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Over the ropes is out
Clive Gammon
August 15, 1977
After 14� rounds of waltzing to a rising chorus of boos, young Wilfredo Benitez suddenly unleashed a flurry of punches that left Jose Chavez just hanging around
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August 15, 1977

Over The Ropes Is Out

After 14� rounds of waltzing to a rising chorus of boos, young Wilfredo Benitez suddenly unleashed a flurry of punches that left Jose Chavez just hanging around

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Clearly Chavez was not feeling bad, although he was plainly hurt around the eyes and forehead. Had he also been bothered by having to lose weight? No, he said, losing the fight was what bothered him. "My problem is my right hand," he said, claiming that a doctor had already diagnosed a break, or at least a crack, in one of the small bones. Because he was preoccupied at the time with jamming ice cubes into the neck of a water bottle with that same hand, the alibi seemed curious. "I punched him in the 15th," Chavez said, warming to his theme, "and I felt the pain in my hand—oof! Then he unloaded on me. Twenty-two punches? Is that what it was?"

The truth is that both men were fighting under the handicap of having to make the weight, and Benitez is determined not to box at 140 pounds again. "I'm growing too much," he said. "I think I'm going to middleweight, even to light heavyweight. Soon I do 160, 164 pounds. Someday I got to fight with a good guy in the middleweights because if I go on like I'm doing now, winning, winning, then I don't have a contender at welterweight. I got to fight at middleweight because nobody can beat me down here." However, there might be at least one bit of unfinished business down there before Wilfredo moves up. One likely match would be with Harold Weston of New York, against whom Benitez fought a draw in February, thereby sullying his perfect record.

In that fight Benitez was the target of criticism for his apparently flippant attitude in the ring, for his Ali-style clowning that cost him the decision. He doesn't plan to clown any more. The only reason he had done it once was to catch a quick rest in the middle of a round, as Ali does. Certainly there was no indication that Benitez was anxious to play the ham against Chavez. And next morning he gave plenty of evidence that he is a very serious character, above all in the respect he feels for his father, who took him back to Puerto Rico, away from the South Bronx and P.S. 124 when Wilfredo was seven. "My father played championship softball." Benitez says proudly, "and my brothers were good baseball players, but the neighborhood was deteriorating. He wanted to get us away from bad friendship."

At home in Puerto Rico, one good resolution seems to have gone by the board—to finish his senior year at high school. "The first people to dissuade me would be the students," he says with every appearance of sincerity. "They would say, 'Look, you'll get a diploma for this or that. But that is all they give you. You have the chance to know life because you have the right work.' Sure, you need a diploma so that you can say, look, I went to high school, I finished. But there are a few I know got As and Bs, and I see them hanging around the streets. Drug addicts...."

Maybe that is just a rationalization. Wilfredo's teachers tell him that he has missed too many classes. They watch him fall asleep in class because he's been out early in the morning, running. In any event, it seems highly unlikely that school will see him again. "What I am doing now," he says, "I have to enjoy it. Because of my youth. There are very few who have it so good."

Even if that means fruit from the refrigerator and early to bed. For the moment, it seems to satisfy Wilfredo.

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