Thin sunlight moved across the Atlantic like a weary pelican and came and went through the hotel room. Below, a ribbon of sand was filled with young women just down from half-hour lunches and Saturday night at the movies next to the home-town bookkeeper, women who stared at the Latin men—the ones with eyes of the hunter, hats tipped for romance and hands ready for a stake that will get them back in a domino game or down on a cockfight—and saw only Valentino-Greco dancing toward their tiny slice of sand. Above, in the room, just the whir of a film projector bruised the silence.
But there was another sound, and if you are familiar with the career of Jose Torres, the light heavyweight champion of the world, you could hear it. It was the sound of six violins, two trumpets, two guitars and one bass, a longing, grieving, emotionally romantic sound. Torres has been listening to this sound for a long time now, and it expresses what he feels inside, a bewildering feeling of unfulfillment and rejection. "What do my countrymen want from me?" he asks. He then pauses, and says, "I am the champion."
He is, but few in San Juan, Puerto Rico respect him as a fighter. Once, there and in Spanish Harlem, he was a symbol of all that his people wanted to be, but now the mention of his nickname, "Chegui," brings only an expression of dyspepsia to a Puerto Rican's face. Much of his unpopularity has to do with that long period when Cus D'Amato had him. The Puerto Ricans wanted their symbol to fight, but Cus was not interested in symbols. He picked the spots for Torres. The people picked on Torres.
"How come you no fight?" his people asked.
"I fight," he always said.
"Yes, you fight," they said. "Bums you fight." The words cut deeply.
"Maybe my people have left me, but with this fight I will bring them back to me," said Torres in his room, watching the picture on the wall of Scotland's Chic Calderwood taking an inordinate amount of time to dispose of a popgun named Yolande Pompey.
"Calderwood, he has a good jab," somebody in the room said. Torres, sitting on the bed and wearing a gold, saucer-shaped Catholic medal around his neck, nodded and then yawned. Pompey having been finally cuffed into unconsciousness, the crowd moved into another room in the suite, the floor of which was covered with nickels and dimes.
"It's a Puerto Rican custom," said Trainer Johnny Manzanet. "It brings luck. Everybody who comes in the room throws a nickel on the rug before they leave."
Jose Torres needed neither luck nor much of anything else to earn his $60,000 purse against Chic Calderwood last Saturday night in San Juan's muddy, gnat-smothered Hiram Bithorn Stadium. And if he appeared a trifle uninterested before his third title defense and threw more pap than usual at the voracious Puerto Rican press, it was understandable. Calderwood, personally and artistically, could not sell tickets to a free beer party in a Glasgow pub.