Victor Galindez, the 31-year-old WBA light-heavyweight champion, raised his thick arms. His relatives and handlers from Argentina shouted gleefully. Excited fans in the audience pressed in closer as the photographers' motorized cameras clicked away. Yes, Galindez had not only made the 175-pound weight limit, he had made it with a quarter-pound to spare. After which he hurried out into the hall and savored an empanada, a pastry stuffed with meat and olives.
So much for Galindez' high points last Friday in New Orleans. That night in the Superdome, as part of ABC's Las Vegas- New Orleans prime-time spectacular, he defended his title against Marvin Johnson, a balding 25-year-old lefty from Indianapolis. Johnson outpointed him, outpunched him and finally TKOed him in the 11th round.
It was the second time that Johnson, a bronze medalist at the Munich Olympics, had won a light-heavy title. He took the WBC version from Mate Parlov of Yugoslavia in Sicily last winter but lost it to Matthew Saad Muhammad earlier this year.
To get ready for Galindez, Johnson trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., where his brother, Henry, is a staff sergeant and assistant coach of the boxing team. Their mother, Ruthie, was along to cook steaks, potatoes, black-eyed peas and three kinds of greens.
Johnson is a soft-spoken, religious man, but his pre-fight orations carried a touch of Ali: "I've got youth on my side. I also feel I'm going to win because I'm a better boxer than he is. I am more scientific. Plus the fact that I can do what he does best, which is punch, slug. Stand in the center of the ring and slug—I can do that."
Galindez worked hard, too, melting off the suet by taking long runs beside Lake Pontchartrain—and once startling his entourage by stripping to his trunks at 8:15 a.m. and plunging into the freezing water. After running and doing calisthenics every morning, he kicked a soccer ball around. He worked equally hard in the gym.
This was the champ's 12th title defense (he was 10-1 going in) and, as usual, his weight was the subject of much discussion. It wasn't so much a question of whether he would make 175, but after making it would he have anything more than a featherweight's punch? When he lost his title to Mike Rossman last year (he won it back on April 14, 1979), Galindez claimed that two days in the sweat box had hurt him more than his opponent.
On Friday night he wasn't the charging bull of old. His strategy was to lie against the ropes, cover up and hope Johnson would wear himself out. Occasionally in each round he would spring out and throw a few haymakers, but mostly he kept his gloves in front of his face and peeked out as Johnson banged away. All round the ropes they went, as if there were a snake pit in the center of the ring.
"I got ready for this," said Johnson afterward, "and I was able to punch three minutes a round for 15 rounds. So I knew I could do it with him."
In a sense, Johnson's most effective weapon was his right jab. It wasn't jack-hammer-powerful, but it was bothersome, not so much for any damage it did but because it made the champion change the arc of his fearsome left hook. He had to throw it over Johnson's thrusting right arm, and that took away much of its sting.