SI Vault
Mark Kram
September 25, 1967
From promotion to fight, it was all very much second-class as ungainly Oscar Bonavena easily beat his inept foe to the punch
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September 25, 1967

A Bean-can Bout In Frankfurt

From promotion to fight, it was all very much second-class as ungainly Oscar Bonavena easily beat his inept foe to the punch

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He was all of this and more in Germany, but the only way this primitive creature could have lost, despite his un-plotted campaign, his disgusting punching and elephantine moves, was on fouls. Three fouls and you lose in Germany, which is why Mueller kept bellowing "foul" at Referee Harry Krause, the man who allowed Floyd Patterson to be mercilessly battered by Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas and then had to recount his scoring. Still, there was nothing anyone could do for Mildenberger.

Bonavena knocked him down with a short left hook in the first round, but he was not hurt badly. Mildenberger was cut on the corner of his right eye in the second, and in the third he slipped and Bonavena raked his head with his heavy hands while he was down. Mildenberger was down again and almost through the ropes in the fourth, this time from another left hook, but no one did any counting. Bonavena lost a point in the fifth for punching low, but even with that Mildenberger could only gain an even round. A right by Bonavena in the seventh over a right hand lead dropped Mildenberger again, this time to one knee.

"God, will somebody please do some counting," Krause screamed.

Mildenberger drove Bonavena up on his heels in the ninth with a sharp left hook (one of the few decent punches he threw in the fight), but the Argentine survived to rip an ungainly right-left combination to Mildenberger's head in the 10th and send him down once more, his head snapping outside of the ropes. Mildenberger was in serious trouble now, and Mueller was on the edge of the ring, seemingly ready to throw his towel in. But Mildenberger got back on his feet, and Bonavena crashed into him with both hands. He then suddenly stopped punching and raised his hands. He thought Mueller was going to stop the fight. It did not matter. The bean can had been rung about 10 seconds earlier.

Two more rounds and this distasteful joke was over. The press gave Mildenberger one or two rounds. Referee Krause scored it 56-48 for Bonavena. His was the only meaningful scoring: no one could take the Argentine or German judge seriously.

Bonavena's victory should not be taken seriously, either. It will provide this Silas Marner of boxing with more money—much more money than he is worth—to hoard, and it will enable him to hang about long enough to make more people miserable. But his victory is a blow to the tournament, which had such an excellent beginning when Jimmy Ellis and Thad Spencer won their quarterfinal matches in Houston. To think of Bonavena in the company of this pair is an obscenity.

The only impressive aspect of Oscar Bonavena is, in a weird sort of way, his physical appearance, especially his feet. Technically, he is an untutored oaf. He seems beyond even meager instruction. Certainly he is reluctant to listen to advice. His punches, badly executed, are an abomination, and his "bottom" or "heart" is quite circumspect when he is in with a professional. But, ah, the physical Oscar. Begin at the feet. His feet are flat and dreadfully gnarled. His ankles seem as big as basketballs. A German shoemaker took one look at his feet and shouted: "Gott in Himmel." Bonavena also does not have any waist, but he does have an ample belly. He looks like a caricature of an Italian tenor. He has a prognathous jaw, kites for ears and tops all this off with Haight-Asbury hair.

It was a rare sight watching him train in Bad Soden, a spa at the foot of the Taunus Mountains. The Germans did not know quite what to make of him here, where Mendelssohn's melancholy flowed out of a window of a once lovely house and where Count Leo Tolstoy, very lean and gray with a long white beard and running from death, his ever-present malaise, came for therapeutic baths. Bonavena, day and night, walked with his gang of squealing Argentines, alarming the old women who hoped he would not present himself at one of their evening concerts in the park.

But that kind of music is not his bag. He is a guitar player, and one evening, while gaping out of a window, he laughed convulsively at the scene before him: the musicians standing rigidly on the stage, the string music wafting dreamily over the night air, the leaves tumbling over the walks, the old men walking with canes, the little kids with long blond hair playing, the poplar and fir trees, and finally the old women tapping forefingers on their knees to the music.

"Crasy, man, crasy," Oscar grunted.

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