then. Hell, its the way its done now, only now it's legal.
Luis' Uncle was old, infirm, and had an abiding hatred for guys with slick deals in their brief cases. His thought was always the same: if you are the best fighter in the world, they got to come to you, sooner or later.
When met by a stern refusal, the boys shrugged and went off to see Benny Kid Paret who beat Don Jordon in fifteen rounds in Las Vegas. In spite of rumors, Jordon fought a tough fight, and continued on until 1962, fighting thirteen more times, although he lost most of these.
Luis did not have time to fret for Castro was closing in on the fight game. The old man regrettably passed Luis on to a bus driver on his route. He was a prematurely grey, stocky man who knew little of boxing, but was as honest as his bus route was long. Ernesto Corral was something more than his quiet, self effacing, roly poly front indicated. He was an underground freedom fighter, and was put on Castro's death list. The escape was precipitous and a near thing. With Luis and Corral came the redoubtable Luis Sarria, Cuba's finest trainer.
Luis Manuel linked up with Angelo Dundee and a top team was forged. Chris made the matches, Angelo Dundee worked the corner, Sarria trained the fighter, I took care of his health, and Ernesto Corral oversaw the operation. It worked smoothly for years, and, except for the Ali circus years, it was the best time I had in boxing.
Luis' luck turned sour again as a young islander named Emile Griffith, managed by Gil Clancy and moved by Teddy Brenner of Madison Square Garden, worked his way rapidly into contention. Chris made one of few mistakes when he took a fight against Griffith on short notice and long bread. Conventional wisdom had it that an out of town fighter could not beat Emile Griffith in the Garden. Luis was such a cocky fighter he did not listen. He should have, Emile got a close decision in December, 1960. This put Emile in line for the title. The shot belonged to Luis who already had beaten Paret in Cuba. Instead, in April, 1961, in Miami Beach, with Luis looking on, Emile Griffith knocked out Paret in 13. Luis now moved into first place for title contention.
Unfortunately T.V. and the Boys had a little to say about that. The Champ owed Paret a rematch, and so it was signed.
Paret beat Emile Griffith in the rematch on September 30 1961 in New York in a 15 round decision, mystifying the wise guys. Now, it seemed Luis' luck had changed. Now he would fight Paret, who was wearing out.
Once again it was not to be. Paret and Griffith had fought two hard exciting fights. The public clamored for the third, and Luis notwithstanding, it was signed. Luis, to his everlasting credit, did not sulk, but went back to his continuous fighting. In 1960 he fought 10 bouts, in 1961 eight.
Now Benny Kid Paret made the first of a few fatal steps. Tired of making the weight, he moved up to Middleweight and challenged Gene Fullmer for the title. That proved a big mistake. Gene Fullmer gave the brave Paret a fearful beating in December 1961 in Las Vegas. It was awful to watch. All of us thought Paret might return after that fearful thrashing. Instead, he signed to fight Emile Griffith.
Much has been written about the bad blood between Paret and Griffith. The weigh-in was ugly in that Paret called Griffith a maricon (homosexual) and threatened to beat him and his "husband." It was scandalous behavior, and Emile Griffith, the kindest, sweetest of islanders, was shocked and embarrassed.
The boxing match proved much more than a title fight. Bad blood quickly made it a dangerous night. As fate would gave it, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, was recovering from recent heart attack, and he was weak and ineffectual. On any night but this one Ruby Goldstein was the referee of choice. He had been a good contender, he was strong, he had always controlled the fight, but not on this night.
Griffith caught Paret in the corner, hurt him, and then lashed into him in a fury. Goldstein stood by glassy-eyed. He seemed incapable of stepping in. Paret's arm hooked on the top rope, and it held him up to more battering. The beating was savage, and compounded by the Fullmer beating three months earlier, it proved fatal. Poor Benny Kid Paret's luck ran out. Luis looked on horrified.
It was the first ring death I ever witnessed. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last. I went home and did a lot of thinking, and a little praying.
Understandably Emile Griffith went into seclusion. He wanted to give up boxing forever. Time would solve all, the managers and the press said. The public forgave him, but were not so easy on poor Ruby Goldberg who was never the same again.
Luis spent 1962 campaigning, sure that when Emile got over the tragedy he would give Luis the title shot that should have been his since 1959. Luis had no difficulty beating welterweights or middleweights. In 1962 he found he had trouble beating Eastern Airline.
A funny thing happened on the way to Dallas to fight Curtis Cokes. Luis' plane got hi-jacked. Neither Angelo nor I were on the plane, but Corral and Sarria were. Corral's name was on a Castro death list. It was well known that Fidel also had a grudge against Cuban athletes who had fled Cuba. The time was filled with dreadful apprehensions, and it seemed a year before they were allowed to return. Is it any surprise to learn that Luis lost to Curtis Cokes in Dallas?
Poor Luis, couldn't seem to catch a break. By 1963 Griffith was over his tragedy and ready to give Luis a title shot in L.A. at Chavez Ravine.
Our training camp was in the Alexandria Hotel in Downtown L.A., now a seedy section. By a stroke of good luck we were to be part of a triple header night. The other main title fight was between Davey "The Springfield Rifle" Moore and Luis' pal Ultimino Sugar Ramos. With Ramos came his trainer, Kid Rapidez, a man reputed to be an expert in Santeria, Cuban witchcraft. Luis felt much better with the Kid around the camp. Ramos'manager was a powerhouse Cuban journalist, sportsman Cuco Conde.
Sarria cooked and the bunch met in the kitchen to eat their invariable meal, palomilla steak, rice, salad, and a gallon jug of fresh orange juice. The rest of us could have black beans and ripe plantains. Obligatory expresso followed.
I had found a replacement in my offices, and spend two weeks in heaven. Not only was I in a blissful men's world, away from domestic strife, but I was also in Hollywood. I found stars loved boxers, and I made friends with the "Babalu" kid Miguelito Valdez and with the dashing Ricardo Montalban and many others who gathered to watch the fierce workouts.
My betting mentor, Bob Martin, had told me, "bet them until they lose." He was referring to Cassius Clay who was just starting, and Ultimino Sugar Ramose who had won his first five fights. Had I done that I would have been wealthy. Bob had the best eye I've ever seen for judging boxers. Betting your own money has a way of sharpening the senses.
I had saved some money for this day, for I was positive Luis could not lose, and now that I saw Sugar train I was convinced his fight was a sure thing. The odds were 3 to 1 on Griffith, favored. I had $5,000.00 to bet. The odds on Sugar were 5-1, Moore favored. I had $3,000.00. On the under card a Philipino unknown was 10-1 underdog to a Mexican American Champ. It was worth $1,000.00. All told I would win $40,000.00.
The Thursday of the fight a torrential rain beat Chavez Ravine into a deep puddle of mud. Fight was called off, and so were the odds. It was rescheduled for Saturday at which time the odds had fallen to Luis-Emile, even, Ramos vs Moore 2-1, and the undercard to 3-1.
During this depressing time I had a daily breakfast with a delightful con-man, Doc Kearnes, Jack Dempsey's old manager. I only wish I had had a tape recorder. Among his allegations was that when Dempsey signed to fight Jess Willard, a gigantic champion, he had accepted the `short' end of the purse,and promptly bet it all on Dempsey. $100,000.00 in those days was a fortune. The hitch was he didn't tell Dempsey until the bell was ready to sound, then he gave him ever worse news:
"I bet our whole purse on you, kid, but I bet you'd win in the first round."
If anyone is interested in a fighter at his utmost best watch the first round of the Willard-Dempsey fight. Dempsey drops Willard six times. He breaks Willard's jaw, nose, zygomatic arch, and he loses several teeth. The fight is over, apparently and Dempsey doesn't stick around by goes to his dressing room. Then, the bad news. The bell saved Willard. The fight is still on! Willard answered the bell for round two. Dempsey wins the fight, but Kearns loses the bet. It's a great story, but `Doc' always has topper. Doc has a piece of movie film of the first round. In it we see Dempsey's incredible fury, but as the fight apparently ends, Dempsey does not rush over to his corner to celebrate but sort of meanders over to a neutral corner, and drops his right glove to his side. He opened his glove and what looks like a railroad spike, or a roll of quarters drops to the canvas. A ringside newsman takes off his hat and covers the object and surrupticiously lifts the hat, picks up the object and puts it in his pocket. Dempsey then leaves the ring in a hurry.
"Doc," sees my look of disbelief and makes a date to bring the film and show it, which he does. Now I know very well how to doctor film, and I do not put anything past the old sly fox, but, my, it was fun to be hustled by this loveable con-guy.
By the way, the next morning he might put another ending on the story. He did bet $100,000, and Dempsey won in a brutal fashion. How could a normal fist do so much anatomical damage to a face without destroying itself as well? You tell me, I don't know,and Doc Kearns is no longer around to tell me.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny. An ivy-league kid from Sports illustrated had been staying with us taking scads of notes for an article on Luis Manuel. Mort Sharnik was a loveable bear of a kid, and everyone in camp took to him. He had enough notes on all of us to write a book. He was ready to see Luis finally win the title which should have been his four years ago.
This was my first experience on in-depth reporting. In those days it was strictly forbidden for a doctor to get any publicity, and I was aware I might get flack from the Medical Association, but such is the power of ego that I shut out any apprehension. Imagine, me in an in-depth article in Sports Illustrated. I'm embarrassed to admit how eagerly I awaited that bit of reflected glory. Ego and vanity are not qualities to be overly proud of, but oh how seductive they are to a young man. Every time I think of my immaturity in those days I see a three-year-old standing in the middle of the living room, as his two sisters sing and dance a song. he's standing in front of the adoring parents, and he's yelling at the top of his voice.
"LOOK AT ME!"
Half heartedly I bet the fights. Luis won the fight easily. He boxed beautifully, Griffith tried real hard, but his heart really didn't seem in it. I do not take anything from Luis, but Emile was no Emile that night.
"But, hell, we won! We won!"
I stood proudly in my new cornerman sweater, helping lift Luis up, and accepting the roar of the crowd. Oh, what a sweet and seducing sound is a standing ovation. No wonder fighters never want to retire. It is the most virulent of afflictions.
Angelo did not even return to the dressing rooms. He stayed to work with Sugar Ramos. I stayed as well. The corner was happy for a little of the good luck we had just experienced to rub off on them. This and the chicken Kid Rapidez had just killed in the shower might bring them luck. It certainly brought luck. The wrong kind.
The fight was as tough a fight as I had seen in my life. Davey Moore looked as if he were going to kill Ultimino. After the third round Ramos came to the corner on one foot,kind of like Charlie Chaplin turning a corner. His face was a mess. For the first time I experienced the brutality of a life and death fight. I was surprised at this extent of the injuries and how fast they had happened.
Then in the ninth round, Sugar started to turn it around. Davey looked tired.His face had a desperate lost quality to it, as if he had just become aware that he had no more gas in the tank, and young Sugar, in spite of the knots and cuts, was still very much in the hunt.
"Es mio," (He's mine) Sugar said, uttering his first words of the night.
The tenth round was pure savagery. Davey finally caved in, he fell over backwards, the back of his head bouncing crazily off the bottom strand, and then, in a kind of sling shot effect, bounced off the canvas. Davey lay there, inert, asleep, unconscious. I looked at him a few feet from me. Was he dead? All of the elation I felt after the victory, left me in a flash. The doctor part of me woke up. Was he dead? As I started to get into the ring he came to. He was sitting up. His eyes were open. He talked. He motioned he was O.K. A great wave of relief flooded over me.
Now we were in the middle of the ring. Luis,the new welterweight champion was on one side, Angelo on the other, lifting Sugar who was smiling his beautiful smile out of his lumpy face. Behind us someone had brought a Cuban flag. What a rare moment of joy. Two championships in one night.
The third fight was an anticlimax. I stayed in the underdog Philipino's corner.He knocked the Mexican out in the first round. Ho hum.
I had scored a clean sweep, but instead of $40,000, I went home with $7,000.I didn't care. I would have forfeited the bet to work in three corners of three underdogs, all winners. What a night.
I went back to our dressing room to a resounding surprise. All had sad, serious faces.
"What is it?" I asked Sharnik.
Mort Sharnik had been in Davey Moore's dressing room. Davey was giving a brief interview when he suddenly held his head,and said to Mort,
"I've got such a headache."
It proved to be the last thing Davey Moore said. He was taken to the hospital where he died. He was a beloved champion, and in each corner of our dressing room grown men were crying.
Mort and I joined a post fight celebration in a little Mexican joint.It wasn't much celebration. Mort finally got to thinking of himself and said, "Well Doc, all those notes, all that great stuff about Luis and you guys gets washed out. The cover, the story is poor Davey."
For once I didn't think a moment about the once sought after publicity. Not even a small, "Look at me." All I could think of was Davey Moore.
`Fuck the story,' I thought, `this is a helluva sport if it can take the life of a great guy like Davey Moore.
It was just 1963. I had barely been in boxing and already I had seen two good guys die.I still had fourteen more years ahead of me. I would still hold Cleveland Denny in my arms as he died one rainy night in Montreal. What could I have been thinking of? I still wonder.
Luis' luck escalated as the years flew by. We had just gotten over a month long celebration in Miami when Angelo informed Luis that he had to go back into training to fight Emile again, and this time in New York.
This seemed impossible. A new Champ is given a few months to rest, and easy fight to make some money before he has to go back into the fire. The Boys in those days controlled T.V. Garden fights. They gave Chris eight fights a year in Miami Beach. If they wanted Luis to fight Griffith in three months in New York, then that is what it would be.
Poor Luis' luck was running bad again.
Angelo assured Luis, "this time you'll knock him out." Luis believed him and started training like a puncher, which he wasn't.
The fight was a horror. Luis, whose jab was his dominant, controlling strength, decided not to use it for five rounds. Luis went head hunting for a knock out. By the sixth, with the entire corner screaming at Luis, he started to jab and almost pulled the fight out, but the first five rounds belonged to Emile, and that was too deep a hole to dig. It was a split decision; the deciding vote went to Emile 8-7 rounds. It was a close fight and Emile did not lose close fights in the Garden. He never did.
Luis had to wait one year to try Emile again. By now both camps were friendly. I made a great friend of Gil Clancey who was a delightful Irish sprite, full of fun and mischief. His partner was a business man, Howie Albert who joined in the fun. Emile Griffith's camp was a happy place. He knew and respected Luis, and now they were headed to their fourth encounter in Las Vegas.
The only thing that stands out in my mine was being stuck in a long gridlock outside the auditorium in 125 degree desert heat. We were in our limo with a police escort. Suddenly Luis remembered he has not drank the blessed coconut milk. His Santeria priest had sent a coconut from Miami. It had been blessed. In a panic he ran to the trunk, pulled out the bag with the coconut. A problem immediately arose. How to open a coconut in the middle of an expressway? We tried everything including smashing it on the road. Nothing. Nada. Doesn't open. The traffic is starting to move. A State Trooper showed up with an exasperated look on his face. We explained the problem.
"Shoot, that isn't no problem," said the State Trooper, pulling out a huge Magnum. "I'll just shoot the sumbitch open."
"No!" everyone yelled at once, and dove at the cop. A blessing can turn into a curse with just one Magnum blast. Any reputable Santeria Priest can tell you that.
Finally we opened it with a tire iron, and drank the milk and still lost the fight in spite of the blessed coconut. This proves what I have always maintained; all religious prayers, blessings and such are helpful if you can jab.
In 1965 Luis fought 15 times, all middleweights, much bigger men. In 1966 he had fought 8 times when he got a second chance at Curtis Cokes. This time Luis took a train, remembering his last hi-jacking. Luis was stopped by Cokes in 15 rounds, his first loss by stoppage, which goes to prove that you can come by train, airplane, bus, walking, but if you can't duck right hands it doesn't make any difference.
In 1967 Luis fought 10 times, in 1968 seven times including two wins over Vicente Rondon, a light heavyweight, who went on to become the world champ.
Luis final truck with bad luck came in 1969 in Rome. Luis was to fight the Italian World Champion Nino Benvenuti. To beat the handsome Nino in Rome was impossible,still it was a pay day.
Before the fights I was walking by the dressing rooms when I hear a hoarse voice calling me.
"Doct-o, `oye Doct-o."
I looked at a small fighter wrapping his own hands. He looked vaguely familiar.
"Coño, Doct-o, soy, yo. Robinson Garcia."
Robinson Garcia was a fine fighter who was so handsome they named him after Sugar Ray Robinson. He'd had over three hundred fights. Now he wasn't handsome Andy longer. He had no front teeth, and his nose wandered, and his eye-brows were ugly mounds of scar tissue.
"Damn, Robinson, where have you been?'
"In Genoa. In jail. I beat up my whore and they gave me 6 months."
"When did they let you out?'
"This morning. I took a train in. I just got here. You want to work my corner? I need a good cut man."
"Love to, but I got Luis in the Title."
"Yeah,I know. Bueno. Suerte."
"You just got out? What did you eat?"
"Spaghetti. Three times day.No salt, no sauce, No Nothing. I'd give my right arm for some picadillo y moros."
I grinned , he did too. He was a warrior. The rare kind who go out to do what they have to do to survive. They give the public what they want. They seem impervious to pain. Boxing. It's what this tough breed of men do. I was proud to know Robinson Garcia, and I wish I could have worked his corner that night. As it turned out, he didn't need me, because the Roman Boxing Commission did not allow him to fight.
Luis started out like a house on fire in the first round. He looked sensational, and he cut Nino in mid fight. It looked ugly. In the States the fight would have been stopped, but this was Rome. Stop Nino Benvenuti fights on cuts? Are you crazy?
Things got worse when the referee started warning Luis about butts. Luis had never even come close to a butt since his fight was from the outside. The referee explained to Angelo that if Luis crouched and then threw a punch from a crouch it was considered a butt, and he would take a point away. Angelo was livid. The only way to avoid a hooker like Nino was to crouch, Luis' natural style. Luis had never fought straight up.
Round eleven was about to start. In the states we would have been way ahead, but this was Rome. Nino was so tired he was stumbling on exhausted legs. His cut was now huge, blood flowed over the entire ring. He was a mess. Luis was showing the first signs of fatigue. Angelo, a great strategist, decided to go for it while Luis still had K.O. power.We couldn't win by decision, so...
Luis launched his all out attack, except that he was straight up and down, no crouch. Nino launched the absolutely last punch in his bag, launched it from across the Tiber. It landed with sickening accuracy on Luis' jaw. For the first time in his career, Luis folded up like a beach chair. He folded up, then still in a sitting position fell over. Luis was finished as a Championship contender.
Luis' career continued until 1972, actually four fights past when he should have quit. An ordinary fighter Rafael Gutierrez, whom Luis had starched the year before in San Diego, came to `Frisco and knocked out a pathetic old man named Luis Manuel Rodriguez.
Sarria, watching Luis swallowing jabs in the first round, turned to me with tears in his wise old eyes.
"Luis se acabó." (Luis is through)
"Si," I said, not wishing to add to his heartache.
The day that Luis Sarria died I called Luis Manuel's house to tell him, and I found that he too was in intensive care not expected to live.
"Luis Manuel will be joining Sarria before the night is out," said his attending physician.
By this time Luis Manuel had become an object of pity. In addition to his boxing injuries he had taken to drink. His long suffering wife, now a nurse, had taken care of him, but he was hopeless. He lay dying of pneumonia, resistant to all antibiotics. It seemed as if luck had finally run true to the end.
Angelo and I buried the kind, dignified Sarria, and, somehow, Luis Manuel recovered. He is still around, but mainly it is only the remains of Luis Manuel Rodriguez, one of the greatest fighters to come out of Cuba.
If only he would have had a little luck.
(C)1996 Ferdie Pachecho
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