Lee Groves

10: Best final acts

2. July 30, 1977, Stade Louis II, Monte Carlo, Monaco – Carlos Monzon W 15 Rodrigo Valdez II

For nearly seven years, Monzon reigned over the middleweights with a violent elegance. He fought even taller than his listed 5-11 ½ and his telephone pole-like 76½-inch reach as he broke down opponent after opponent. After being shot in the left shoulder by his then-wife in 1973, Monzon successfully morphed from right-hand bomber to volume-punching boxer-puncher and the results were the stuff of legend – 13 successful defenses and a nearly 13-year, 80-fight unbeaten streak that included nine draws (eight of which were avenged). The only reason he didn’t sweep away all of his blemishes is that the lone remaining opponent – Ubaldo Bustos – didn’t give Monzon the chance.

The WBC stripped Monzon following his February 1974 stoppage of welterweight champion Jose Napoles for failing to fight mandatory challenger Rodrigo Valdez. The Argentine reunified the belts by beating Valdez by unanimous decision in June 1976. Despite enjoying several strong moments, Valdez said his brother’s murder in a bar fight a week before the fight consumed him mentally and that he stilled doubted Monzon’s superiority. When informed of Valdez’s comments, Monzon said, “fine. Let’s fight again in the same stadium and see who’s the best. And by the way, this will be my last fight – win, lose or draw.” This was typical of Monzon’s quietly intense bravado: An all-or-nothing legacy fight against the man who provided one of his sternest challenges.

Following a feeling-out first round that Monzon won with a late surge, the Colombian dramatically swung the pendulum in the second. Opening a cut over Monzon’s left eye, Valdez floored the champ with a wicked right to the jaw. It was only the fourth time Monzon had been knocked down in his 100-fight career and the first time since 1964 when Felipe Cambeiro turned the trick three times in winning an eight-round decision. Monzon regained his feet instantly but another overhand right had the champion holding on tightly. Monzon lasted out the round but the crown that had sat so firmly on his head now was teetering.

Still, Monzon radiated the confidence of a monarch. With his eye cut expertly repaired, he was the one moving forward in the third. By maintaining a busy jab and occasionally following with dangerous rights he kept Valdez at a safe distance and quickly raised a swelling under the challenger’s left eye. Every so often Valdez landed heavy rights but it was Monzon who commanded pace and geography. Monzon always answered Valdez’s single shots with beautifully thrown combinations punctuated with occasional bursts of power. His fans thoroughly enjoyed his dominance, mixing their cheers with chants of  “Argentina” and “Monzon” as their hero peppered away at Valdez.

His command was such that this fight could have been called “Monzon’s 14th Symphony.” All of the lessons learned during his long career came together in one last virtuoso performance and Valdez’s stubbornness in the face of it only enhanced its impressiveness. The proud Colombian never stopped coming and he never surrendered the proposition that he could conjure another bolt of lightning. Nothing, however, would stop the stone-faced Monzon on this day and the judges rewarded his dominance with a closer-than-expected 144-141, 145-143 and 147-144 victory.

Though Bernard Hopkins would break his record of 14 middleweight title defenses a quarter century later, “King Carlos” remains among the top middleweights – and in this writer’s opinion, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters – who has yet lived. Unlike many of his peers, he left an indelible – and positive – final impression.

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