The first mistake
the Parisians made was to let one of their airports lose the luggage of Harold
Conrad, the New York boxing entrepreneur who likes to think that if he stood
next to Beau Brummell, people would start straightening Mr. Brummell's tie.
When his bags dropped out of sight in the jabbering acres of the Orly arrival
building, Conrad was stuck with the same gray wool shirt for two days. He wore
it like a leper's bell, and by the end of the second evening his habitual
tributes to the city were having trouble getting past his grinding teeth.
"Yeah," said a sympathizing friend, "if these guys were going to
lose something, maybe it should have been Monzon."
The man was
anticipating the locals' second mistake, which was to persuade themselves, by
self-hypnosis at its most convincing, that Jean-Claude Bouttier was France's
greatest martial hero since Charles de Gaulle and fit to be in the same ring as
Carlos Monzon, the middleweight champion of the world. It was indeed
unfortunate for French pride that no one at the airport thought of mislaying
the Argentine visitor, for Bouttier scarcely belongs in the same country as
Monzon, let alone inside the same ring.
This is not to
say Bouttier was disgraced. He fought as he had trained—with resolution and a
sense of responsibility toward those who had let affection and loyalty
overwhelm judgment to the point where they shared his quixotic dream. But there
was never any serious likelihood that this former butcher boy from northern
France could vindicate the most aggressive of the banners flourished at
ringside in the Stade Colombes on Saturday night: BOUTTIER—LE BOUCHER,
MONZON—LE MOUTON, it said.
Monzon is the
kind of lamb to make wolves seek other employment. He is tall for a
middleweight, only an inch short of 6 feet, with a torso that is compact rather
than dramatically muscled. His reach is exceptional, but the slim arms do not
give that impression of dangling limpness seen in lesser fighters. There is
frightening strength in the elasticity of those long muscles, and the whole
body has the kind of fundamental power that is deeply embedded in his inherited
physiology. He has learned much in his nine years as a professional (not the
least being the value of using a refined left jab to open the way for the
thunderous cross fire of his hooking), but the qualities that set Carlos Monzon
apart were given to him in the womb.
Technically he is
not difficult to fault. He stands up straight, so that his rather long neck
puts the handsome head well above the line of his shoulders. "Like a
lantern in a storm," said a veteran American critic at Colombes. The answer
is that pedantry is for those who need it. Monzon's method is related to
profound confidence, the conviction that he has the animal authority to
dominate almost any man they put in front of him. He has never been knocked
down and, as someone once said of Marciano, he finds it hard to forget how
strong he is. It shows in his eyes. They look out over the high, molded
cheekbones with relaxed steadiness, following the opponent with a gaze that is
thorough but dispassionate. The insistence on hunting by sight like a
greyhound, the refusal to fight by Braille, gave Monzon a huge advantage over
Bouttier. It was a major irony that the Frenchman should be retired on his
stool between the 12th and 13th rounds because the vision of his left eye had
been badly flawed by Monzon's thumb. A couple of instances of thumbing were
discernible, and by the end of the 10th round Bouttier was already blinking
confusedly out of his left eye. The irony lay in the fact that while he had
full vision, he made poor use of it.
European title had been won by controlled attacking. The emphasis then was on
the systematic application of an economical and impressively vigorous right
cross and some reinforcing skills—particularly a maturing left hook—that he had
acquired on regular study tours of gyms in the U.S. But on Saturday all that
gave way to blind lunges, attempts to launch himself, head down, through the
violent ambush of Monzon's long arms. His regular reward was to find himself
looking at the floor and seeing stars on it. The explanation of this haphazard
impetuosity was cruelly simple: Jean-Claude Bouttier, fighting for the big one
in front of 35,000 of his own people, feeling their will welling up in the soft
Paris night, was cripplingly overawed. At first the effect was to stun him into
a condition close to paralysis. He listened to the introductions with his eyes
closed and boxed the first two rounds like a somnambulist, his lips moving
nervously as if making a running commentary on a black dream.
Monzon did not
trouble to probe for targets. He walked in with the same unhurried stride he
uses on the street, and as he swung he had the air of a man who felt the only
risk he ran was of being bored. When Bouttier's spirit reoccupied his body in
the third round, the Argentine was obliged to show more concern. Even so, he
took enough sharpish rights and firm left hooks to persuade many at ringside
that it was Bouttier's round. There was probably only one other, the ninth,
that could be seen that way—but it is the sixth that will be remembered.
Through the fourth and fifth Monzon stood above Bouttier's groping crouch and
slashed him with hooks, and when the bell sent them out again, the same pattern
developed, with Bouttier staggering along the top rope as if it were the rail
of a pitching ship. Then suddenly Monzon was caught by a left hook that carried
the weight of the Frenchman's thick shoulders, the leverage of his steadying
legs. Monzon was hurt, perhaps in some slight danger, but his intimidating
power of recovery was again immediately evident, and he came back to punish
Bouttier painfully. Yet it was when trying a retaliatory punch that the weaker
man reeled backward on his heels and, helped by a light blow from Monzon, took
a mandatory eight count. Astonishingly, Bouttier managed a further rally, shook
Monzon before wrestling him to the floor, took another battering when the
Argentine rose, and was still there throwing punches several seconds after the
bell. That round should be preserved in a war museum.
followed had to be anticlimactic. It was, brutally so for the suffering
Frenchman. But the fight went on until finally came the cryptic announcement of
retirement on the very brink of the 13th, a happening as startling as a splash
of cold water. Bouttier, the 27-year-old country boy who had been asked to
bring back the championship France last held with Marcel Cerdan in the 1940s,
had quit on his stool. But, as they learned that there was to be a hospital
examination on Monday to check the possibility of damage to the retina, few of
his countrymen were inclined to condemn him.
The physical harm
that may have been done to Bouttier could be the lesser result of the defeat.
He is a warm, instantly engaging young man with the virile looks, intelligence
and individualism to make him at once an idol of the masses. But he readily
admits that he is deeply emotional, and no one can be sure about the effect on
such a sensitive person of being thrust beyond his limitations. There were
hints of a mounting awareness of his situation as he prepared to meet Monzon,
and at the weigh-in one could almost see him contract under the clamping
pressure. That ritual was conducted in a tiny, cheaply ornate cinema in the
foothills of Montmartre. The place, smelling of worn carpets and disinfectant,
was crowded on the one side by fans and temporary fugitives from the streetside
caf�s, on the other by promoters and agents from all over the world who had
come with their stockyard gaze to scrutinize Bouttier. The tension that showed
then was multiplied as he walked toward the bright square of the ring later
that day. On that second occasion his eyes were moist.
He was moved too
much by the thought of what he was about to do. Equally, in the future
Jean-Claude Bouttier may be moved too much, too hurt-fully by the knowledge of
what he cannot do.