Obituary: Carlos Monzon

Carlos Monzon, boxer: born San Javier, Argentina 7 August 1942; died Santa Fe, Argentina 8 January 1995.

Carlos Monzon, one of the greatest middleweight boxers in history, spent the last five years of his life serving a jail sentence for the murder of his lover, Alicia Muniz.

When he died, driving down a road near Santa Fe, in Argentina, on Sunday, Monzon was out of prison on a permitted home visit. His car left the road and he was killed, but the exact circumstances are at present unclear, just as much of his life, most notoriously the incident which led to his incarceration, was mysterious.

Monzon was a hard, violent man. After he was found guilty of killing Muniz, he said, "Me and my bad temper are the ones really responsible. Yes, my bad temper." Yet he was an extraordinary athlete, one of the leading sporting figures of his generation. In the ring he was grim, expressionless, cold, his personality understated. Outside it he was usually jovial, always the centre of attention, readily quotable. Even when he was in jail writers travelled to interview him.

Recently the film star Mickey Rourke, while on location in Argentina, met Monzon and took a crew with him to film the occasion for posterity. Rourke's reputation in the entertainment business is that of a hard man, but either he believed his own publicity, or being a tough guy in showbiz wasn't enough for him. He won some novice professional fights, and appeared to consider this a common bond with Monzon. He felt moved to swap boxing stories with the former champion - and eventually persuaded him to take part in a sparring session in the prison gym. Filmed, of course.

It was a brief, extremely nasty, and embarrassing experience for the actor. A single blow left him unconscious on his back. The film crew sold the stills.

Monzon was born one of 12 children of Indian stock in San Javier near the city of Santa Fe in 1942. As a boy he sold newspapers, shone shoes and delivered milk, but his mean streak erupted more than once. Once he was jailed for starting a riot at a football match, another time for brawling on a bus. He ran a string of whores. Eventually, police interest persuaded him to flee to Brazil.

Somehow, he emerged from this chaos as a middleweight boxer of the very highest class. He was deceptive and cunning. He appeared to do nothing exceptionally well, and yet dealt with every world-class opponent who was put in front of him until his retirement as undisputed champion in 1977. He lost only three points decisions, all before the end of 1964, and he was unbeaten in the last 82 of his 102 professional fights.

He won the middleweight title in Rome in 1970 by outpunching the Italian playboy Nino Benvenuti in 12 rounds. Monzon was fuelled by an incident at the weigh-in in which he claimed Benvenuti "touched my ass". "I looked at him and thought, `Tonight I will kill you.' When the referee stopped the fight he was correct. That night I would have killed Benvenuti."

In Latin America Monzon was an instant hero. And he stayed that way for the next 18 years. "Monzon was always Monzon," the Argentine boxing writer Carlos Irusta said. "Living in the fast lane, attending parties, driving a Mercedes, always the centre of attention in magazines and on television programmes."

Benvenuti was knocked out by Monzon in round three of a chilling rematch in Monte Carlo, and others, the best men of the generation, followed. Monzon beat Emile Griffith (twice), Denny Moyer, Jean-Claude Bouttier (twice), Tom Bogs, Bennie Briscoe, Jose Napoles, Tony Mundine, Tony Licata and Gratien Tonna.

In 1974 the World Boxing Council withdrew recognition of Monzon on a technicality and installed their own champion, Rodrigo Valdes of Colombia. Monzon retained the approval of the rival World Boxing Association - and the sporting public. In 1976 in MonteCarlo they met to settle the argument in one of the peak moments of the boxing decade. Monzon won a classic struggle on points, and did so again in a rematch in July 1977.

But he felt he was fading at the age of 34 and retired. Every afternoon he could be found in La Cuyantina bar, in Buenos Aires, playing cards with a group of old men. Night time found him in a club somewhere.

There were two women in his life before the ill-fated Muniz. He married Beatriz Garcia when they were young, but their volatile relationship ended when she shot him. He carried one of her bullets in his back for the rest of his life.

Garcia was followed by an actress, Susanna Gimenez, and then came Alicia Muniz, whom he met at an airport in 1979. Their relationship was as stormy as his others, although they had a son, Maximiliano, in 1981, and Monzon declared happily, "This is the beginning of a new life for me."

But at around 5.30am on Valentine's Day 1988, at his house in Mar del Plata, Monzon's temper got the better of him. Muniz, 32, toppled from the second-floor balcony and died of massive head injuries. Monzon fell, too, but merely injured an arm.

He claimed it was an accident, but medical tests proved Muniz had received substantial injuries to her neck and was unconscious before she hit the ground.

On 3 July 1989, in a courtroom jammed with 1,000 onlookers, with thousands more milling outside, three judges handed down a unanimous guilty decision. He was jailed for 11 years.

It was a sentence he was destined not to complete.

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