On this day, 14 January 1979 (Exactly 41 years ago today), Puerto Rican boxer Wilfred Benitez beat WBC welterweight champion Carlos Palomino of Mexico in a 15-round split decision in San Juan, Puerto Rico to become two-division champion at the age of 20.
The 29-year-old Palomino entered the fight as the World Boxing Council and The Ring Welterweight Champion.
The 20-year-old Benitez entered as the WBC’s No. 1-rated welterweight contender. He had previously held the World Boxing Association Junior Welterweight Championship and was still recognized as the champion of that division by The Ring.
Palomino’s purse was $465,000, and Benitez’s was $90,000.
Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated reported:
And so, with both his father and Griffith in his corner, and with both urging him to fight Palomino his way, Benitez went out and tried to be what Griffith demanded of him: the perfect fighter.
In the first round, Benitez showed that he had made up his mind. He went to the center of the ring, as Griffith had said he must, and there he stayed, bobbing and weaving, hands held high, his punches short and crisp. From the waist up Benitez is like the sea, always moving, rolling in waves, hard to find and harder to hit.
But from the midsection down, his stance is extra wide and his feet are always flat, like a puncher’s. It is a curious style, as though half of him were an illusion. Palomino found the style difficult to solve. “I think he’s going to come at me right away with a rush and try to get lucky with one punch,” Palomino had predicted. For four rounds he waited for the rush that never came. Then Palomino decided he had better go to work.
Stepping up his pace a little, Palomino stung Benitez with two right hands midway through the fifth round, and then nailed him with a solid hook to the head near the end. As Benitez backed into the ropes, Palomino chased him. But the bell rang before more damage could be done.
Palomino came back to the corner and told his manager, Jackie McCoy, that his hands felt fine. He had broken the right hand late in 1976, and he had broken the left one in his last title defense against Armando Muniz seven months ago. He hadn’t fought since. But now Palomino decided to really turn it on. It would be earlier than usual, but he didn’t think Benitez had the stamina to survive a furious pace
In the sixth and seventh rounds, however, when Palomino reached back, he discovered there was nothing there. “I don’t know if it was the heat or the long layoff or what,” Palomino said later, “but I couldn’t move the way I wanted to. I was slow. I could only throw one punch at a time; there were no combinations.”
“No zip,” said McCoy. “No spark. No fire. He just didn’t have a thing tonight.”
As Palomino tried to step up the pace, Benitez recalled thinking, “Oh, oh, here he comes.” And a round later he thought, “He hasn’t got it. He can’t hurt me. He’s mine.”
From that moment, the fight was as good as over. Less cautious, Benitez began to punch in combinations, stinging but not stunning. And the jab, the beautiful jab, quick and deadly, was snapping Palomino’s head back time after time.
From the 12th round on, McCoy was telling Palomino, “You’re going to have to knock him out to win.” But it was not to be.
In the last two rounds, knowing Palomino didn’t have enough left to hurt him, Benitez backed to the ropes, and there he planted himself, supremely confident, hitting and being hit. And knowing that within a few minutes he’d be the new WBC welterweight champion.
After fifteen rounds, Benitez was awarded a split decision victory.
Referee Jay Edson and Judge Harry Gibbs scored the fight for Benitez. They had 147-143 and 146-143, respectively. Judge Zach Clayton had the bout 145-142 for Palomino.
Palomino’s record fell to 27-2-3, while Benitez’s record improved to 37-0-1. The sole blemish on Benitez’s record occurred on February 2, 1977, when he fought a 10-round draw against Harold Weston.
After defeating Palomino, Benitez made his first title defense against Weston on March 25, 1979, and avenged the draw with a 15-round unanimous decision victory
Clayton’s score for Palomino was controversial, as most thought Benitez had clearly won the fight. Pat Putnam called Clayton’s score “a shocker” and wrote: “The decision shouldn’t have been close.”
When Clayton’s score was announced, Howard Cosell, who called the fight for ABC-TV, said, “I should like to talk to Mr. Clayton about that.” In his 1986 autobiography, I Never Played The Game, Cosell called Benitez’s performance “one of the most beautifully executed fights that I had ever witnessed.”
Lew Wheaton of the Associated Press wrote: “Benitez had much the better of the fight.”
On this day 14 January 1984 (Exactly 36 years ago today) Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini scored a 3rd-round TKO of Bobby Chacon to retain his WBA lightweight title in Reno, Nevada; Chacon so severely battered he thanks referee Richard Steele for stopping the fight
On this day 14 January 1995 (Exactly 25 years ago today) Vinny Pazienza beat Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Durán in a 12-round unanimous decision in a super middleweight bout in Atlantic City; 2nd time in 6 months Pazienza wears down 43-year-old Duran in a high profile pay-pay-view bout
On this day 14 January 1979 (Exactly 41 years ago today) John McEnroe won his first of 3 season-ending ATP Masters Grand Prix tennis titles 6–7, 6–3, 7–5 against fellow American Arthur Ashe at Madison Square Garden, NYC
On this day 14 January 1993 (Exactly 27 years ago today) Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton blocked 2 shots in a 96-89 win over Seattle SuperSonics to become only 2nd player in NBA history (along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to record 3,000 career blocks.
STORIES: GEORGE MAHAMAH