By this time Benvenuti had figured that the way to handle Fullmer's charges was to jab or hook him on the way in—Benvenuti has a respectable left hand—and this he did. There was more clinching, more warning and more debris, but Benvenuti's dancing feet took him out of danger, and it went like that for the rest of the fight, with Fullmer taking only two or three rounds. In the fifth Fullmer bloodied Benvenuti's nose—which cost him the next round as a resentful Nino jabbed and hooked and banged Fullmer's body with rights. Benvenuti himself drew blood from Fullmer's nose in the ninth and opened some old scar tissue above his right eye. At the end there was a cut under Benvenuti's right eye, too, and a previously incurred scar across the bridge of his nose was opened. Otherwise Benvenuti remained singularly unmarked for a veteran.
There was no doubt about the outcome, though an announcer withheld the decision until the ring was cleared of Nino's admirers. When it came—Benvenuti the winner—it was anticlimactic. A glum Fullmer left the ring before it was made official. He was homesick, he said (he had been in Rome only a week), and he was going to get back to Utah as fast as he could.
Benvenuti accepted victory with characteristically debonair joy and was in the mood for a homecoming, too. He has a pretty wife, Giuliana, and two small children in Trieste, where he is registered as a resident though he spends only two months of the year there. The rest of the time he stays, along with five or six other fighters, in an apartment on the fourth floor of a house owned by his manager, Bruno Amaduzzi, half an hour's drive from downtown Bologna.
Despite that sumptuous gym, which is owned in equal shares by Benvenuti, his trainer, Libero Golinelli, and Amaduzzi, the apartment is furnished to the taste of a Spartan, its only decoration a white plastic crucifix over the front door. Before the cleaning woman arrives one is likely to find it littered with towels and trash, including a mass of orange peelings in the sink. Golinelli fighters consume oranges by the crateload. Each morning, before they set out for five miles of rugged roadwork in the steep and snow-clad foothills of the Apennines, Golinelli concocts a syrup that is one-third sugar and two-thirds orange juice, and the fighters gulp it down by the vermouth bottle. "After a few days of drinking this," one of them explained, "you feel strong." Golinelli is a trim 54 and, unlike most American trainers, he does not follow the fighters in a car when they run. He jogs along with them, setting the pace and making sure they do not lag. During World War II he fought with the partisans so effectively that the U.S. Army dubbed him a colonel.
As a successful fighter and businessman, Benvenuti could, if he chose, live in his own apartment or at least have a bedroom to himself in the Amaduzzi dorm. Instead, he insists on sharing a drab room with one or another of the stable and refuses to eat apart from its members. The only difference between him and them is that, because he has no difficulty keeping his weight down, he is permitted to eat his fill of pasta. Otherwise, Benvenuti is just one of the group, which is the way he wants it.
This is democratic, in its way, but perhaps deceptive—Benvenuti is a member of the Movimento Sociale Italiano, which is widely held to be neo-Fascist, though its leaders do not use the nasty word and never invoke the ghost of Mussolini. Benvenuti's membership is considered by his friends to be the result of his family's experiences in Yugoslavia, where, as he says, "it became impossible for Italians to live" after the Communist takeover.
At any rate, last September Benvenuti sat briefly for the MSI on Trieste's city council. He had been nominated against his wishes, and did not campaign, but lost by only a narrow margin in the election. Then the man directly above him on the preferential ballot resigned, and Benvenuti, according to the election laws, had to succeed him.
"I am not a political activist," Benvenuti explained. "I took part in one session of the council and then asked to be excused. It was a funny occasion. I felt more like a boxer than a councillor. The opposition was treating me with deference, which does not often happen. This proves that sport has no flags, and no frontiers. When you practice a sport it is counterproductive to put yourself on one side or another politically."
In all his life Joe Louis never said anything like that. But that is the way Benvenuti talks.
His political connections, limited though they be, probably account for a measure of unpopularity attributed to Benvenuti, though he is not noticeably unpopular at fights. It would be understandable, for instance, in Bologna, which is the Communist capital of Italy, except that Bologna is not understandable. For all their proletarianism, the Bolognese are dedicated to the good things of life, like dinner at Papagallo's, one of the world's finest restaurants, preferably with a pretty woman, a commodity the town does not lack. And the working class of Bologna, despite the color of its politics, turns out one of the truly splendid sports cars of the world, the Lamborghini, a 12-cylinder job capable of 260 kilometers per hour. Prices start at $10,000 for this essentially handmade machine, and now that it is in "mass production," as factory officials put it, they are making them at the dizzying rate of 60 a year.