Vegetarianism is popularly associated with spiritual nuts with long hair and long toenails, except in the case of Popeye the Sailor Man, who, though naive, is a neat gentleman and the possessor of a heck of a right uppercut. In this corporeal tradition is Eder Jofre, a good little vegetarian like Popeye, who knocked out Herman Marquez in San Francisco last week to retain the bantamweight championship of the world and save humanity from a fate worse than vegetables. Marquez eats raw tuna, yet. "When Herman wins the title we will all eat raw fish," said Shig Takahashi, one of Marquez' managers and, happily, a lousy prophet.
Bantamweights are wee people; only flyweights and jockeys come in smaller sizes. When a reporter told a young lady that bantamweights must not weigh more than 118 pounds, she exclaimed, "Why, they shouldn't let them fight." When Jofre was posed before a big bowl of salad for a prefight picture, the photographer had to put the 1,136-page San Francisco phone book beneath him so that his face would appear above the escarole. Bantamweights are naturally short but they are unnaturally light. "What's good about raw fish," says Marquez, "is that it goes through your system. Right after the fight I'm going to have a big dish of enchiladas and tamales. It's so fattening, but I love it." Said Jofre: "To get where I have, I have sacrificed everything. No parties, not enough food or drink. This dedication is not compensated for by money, which has relative value."
When people were smaller there were bantamweights in all countries; indeed, the class limit was once 105 pounds. Now they are chiefly Latins. Jofre is a Brazilian of Italian descent who was born in a shabby gym in the Italian section of S�o Paulo. His father, Aristides, was an unemployed boxer. His mother, Angelina (nee Zumbano), most of whose relatives were also unemployed boxers, swept up the gym.
With 16 boxers and wrestlers in his family—including former European Middleweight Champion Hans Norbert, former Brazilian Lightweight Champion Ralf Zumbano and Lady Wrestler Olga Zumbano—there was little question what Eder would be when he grew up. At four he put on a pair of gloves. At nine he fought in public for the first time, knocking his cousin out in the third round. He lost but two fights as an amateur, and both were later redeemed by knockouts. He is undefeated as a professional, having won 32 fights by knockout and 10 by decision. He has drawn three.
Jofre's two younger brothers are now prizefighters, too; his sister is married to Brazil's amateur flyweight champion, and Eder's marriage, presided over by an excitable parish priest named Padre Ira, was so charged with references to boxing that it was, in a sense, a double ring ceremony. Padre Ira told Eder that "this is the best punch in your whole career," burbled on that ' "love and boxing are alike: both require endurance, discipline and sportsmanship." Said Jofre coyly: "This is my first knockout."
Despite the overwhelming influence of his battling relatives, Jofre has developed an interest in another kind of canvas. He began by sketching bantam roosters, the symbol of his career. One of these creations was on the back of the blue velvet robe he wore up the smoky, noisy aisle in the fight with Marquez. On the back was a gold, sequined banty cock with a jeweled red comb and a tear-shaped red jewel, quavering on a thread, for a wattle. (Marquez' robe bore the legend "ILWU 54." He is a longshoreman in Stockton, Calif.)
Born in Mexico, Marquez came up from Sonora to California when he was eight or nine and went to work in the fields when he was 13, picking cherries, tomatoes, celery and asparagus, and sewing onion sacks by hand. "There's nothing to it," he says. "Just like boxing." He turned to boxing when he was 23. "Who I am is from boxing," he says. "I never had the opportunity to be someone else. Boxing's clean and it keeps yourself from doing a lot of things you shouldn't. 'Herman,' an old man told me once, 'you won't get hurt in the ring. The ring don't hurt you. The outside do.'
"This is the biggest break I ever had. I'm going to try hard to do a good job. This is the fight. Not only for myself—I'm not selfish. For my wife and my seven kids and the one that's rounding third and sliding home."
The weigh-in was genial, and its pacific mood extended into the first round, which was so mannerly it appeared that a couple of conscientious objectors had found themselves, by some sublime error, in the prize ring. There were several jabs but they were soft, drifting, as though the gloves were balloons held by children. The pace quickened in the second round, both men punching with more vehemence. Jofre unleashed his famous right for the first time, but it didn't come close.
In the third Jofre threw a right cross which landed high on Marquez' cheek. He stumbled back and partially out of the ropes. Jofre didn't take advantage of his position, waiting until Marquez untangled himself before joining battle. At the end of this round Jofre sat on his stool, talking earnestly to his father, his chief second. But even then he didn't sit in customary fashion but sort of sidesaddle. By the fourth, Marquez was beginning to throw punches in meaningful flurries, while Jofre seemed content to measure Marquez with his jab, like a corny painter holding up his thumb, while patiently waiting the proper instant to throw his right. The next round showed why many observers consider Jofre the finest prizefighter of any weight now in the ring. In it he launched a rich variety of blows, and hard ones, too, both in combination and singly; he feinted deftly with head, shoulders and hands and defended with remarkable resourcefulness. It seemed then as though he could finish Marquez whenever he took a fancy to.