In the fifth, Benitez was caught off-balance with his legs spread too wide. He staggered back and broke his fall by placing both gloves on the floor. As Hearns moved in, Referee Octavio Meyran mystifyingly jumped between the two and gave Benitez a mandatory eight-count. The champion just smiled. If Meyran hadn't intervened, Hearns might have ended the fight right there.
Deciding he wasn't going to sucker Hearns into a mistake while resting against the ropes, Benitez switched tactics in the sixth. But by then Hearns had found his range. He began stepping in, firing one shot and then stepping back, reducing Benitez' offensive moves to a series of head-first lunges.
"People talk about Benitez being swift, but he's not," Emanuel Steward, his manager-trainer, had told Hearns. "He keeps his feet flat and too far apart. Keep moving; keep him turning."
In the eighth, Hearns hit Benitez high on the head with a right, and he felt something give in his hand. It's his power hand, the one that dropped 32 of his victims. But when he went back to the corner he didn't mention the pain.
"He never told me until after the fight," said Steward later. "He said he knew I was already too nervous and he didn't want to make it worse for me. I couldn't understand it. He was setting Benitez up beautifully for the right hand, and then he never threw it."
In the ninth Hearns slipped and took a mandatory eight. Pulling back from a Benitez right counter, he got his legs tangled and tripped. Then Benitez stepped on his right foot, and he fell.
"I no hit him," Benitez said. "But as he started to fall I think he try to kick me, so I step on his foot."
After that, Hearns, his right hand useless, kept the lunging Benitez off-balance with the jab. He didn't hit Benitez that much, but then, Benitez didn't hit him at all, mostly because he neglected to punch. Defense as practiced by Benitez is a poetic art, but nobody ever knocked down a wall with a poem.
Just before the start of the 15th round, Gregorio sent his son out with these words of advice, "Just take it easy. You got the fight."
Across the way, Steward was urging Hearns to let it all hang out.