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Martin Kane
February 14, 1966
Italy's unbeaten middleweight Nino Benvenuti laid his big vocabulary aside for 12 rounds last Friday and gave Don Fullmer a lesson in boxing semantics the rough, tough American would be happy to forget
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February 14, 1966

A Jab From The Intellectual

Italy's unbeaten middleweight Nino Benvenuti laid his big vocabulary aside for 12 rounds last Friday and gave Don Fullmer a lesson in boxing semantics the rough, tough American would be happy to forget

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Benvenuti is a more ardent businessman than politician. He has an interest in a Bologna aluminum foundry and owns an insurance agency in Trieste, plus his share of the gymnasium. Recently he was paid $13,000 to appear in four television commercials for an Italian brandy. In one of the skits, out of several that appear one after the other on a 10-minute program called Carosello, Benvenuti plays a James Bond character embroiled with a mad scientist. He leaps about the laboratory with a machine gun spitting away, karate-chops an opponent, electrocutes some pursuers and winds up the affair drinking the sponsor's brandy with a partly dressed blonde. He is at least a better actor than Rocky Graziano, and handsomer, too. Recently, however, he turned down a $32,000 offer to sign a movie contract. Boxing is on his mind now, and he does not even contemplate an acting career after he quits the ring.

"Now I'm a champion," he explained, "and that's why I'm in demand as an actor. The day I step down, or get beaten, the people who cheer me now might turn against me. Who would want me as an actor then? I'm certainly not a great natural actor. You've got to study acting for years to be a good actor, just as you've got to practice fighting for years to be a good fighter. If I start doing too many things I'll start doing them all badly."

Benvenuti's formal education stopped just short of college, but he did not stop studying. At present he is reading Voltaire. Among books he has liked is Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea.

"It's a great book," he said. "Only a great writer could base a whole book on just an old man's thoughts, with no other characters than a boat and a swordfish."

He likes film soundtrack music particularly, he says, because "it is varied and has impetus." "Impetus" is another sample of the techno-intellectual language he often uses, in a conversational style that tends to be epigrammatical. ("Literature is a teacher of life, even more than education is." Or, "no generation can understand the one that preceded it or the one that follows it. To understand rock 'n' roll and to understand cubism are for two different generations.") Other fighters call him "The Intellectual." And he carries that off better than Gene Tunney ever did.

The Benvenuti family was quite poor when it moved to Trieste, but it is moderately prosperous now. Nino's father owns a retail fish market there and two 40-foot fishing boats that operate in the North Adriatic. It had been his father's ambition to be a boxer but Nino's grandfather knocked that notion out of his head. So the father decided to realize his ambition through his sons, one of whom, Dario, has just turned professional and tends to resemble Nino. Nino started boxing at 11 and in two years was engaged in actual bouts. To get to a match he would pedal his bicycle 20 miles from his birthplace in Isola d'Istria, a town on the northern Dalmatian coast, to Trieste, then back again after the match. Over the years he evolved a style all on his own, and it is impressive.

To Golinelli, who has been his trainer for the past year and a half, Benvenuti has no outstanding trait as a fighter.

"His greatest talent," Golinelli said after a sparring session in which Benvenuti displayed an eagerness to bang to the body when in close, "is not one thing but a combination of qualities. He is not a particularly deadly puncher or exceptionally strong but he does have a good punch, he is strong and he is technically good. He has nervous energy. That is perhaps his outstanding quality. Dick Tiger is physically stronger. Benvenuti's strength comes from this nervous energy."

Golinelli also said that Benvenuti has a "dry, nervous punch." Anyway, that's the way it came through in translation.

For the past year Benvenuti has been working on building himself up so that he can claim to be a true middleweight. It has worked, and at the age of 27 he has achieved his peak of physical maturity. His shoulders are wide. His arms and shoulder muscles are without excessive bulges and convey a sense of speed. His hips are insubstantial. If he is unimpressive in any way, it is because of his thighs, which are almost skinny for a fellow who has done so much bike-riding and roadwork.

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