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Rodolfo Sabatini, a former boxing writer for a Communist daily in Rome, paused one day last week to speculate about his latest adventure in free enterprise. "This one," he said of the fifth world championship fight that he was staging in Monte Carlo, that glittering citadel of Capitalism-by-the-Sea, "will be very special. Very close. Very artistic in a violent sort of way."
Though boxing promoters are not above trading prophecy for profit, there was no reason to doubt Signor Sabatini. Not even when he boasted that the match between Argentina's Carlos Monzon and Colombia's Rodrigo Valdes would be the richest and most historic middleweight bout ever held on the Continent.
By any measure the encounter between Monzon and Valdes was the rarest of events, a fistic spectacular that lived up to its billing. The combat sensationnel was perhaps best dramatized by Le Figaro, a Paris newspaper that foresaw the fight as a showdown between two legendary gun-slingers. So it seemed, if only because Monzon in action bears a startling resemblance—high cheekbones, long spiky hair and a chilling, stoical gaze—to Charles Bronson, the perennial Hollywood hit man. And while Valdes practiced his scatter-gun attack, Monzon, whom Sabatini calls a "potential killer," was as selective as a sniper waiting to squeeze off his deadliest shot. When it came, rattling out of nowhere in the 14th round, it felled Valdes for a few reeling moments and ruined his bid to salvage the fight. The unanimous decision in Monzon's favor was that close.
Few of the ringsiders who paid 1,000 francs ($212) for a seat, a record high for a non-heavyweight bout, felt that a pair of heavy hitters like Monzon and Valdes would go the distance. In fact, both combatants predicted a knockout within 10 rounds. Monzon said, "I'm going to send Valdes back to Colombia looking like he was run over by a locomotive." Valdes, alluding to Carlos' budding career as a leading man in Argentine movies, promised, "I'm going to bash in his pretty actor's face." On second thought, Monzon replied, "I think I'm going to let Valdes last 15 rounds. That way I can watch him bleed slowly until the end."
So went the hype. As for comic relief, that was provided by a pair of rival governing bodies that periodically do their imitation of JoJo the Two-Headed Pig. In 1974 the World Boxing Council stripped Monzon of its version of the middleweight title for allegedly ignoring its dictates and subsequently crowned Valdes. That left Monzon the King of the World Boxing Association, Valdes the Monarch of the WBC—and Sabatini the guest Wizard of Monaco, a nation half the size of New York's Central Park.
Not that anyone really cared about the titles. What mattered was that Monzon, 33, had not lost a fight in nearly a dozen years, an amazing 80 straight victories in all. For Valdes, 29, the record was 26 consecutive wins over the last six years. Clearly, this was a match that was almost preordained—and the alphabet bureaucracy be damned.
But red tape is easier spun than undone, a messy chore that consumed Sabatini for more than a year. "Usually," he said on the eve of the fight, "we hold our title matches in Monte Carlo the week of the Grand Prix, but now we don't need their help at the gate. Car people, Les Hippies. They are, you know, strange."
If so, then Sabatini's operation might best be described as quaint. Holding forth in a great rumbling wheeze, he ran the "Super Middleweight Championship of the World" from an open phone booth in the dim lobby of a tiny hotel far from the distracting sounds of sea and slot machine. Gesturing effusively with a bandaged hand that he had injured in a wee-hour fall, Sabatini himself might have passed as some kind of one-armed bandit gathering in the day's take. Informed one morning that Monzon had called Valdes "a paper fighter, a poor little Negro who won't last even eight rounds," Sabatini roared, "Ha, Carlos is not exactly the Great White Champion. He's an Indian."
And then he ordered two more rows added to the sold-out ringside section.
"I could promote this match in, say, Paris," Sabatini said, "and draw 40,000 people instead of 10,000, but in Paris they have taxes and here they do not. When you are paid 1,000 francs for a ticket in Monte Carlo, you get 1,000 francs."