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When the WBC released its June ratings, it was no surprise that Wilfred Benitez, the three-time world champion who last December lost his junior middleweight title to Thomas Hearns, wasn't among the top 20 middleweights. Benitez had fought but once in that class, against unranked Tony Cerda, and while he had won, his performance had been dismal.
Yet last Saturday on a 101� Las Vegas afternoon in the Dunes Hotel's outdoor stadium, Benitez, his body padded to 157� pounds, met Mustafa Hamsho, the WBC's No. 1 middleweight contender, in a 12-round bout billed as a WBC title elimination match. As if Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the undisputed champion, weren't quite capable of eliminating any and all middleweights himself.
It should be noted that one of those whom Hagler had previously eliminated, by technical knockout, was Hamsho, who lasted 11 rounds in October 1981 before departing to have 54 stitches in his face. But Hamsho had won all four of his fights since then, and probably deserved to be the No. 1 contender of both the WBC and WBA although the WBA, ridiculously enough, ranks him 12th. The middleweight division is like Mrs. Hubbard's cupboard: It's bare. It's so empty, in fact, that Hagler's next fight—in November—will be against Roberto Duran, the WBA junior middleweight champion, another no-show in the middleweight rankings.
Benitez' sudden emergence as a leading middleweight contender—a status he retained only until he stepped into the ring with Hamsho—was the result of WBC president Jos� Sulaim�n's intention to play three-card monte with Hagler's title: Now you see it, now you don't. Sulaim�n has announced, " Marvin Hagler apparently has resigned the organization's title."
Hagler has resigned nothing. The world champion has been mousetrapped by a change in the WBC championship rules, which, since the death of Duk Koo Kim in a lightweight title fight last November with Boom Boom Mancini, now limits title fights to 12 rounds. Because Hagler has chosen to fight 15 rounds, which is still the WBA championship distance, Sulaim�n had taken this as an affront to the WBC. Apparently the WBC president considers his no-account organization more important than a highly respected world champion. That brings us to two truths: The fight fan cares about Hagler; and nobody gives a damn about the WBC and its ever-changing regulations.
That, in turn, brings us full circle to Benitez, the 24-year-old former junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight champ. For $150,000 he agreed to fight Hamsho, with, so the story line went, the winner to fight Hagler—assuming he still has the title. For putting his No. 1 ranking on the line, Hamsho was given $250,000. Both camps thought it was found money.
"What have we got to lose?" asked Jimmy Jacobs, Benitez' astute manager, before the fight. "If Wilfred beats Hamsho, then we fight for the middleweight title. If we lose, we'll still be the mandatory challenger to Hearns for the junior middleweight championship."
Al Certo thought Hamsho had an even better deal. Since the sudden death of Paddy Flood on March 28, Certo has been Hamsho's sole manager and trainer. "They are giving us a quarter million for fighting a bum, a myth," he told Hamsho. "You can forget about those three titles, about him being a superstar. That's all media hype. He fought only two good fighters, Sugar Ray Leonard and Hearns, and he lost to both [and lost the welterweight and junior middleweight titles, respectively]. He beat Carlos Palomino, but I think Palomino took the day off. It's going to be a piece of cake."
Since his marriage last January to Elizabeth Alonso, Benitez has split with his father, Gregorio, who had trained him since his first day in the gym, 16� years ago. When Wilfred and his bride moved from Puerto Rico to New York, Gregorio closed his gym in Puerto Rico, but remained there. The father told the son, "You are married and you are a big man now. You know how to walk in New York City."
Benitez selected Victor Machado as his new trainer. Later, Cus D'Amato, who trained champions Floyd Patterson and Jos� Torres, was brought in as an adviser. Benitez claimed, however, there was nothing the two men could teach him. "No, no, no," he said. "You know, my father showed me how to take care of myself when I am not with him. But my father is taking care of business in Puerto Rico. He's doing good. Someday he'll be in my corner again. Never should a son give his back to his father. I trust my father. I believe in him."