Joltin' Jeff Chandler rolls a red-hot cherry gumdrop around in his mouth and tries to think big. He has been the WBA bantamweight (118 pounds) champ for 2½ years, and in a few hours on this day last July he'll move up temporarily to the super bantamweight (122-pound) division. For now, he's watching a monster movie in his Atlantic City hotel room. The monster on the screen grows larger and larger. Chandler gets inspired. "When the lizard guy came out of the jelly, he was the size of one of my toes!" Chandler says. "Now they're sending planes, tanks, helicopters at him, but he just smacks everything out of the sky and throws big pieces of wall at them. Wow." "Wow" is the operative word in Chandler's vocabulary.
By the time he gets to the weigh-in, he thinks he's the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Forget about his opponent. Hector Cortez, a 33-year-old from Ecuador. Chandler is ready to take on the 101st Airborne.
"I am the Lizard Guy," he shouts. Chandler pounds on his chest like Tarzan of the Weightwatchers. He puffs, snorts and stares down Cortez like a freeze-dried Muhammad Ali. He's got the errant charm of a guy in the 56th minute of a happy hour.
"Cut it out, Becky, I mean Jeff," says Russell Peltz, the promoter. "Becky?" the Lizard Guy says incredulously. "The man calls me Becky? Aw, shucks!"
Becky is Chandler's pigtailed manager, "K.O. Becky" O'Neill. A lot of people think she's a midget. "I ain't a midget," she explains in a voice that sounds like a pair of mating cheese graters. "I'm a Jewish pixie. Midgets are three-foot-five. I'm four-foot-eight."
Chandler, who's 5'7", feints and shadowboxes in the direction of his 5'9" foe. "Lemme at him," he roars as Becky does her best to restrain him.
"That's enough of these antics," says Roy Johnson, the New Jersey deputy boxing commissioner. "Jeff, you're a champ. Act like one. If you don't, I'm gonna cut 10 percent off your purse."
The Lizard Guy looks ready to hide under a rock. "Wow!" he whispers to K.O. "I'm a big fighter, and he wants me to be a quiet little boy. If I was Ali...."
"You're not," says his trainer, K.O.'s husband, Willie O'Neill.
Chandler bites hard on his lip. But soon he returns to the psych-out routine. "Gonna take Cortez' eyes out," he says, less forcefully. Chandler wants to find out how Cortez is holding up.