The speed bag was moving in a rackety-rackety rhythm, constant as the sound of express-train wheels. The hands that were making the bag move were held high, in front of a square, sweating face. They were slipping cute little cuts and turns into the rhythm—two backhand pops instead of one, a cuff with the wrist, a flick with the fingers. Behind the hands the face was bored. The dark eyes rolled up and blinked at the sweat dropping off the eyebrows. The mouth opened in what could have passed for a sigh of weariness. The knees were lifting and the feet were shuffling as if what they wanted to do was march out of that makeshift gym at Kutsher's Country Club in the Catskills outside of New York and carry that dissatisfied face to some happy place where a bowl of linguini and a dish of pistachio ice cream might be waiting. But the bag kept moving in its rackety-rackety rhythm, and the hands that moved it probably are the fastest and classiest hands in the upper society of the boxing world today.
A week from Tuesday night those hands and the shifting, sliding, never-where-you-thought-it-would-be face of Light Heavyweight Champion Willie Pastrano (see cover) will be in the ring at Madison Square Garden for a championship fight against tough Jos� Torres. There will be no boredom in the face then. Willie Pastrano and Jos� Torres, finishing up on a doubleheader card that also matches Welterweight Champion Emile Griffith against Jos� Stable, should put on one of the best fights of the year in any weight. Torres has fast hands, too, and backs them with rattling force. Pastrano, who has been called, unavoidably, Willie the Wisp because of his dancing-ghost style, will need to be at his wispiest to evade the combination punching of Torres, a man who is getting his chance after years of frustration.
With a boxing revival going on at Madison Square Garden—if the recent Ernie Terrell-Eddie Machen frug in Chicago did not turn everybody back to Peyton Place—the two champions, Pastrano and Griffith, will be handsomely paid for their work. Pastrano has his choice of $100,000 or 30% of the net. Griffith has the option of $70,000 or 20%. The challengers, Torres and Stable, will get $10,000 each. The Garden has been scaled for $250,000, with ringside tickets at $30, and last week people were already standing in line at the windows. But most of the purse will come from closed-circuit telecasts at theaters spread around the country. "One fight by itself wouldn't be enough of an attraction for theater TV," said Harry Markson, the Garden's director of boxing. "The two, however, should draw very well. Griffith and Stable are good punchers. In Pastrano vs. Torres we have the classic situation of a boxer vs. a puncher."
Torres, a 29-year-old Puerto Rican, used to draw large and fanatical crowds when he fought as a middleweight at New York's St. Nicholas Arena and Sunnyside Gardens. But his manager, Cus D'Amato, then feuding with the old International Boxing Club, kept Torres out of Madison Square Garden. Torres could not get a championship fight, although he met and soundly whipped some of the best young fighters around, among them Al Andrews, Benny Paret and Randy Sandy. In 27 professional bouts Torres knocked out 21 fighters; he never lost, and he was never knocked off his feet. But with few fights, and none of those of any real moment, Torres became discouraged. In May of 1963 he was knocked out by Florentino Fernandez and woke up broke. Then he met Cain Young, a Brooklyn real estate dealer, and found a friend and sponsor. Torres became a 170-pound light heavyweight. Cain Young offered a $10,000 guarantee to Bobo Olson—at the time the No. 3 light heavyweight contender—for a fight at the Garden last November. Torres knocked out Olson with a dizzying combination of punches in the first round and thus earned his shot at Pastrano's title. To get the fight, however, Cain Young had to guarantee Pastrano's purse.
Pastrano and Torres have somewhat similar reputations when it comes to training. Neither of them likes it. Both prefer city lights, good food and entertaining companions. The necessary discipline of a training camp is repulsive to the laughing Torres and the epicurean Pastrano, who was raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans by Italian and Spanish parents.
"But I am training to fight 20 rounds," Torres said last week at his camp in the Stoneybrook Hill Club in Hillsdale, N.J. "I'm training harder and longer than I ever have in my life. I feel better now because I don't have to strain to be a middleweight on the scales."
Pastrano's ability as a master boxer means Torres must prepare for a great deal of movement if he is to locate his target. Pastrano protects his head very well. He has never been knocked out and has seldom been cut. Pastrano did lose to Heavyweight Brian London after suffering a deeply cut eyebrow, but he insists the blood was started by a butt, not a punch. It is reasonable, then, that Torres may attack Pastrano in the body to try to open a path to the head.
"I am working on infighting more than usual," Torres said. "I think I know what Pastrano will do. He will press me, try to discourage me. He knows Fernandez beat me by pressing me, and Gomeo Brennan gave me a good fight by pressing me. But Fernandez lost every round to me until I lost the fight in the fifth round. And I know Terry Downes did very well hitting Pastrano in the body until Pastrano knocked out Downes in the 11th round. In the movies I saw, Downes won nine rounds with body punches and getting inside."
D'Amato, who is training Torres although Cain Young is now Jos�'s manager, does not believe there is a boxing gap between his man and Pastrano, despite the champion's admitted excellence. "You may think this is a peculiar statement," D'Amato said, "but Torres will outbox as well as outpunch Pastrano. Jos� has a better left hand than Pastrano. Is that crazy? It's true. Take away Pastrano's left jab and you remove his major weapon. He will get disgusted. Like taking the bullets out of a gun. Jos� can take the left jab away by beating Pastrano to it. Jos�'s jab does damage. It's like a punch, not a flick. Jos� is a fine body puncher and has tremendous combinations. He can throw a five-punch combination in such a short amount of time that I hesitate to speak of it. People would think I'm lying."
In his last fight Torres hit Olson a left hook to the kidney, a right cross to the jaw, a left hook to the jaw and a right Uppercut to the jaw faster than you can say Heinie Manush. Olson did not have time to wave good night before he was on his way down and Torres was on his way up to a party in Harlem. At least, that seemed to be the combination. Torres himself felt that was how it was. But D'Amato says that was only half of it.