SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
September 25, 1967
Middleweight Champion Nino Benvenuti has his Beethoven, Challenger Emile Griffith his apples-peaches-pumpkin-pie mother. In a close matchup, the heavier Italian should win
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 25, 1967

Spiritually Set For A New Go

Middleweight Champion Nino Benvenuti has his Beethoven, Challenger Emile Griffith his apples-peaches-pumpkin-pie mother. In a close matchup, the heavier Italian should win

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Here's the plan. On the evening of September 28 Aldo DiBelardino, who is known as Mr. Di, will drive Nino Benvenuti (see cover) to Shea Stadium to defend his middleweight title against Emile Griffith. Mr. Di is the proprietor of the Villaggio Italia, a resort hotel in Haines Falls, N.Y., in the Catskills, where Benvenuti has been training and which evidently was designed to evoke the old country; for example, a gondola is moored in a little pond, several fluted columns stand about in simulation of ruins and there are bidets in many of the rooms. En route to the stadium Mr. Di will put Beethoven's Ninth on the tape deck. Last April, when he drove Benvenuti to Madison Square Garden for the first Griffith fight, Mr. Di played the Ninth, too. According to Mr. Di, Benvenuti was so affected he exclaimed, "I've already won the tight."

With the possible exception of the Fifth, the Ninth is Benvenuti's favorite Beethoven symphony. "I associate it with all the happy things in my life," he said the other day while, attired in black bikini undershorts, he studied English by the Villaggio pool: The communichezion is not clear. Wai? Bicose. "Particularly," he continued, "near the end of the first movement when the violins come in. It relaxes me."

Benvenuti is not superstitious; the replay is Mr. Di's idea. Nor is Benvenuti in need of tranquillity. "It may not be an easier fight," he said, "but it will be a quiet fight. I have more peace of mind. Before I didn't know what I was going against. Even though I was sure of myself it was an adventure, a mystery. Now it is a reality. Griffith is Griffith. I've seen everything he can do. If he could have done better he would have done so during the fight. He may change, but it will be in a very limited way—fight a little dirtier, be more aggressive, but that's the extent of it."

" Griffith is a guy who tries to confuse, to con, but he doesn't learn from his previous fights," said Libero Golinelli, Benvenuti's trainer, who was reclining on an adjoining chaise, working on his suntan. "He's not an intelligent fighter. Griffith knows only one way, like a horse with blinkers on. Forward!"

" Griffith is always Griffith," said Benvenuti, getting up. "You know, for years I wondered what sort of person I would be when I became champion. I don't see any change in my character. What has changed is other people." He went to the diving board and did a front one-and-a-half, which turned out to be more like one-and-three-quarters, and a back one-and-a-half with much the same result. Then he swam 10 laps in the icy water.

By tradition, fighters are not supposed to swim. The theory is that boxing and swimming make different demands on the muscles, and it is therefore deleterious to indulge in both. For instance, Griffith says that Gil Clancy, his co-manager and trainer, won't even let him "soak a little bit." Golinelli scoffs at this prohibition. "Swimming is a beautiful sport," he says. "It does good for Nino's spirit."

Golinelli, who, among other things, was the jitterbug champion of his division in the Italian army, is very big on spirituality. "In my opinion," he says, "American trainers stay on the old system. But today is not like 30 years ago. You have to go with the times, try to understand the boys of today. You have to attract them with gimmicks or they don't want to work. You have to take care of the spiritual side of a fighter. Thirty years ago fighters were uncomplicated. Now, because they are complicated you have to combat the boredom."

In Golinelli's sense Nino Benvenuti is a very complicated cat. As he says: "Sometimes I have to be reminded to be interested in boxing, because the other activities interfere and I can't resist them. I have to give satisfaction to my own temperament." For example, he recently completed his autobiography, entitled Io Sono. On his night table are three paperbacks: Il Compagno Don Camillo by Guareschi and Pian della Tortilla and Uomini e Topi by Steinbeck. "They're just light reading," he says. "I don't pretend to be an intellectual. I read because I enjoy reading. I'm sorry that I can't paint. I love it. I tried, but.... I have so many paintings—mostly contemporary Italian. After the last fight a friend gave me a Picasso sketch. If I beat Griffith again he will give me another one."

To keep his fighter amused, Golinelli had him train in different settings. First he spent 10 days in the gym in Bologna; then he went to Loiano, 2,325 feet up in the Apennines, for 22 days, which Golinelli says was ideal for "footing" or roadwork; next to the beach at Rimini for five days; the Atlantic crossing on the Raffaello provided yet another change of scene. "On the ship we never used the air conditioner," says Golinelli, who is a fresh-air nut. "We want to breathe the pure air from the sea." Golinelli is also a food faddist; at the moment he has Benvenuti on a yogurt kick. Moreover, Golinelli is an advocate of yoga. At one point in his workout, Benvenuti and the other fighters in camp, who all wear sweat suits advertising Supermercato Mobili, a furniture store, sit in a ring about Golinelli and, at his command, assume four yoga positions. They are supposed to think, Golinelli says with a degree of fervor, of "niente, niente, niente. Yoga," he adds, "reposes the mind and nervous system."

Benvenuti intends to fight Griffith in much the same manner as before. "I will try to keep him far away," he says. "In close he's dangerous with the head." However, Golinelli has several refinements in mind. "Nino was too much with the left hook," he says. " Griffith comes in low so it always went over his head." Golinelli is trying to get Benvenuti to throw a left uppercut to complement the right uppercut he used so well in the first fight and to follow it up with a right hook, a curiously neglected punch.

Continue Story
1 2 3