"Cortez is used to fighting big guys," Peltz reports back. "He asked me, 'What's with the shrimp?' "
That's the problem with being bantamweight champ. You don't get no respect. Chandler, 27, is the first American to hold the title since California's Manuel Ortiz in 1950. Latins and Orientals dominate the division, and the WBA keeps threatening to strip Chandler of his title unless he fights second-raters from Seoul to San Salvador.
Chandler has beaten Eijiro Murata of Japan three times in mandatory defenses, twice in the same year. He had to fight the unheralded Miguel Iriate of Panama, and he taunted and teased and tormented Iriate before taking him out in the ninth round. "They put me in the ring with nobodies," Chandler says. "Iriate was a clown, so I did the clowning." Chandler feigned wooziness, threw mock bolo punches and tottered around. "The WBA embarrassed me," he says, "so I embarrassed them."
For some unfathomable reason the three networks, which this year have televised 76 fights in all divisions, have virtually ignored this exciting American champion. The Cortez fight, which Chandler easily won by a decision, was televised by NBC. But only four of Chandler's seven title defenses have been shown on national TV, and his biggest purse has been $200,000, lizard feed compared to what a lot of pretenders are pulling down in other divisions.
Chandler isn't macho, and his punches don't go boom-boom, but he's smart, rarely gets hit and has an effective, quick left jab. "I'm a three-armed fighter," he says. "I'm able to slip in an extra punch with my extra arm."
With nothing much left in the bantamweight division, Chandler has made overtures to his WBC counterpart, Lupe Pintor, for a unification match, but nothing has come of it. And he had hoped to fight Wilfredo Gomez, but the WBC junior featherweight champion moved up to featherweight before Chandler could make his intentions known. "Sometimes I feel like I'm the only bantamweight in the world," he says.
So he had to beat himself. In a non-title fight last July with Oscar (The Boxer) Muniz, Chandler delivered more punch lines than punches. He took the fight on a week's notice when ABC, which needed a replacement for the Eddie Mustafa Muhammad-Michael Spinks non-fight, came calling. Chandler trained for the fight by strolling down the Atlantic City boardwalk in a Groucho Marx disguise. He wanted to see if anybody would recognize him in glasses, a black mustache and a large white nose.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked a woman pushing a baby carriage.
"Rusty Staub?" answered the woman a little hesitantly.
"Guess again," Chandler said, shaking his head. "Guess again."