"I was flattered when Wilfredo demanded that I train him," said Griffith, a usually gentle man who has been pushed to some volcanic eruptions by the elder Benitez. "Wilfredo said he wouldn't fight unless I was in his corner. So I came. I love the boy. There's, not too much I can teach him, but I have a job and I want to do it well. It's not for the money and it's not for the fame. I've already made my fame."
For Palomino, Griffith shortened and sharpened Wilfredo's punches. He planned a brilliant defensive fight from the center of the ring.
"No knockdowns," he ordered. "Don't go for a knockout. Palomino is a dangerous one-punch fighter. He can hit. He is dangerous. He punches over punches. Keep your hands up and fight to go the distance. Be sharp. If you listen to me, you will win."
Gregorio thought Griffith's plan was sheer nonsense. "All Griffith does is tell him about how it was when he was champion," he scoffed. "Wilfredo doesn't listen to him. He only listens to me."
Griffith was patient. Because he didn't want to hurt the son, he had to stand mute against the father. Each day he would go to the gym behind the Benitez' home in a San Juan suburb, quietly do the job his self-respect demanded, and then return to his hotel in the city.
"I tell him he is good but he must get better," Griffith said. "I don't always compliment him. I tell him he's got to do better. I want a perfect fighter. I got this from my manager, Gil Clancy. I never satisfied him. Once I fought what I thought was a most beautiful fight. I was elated. 'Wasn't I good?' I asked Clancy. He said, 'You're not bending your knee enough.' He said, 'That guy could have got you. You're good, but you must be better.' That's what I tried to do for Wilfredo. Since he won that first title he got a little cocky. That devil! So sometimes I have to pretend to get very angry with him. Then he listens to me."
And so, with both his father and Griffith in his corner, and with both urging him to fight Palomino his way, Benitez went out and tried to be what Griffith demanded of him: the perfect fighter.
In the first round, Benitez showed that he had made up his mind. He went to the center of the ring, as Griffith had said he must, and there he stayed, bobbing and weaving, hands held high, his punches short and crisp.
From the waist up Benitez is like the sea, always moving, rolling in waves, hard to find and harder to hit. But from the midsection down, his stance is extra wide and his feet are always flat, like a puncher's. It is a curious style, as though half of him were an illusion. Palomino found the style difficult to solve.
"I think he's going to come at me right away with a rush and try to get lucky with one punch," Palomino had predicted. For four rounds he waited for the rush that never came. Then Palomino decided he had better go to work.