When it was all over last Saturday in Monte Carlo, Carlos Monzon gingerly eased the position of his battered body on the rubdown table and permitted himself a small, almost silent laugh. He was still the middleweight champion of the world, but Rodrigo Valdes had forced him to fight 15 punishing and bloody rounds to prove it. At the end, it took a great effort for Monzon just to stand and hear the decision. His face was cut and puffed, his right hand was almost useless. And now, only minutes after returning to his dressing room, he seemed ready at last to give it all up.
The bitter amusement passed swiftly. Monzon seldom shows emotion and he is even more miserly with any sign of humor. "It is done," the now full-time Argentine film star said flatly. "I have done it all. I leave it now to the young fighters."
It is the right time. Monzon has been champion for nearly seven years and he has been undefeated in 83 fights since 1964, but age has started robbing him of his marvelous skills and awesome power. He will be 35 in a few days. His film career is launched; he has $2 million salted away in a New York bank; he owns apartment houses, thousands of acres of ranchland and a Mercedes-Benz agency in Argentina. What does he need boxing for?
"He needs it because he is an animal and he lives for macho," said Rodolfo Sabbatini, who promotes Monzon's fights in Monte Carlo and produces his films in Rome. "He says he is retiring, but next January or February he will call me and say, 'How come you haven't got me a fight? I'm coming back.' By the end of the year eliminations will bring a new champion, and then Monzon will have to fight the man who succeeds him. It's his macho."
Proving his macho has always been Monzon's undoing. Because of fights in the streets he spent a lot of time in jail between the ages of 16 and 26. He was lucky that his manager, Amilcar Brusa, also trained the police boxing team. They say that Monzon was paroled on Saturdays so he could fight as a professional. On Sundays it was back into the slammer. There may be some truth to it. He recently appealed and won a release from another 18-month sentence for assault but reportedly still faces an eight-month sentence on another charge.
"He's got a big file, about 40 arrests," says Sabbatini. "It's not true when they say the best fighters come from ghettos. The best ones come from jail. But that is good. If they didn't lock up those animals, the streets wouldn't be safe for us."
When Sabbatini speaks of Monzon, it is with the curious mixture of amusement and an almost parental pride. With great relish he tells of Monzon meeting Helmut Berger, the German movie star. It was last February in Rome, just after Monzon had completed his most recent film, one aptly titled II Macho.
"Berger was pretty drunk and he sat on Monzon's lap," Sabbatini said. "Then he tried to put his hand inside of Monzon's shirt. Monzon threw him across the room and was going after him when my driver Gino stopped him. Gino is a big guy. He is Monzon's bodyguard in Rome."
To protect Monzon from the adoring public?
Sabbatini roared with laughter. "No, to protect him from what can happen to the public."