Carlos Monzon: As Remembered by Argentina Tennis Legend Guillermo Vilas
By Scoop Malinowski
Two of the greatest sporting legends in the history of Argentina are Carlos Monzon and Guillermo Vilas. Both ruled their sports in the 1970s – Monzon was undisputed Middleweight champion with 14 title defenses from 1970 to 1977. Vilas became the Number one-ranked tennis player in the world in 1977, the year he won the French Open, the U.S. Open as well as 17 of the 33 tournaments he entered that year (still an ATP record shared with Rod Laver).
I recently had the chance to ask Vilas about his friend, the late, great Carlos Monzon. Here’s a unique perspective of Hall of Fame boxing champion Carlos Monzon as he is remembered by fellow Argentine hero Guillermo Vilas:
“I was good friends with Monzon. I saw him many, many times. Very good guy. Very cool. I like him very much. Very straight-forward. I just got hold of (a video) of his famous fight with (Nino) Benvenuti (when Monzon won the world title by KO 12 in Rome in 1970). First one. Then I got another one of a fighter from Argentina named Nicolino Locche – his fight with Paul Fujii in Japan. I’m a boxing fan. I like it. I always follow a lot of boxing. But Monzon was always very special. Was a very nice guy.”
On the death of the Great Monzon: “And it’s strange how life is…he was going to be free (from jail after the alleged murder of his wife in 1989). And he was trying not to get late to the jail (in 1995 he was granted a weekend furlough to visit his family and kids). So he wouldn’t get penalized with more time. He had to be back at a certain time. He was behind that time, so he was speeding in order to get to the jail early enough, so he was gonna be free, like a week after, or two weeks after. He arrives late and he could get into trouble. And that’s when he had the accident – from other things – the guy on the way to jail in order to be free. And having that was very sad. And then I only went to see him like a week before. Because I knew he was going to be free. Many people talked for him – to let him go out. And then that happened.”
“But he was an amazing boxer. He used to put injections into his fingers, because he hit it so hard that his bones were deteriorating. He had the punch of a heavyweight. It was amazing. He was very tall (5-foot 11-1/2) and light for his weight category. And he had to do those injections because it was very painful when he hit the opponent. He had this amazing timing. He was very accurate. Wherever he get you – just in the body or the middle of your chest – you could see the other fighter was taking very much. Amazing. Amazing sport.”
There were apparently discussions to stage a Monzon vs Hagler superfight: “He tried to come back one time (Monzon retired from boxing on August 29th 1977 at the age of 35). They were trying to convince him to fight Hagler. He was considering. I was talking to him one time, and he was smoking. And I asked him, Do you think you can come back? He showed me the cigarette (and said), I don’t think so [laughs]! He thought that Hagler was a very good fighter, but against somebody who know how to move…(Hagler) was always fighting the same way. If he could get around…Monzon believed Hagler was an easy target at certain moments of the fight – if you were intelligent enough. He said Hagler needed a certain way to get his opening. He knew what it was. (Monzon said) ‘I know how to get him.'”
“Monzon knew his opponents, he knew how to beat them. One fight – with Bennie Briscoe (draw 10 in ’67) – by luck, Briscoe hit him. He told me he didn’t know what was happening for one or two seconds. And Briscoe didn’t know that he was groggy. And I think it was around the 10th round. Monzon said he didn’t see this punch, and he couldn’t see for like one or two seconds. He was out. But he knew he was out, he said he was very conscious at that time.”
Monzon was a serious competitor with an unbreakable will, but he also had a sly sense of humor: “There was a time very funny with Monzon. It was the year that I won everything (1977). And we went to a sports event at the end of the year in Buenos Aires. And he asked me, Now you’re gonna win? And I said, humbly, I don’t know, because there are so many, many good sportsmen. And he hit me on my left arm! It was ridiculous, he hit me so hard it paralyzed me. And he said, I don’t like people who play the idiot. He said, I don’t like guys who play humble. Very funny guy. BAM! I won the trophy and I couldn’t lift the trophy! I say I can not move my arm. Lift it with the other one! Monzon was a very great guy.”
Carlos Monzon retired with a record of 89-3-8 with 61 KO’s. He was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1983. Monzon died instantly in the car crash in 1995. His career wins over the likes of Benvenuti, Briscoe, Jose Napoles, Tony Mundine, Rodrigo Valdez, Emile Griffith make him one of the greatest Middleweight champions in boxing history.