Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that was ever cooked in hell.“The Heart of Midlothian,” Sir Walter Scott
While often considered a base motivation, revenge is indeed motivation, and often a fantastic one. Argentinian great Carlos Monzón fell victim to his id more than once, and on one of those nights, November 11, 1972, Bennie Briscoe shouldered the weight.
Born in San Javier, a part of Santa Fe, Argentina, Monzón was raised in poverty. One of 13 children, Monzón dropped out of school at the age of 10 to work small jobs. To support his family Monzón delivered milk, and like many other fighters in gritty circumstances, he sold newspapers and shined shoes.
Working away from home at a young age, Monzón learned to fight a style he would later liken to street fighting. On the streets is where a teenage Monzón encountered future trainer, friend and father figure Amilcar Brusa.
Under Brusa, who served as a sort of opiate for the raging Monzón, the Argentine would compile a reported amateur record of 73-6-8. In his final bout he defeated a welterweight named Bienvenido Cejas by decision in five rounds, then turned pro at 20-years-old.
In just over four years Monzón fought exactly 50 times, earning a record of 40-3-6 with 29 knockouts and 1 No Contest. More important than the data, however, was the development of Monzón’s controlling, jab-heavy style. As Monzón learned the craft, it was as if his left hand did too; it became a potent weapon that set much of his offensive work to task, but also one that could end fights if necessary. But nobody knew how Monzón’s linear style would be received by international audiences and how he would fare against better opposition. His promoter, businessman Juan Carlos “Tito” Lectoure, encouraged his charge to reach out and grow as a fighter.
Tallying matters up early in 1967, Monzón had managed to fight outside of Argentina four times: twice against Spaniard Felipe Cambeiro, going 1-1, and two draws with Brazilian middleweight Manoel Severino. Bennie Briscoe was up next.
Briscoe, born in Augusta, Ga., wasn’t exactly dumped into the world with a silver spoon in his mouth either; silverware was hard to come by altogether. Even literacy was a luxury.
A move to Philadelphia guided Briscoe into the confines of the 23rd PAL gym, which would later be Joe Frazier’s headquarters. There Briscoe would amass a 70-3 amateur record, according to a 1963 issue of The Ring. Along the way, “Bad” Bennie competed in a number of regional amateur tournaments before picking up the coveted Diamond Belt at an amateur tournament sponsored by a handful of publications, perhaps most notably the Philadelphia Inquirer, in 1962.
Even early on in his career Briscoe was a grinding, crunching type of fighter, carrying serious power in both hands. He also fought a dangerous inside game that could net an opponent a thumb, low blow, kidney shot or elbow to the mush. After his close loss to Stanley “Kitten” Hayward in December of 1965, for example, Associated Press writer Ralph Bernstein reported Hayward was in such bad shape after winning, he spent a few days in the hospital.
He became a Philly staple, though, as outlined by later opponent Vinnie Curto. “I would’ve had to kill him to win [in Philadelphia]. They’d give him a draw from a stretcher.”
And as a civilian Briscoe was about as real as they come. J. Russell Peltz, legendary Philadelphia promoter, said of Briscoe in an interview with RingTV, “Bennie was one of the guys. He would hang out on the street corner at Broad and Girard with all the pimps and all the drug dealers and all the transvestites and then at the end of the day he’d go to the gym.”
Briscoe couldn’t keep the same pace as Monzón in terms of activity and racked up a record of 19-4 (14 KO) and 1 No Contest over four years. A $7,500 purse coaxed Briscoe, who had only fought outside of Philadelphia once, to Argentina in order to test Monzón. Briscoe, only a few months removed from a loss to former welterweight champion, “El Feo” Luis Rodriguez, halted tough contender George Benton late the previous year. He was tough and he was good, but not so good as to pose a woefully unnecessary risk, from Monzón’s point of view.
According to ringside reports from Estadio Luna Park, Briscoe’s performance was near-mythical. A Buenos Aires publication said Briscoe refused to sit between rounds and turned away water when offered, in addition to giving the already popular Monzón a terrific beating downstairs. Walking through whatever right hand Monzón had to offer, Briscoe kept a stern pace and attempted to overwhelm Monzón when and where he could, but couldn’t pull away with the fight. A report from Sports Illustrated’s Mark Kram years later characterized the contest and boring and tedious, however, with both men jockeying for position rather than throwing with bad intentions.
Whichever was the case, both men agreed beforehand if neither was leading by more than three points at the end of 10 rounds, the fight would be declared a draw. Thus the fight ended a draw, with scores not released to the press.
Briscoe later said getting a draw against Monzón in Argentina equated to winning. On the other hand, Monzón was at least mildly annoyed by his inability to clearly get by Briscoe. Madison Square Garden brass reported Monzón would come to New York and face Luis Rodriguez, but signature legal issues arose and Briscoe filled in instead in December of the same year.
In the next three-plus years, Monzón tabbed 27 more wins and two draws. Lectoure brought in American fighters like Harold Richardson, Doug Huntley and Tommy Bethea to try his man’s mettle, but more slowly than even some of Monzón’s fans would like. Monzón was occasionally booed by Argentinian crowds, sometimes for employing a more cautious style than they preferred, sometimes for looking more vulnerable than they expected. The Ring brought him into the middleweight rankings before nearly dropping him out entirely due to inability to make weight and struggling against a fringe guy or two.
In November, 1970, a lot changed. Giovanni “Nino” Benvenuti, middleweight champion and Italy’s hero, got Monzón to Rome for a crack at the title and quickly realized his folly.
Monzón, a 3-to-1 underdog, simply didn’t care what Benvenuti had to offer, as he raked the Italian in close with his gloves and elbows while Benvenuti looked for referee intervention. The Italian couldn’t handle Monzón’s speed and accuracy.
The Argentine thanked Benvenuti for the $15,000 payday by staggering him in the 1st round and simply never letting up. Monzón was pushed back in rounds 5 and 6 but responded in round 6 by swatting at Benvenuti after the bell. Many of the 18,000 fans, who had broken the record for indoor sports gates in Italy, pelted Monzón with oranges after Benvenuti pushed the challenger in response.
Clearly drained with every absorbed punch, Benvenuti was again rocked in round 7 then took a stand in the 9th, wobbling Monzón slightly. Monzón, no stranger to sea legs or seeing the canvas, pushed through to punish Benvenuti in round 11. Then the Italian was made a mess by a single Monzón right hand in the 12th.
Fans rushed the ring in an attempt to nab referee Rudolf Drust and police intervened just in time, perhaps sparing the new champion an extra few welts. Monzón became a hero in Argentina by disposing of one in Italy.
The world his oyster, Monzón fought twice above the middleweight limit over the next three months before fighting a non-title bout against Jamaican Roy Lee drew 21,000 in Santa Fe. The attendance killed any notion that Monzón hadn’t become a superstar.
Two months later, in May of 1970, Monzón offered Benvenuti a rematch in Monaco, despite that Benvenuti had only dropped a frustrating decision to Jose Chirino in the meantime, tasting canvas in the process. And against Monzón, Benvenuti hit the deck twice before his corner tossed their towel into the ring in round 3. An angry and dejected Nino Benvenuti refused to believe he just suffered his third loss in a row, kicking the towel out of the ring and appearing to beg for the fight to continue. The embarrassing loss also brought Benvenuti’s career to a close.
Monzón subsequently made four title defenses in four countries: Argentina, Italy, France and Denmark. A somewhat thin middleweight division meant the reach of matchmakers needed to be even longer than Monzón’s, as he defended against a musty version of Emile Griffith, Denny Moyer, Jean-Claude Bouttier and Tom Bogs, all by stoppage. It added to his legend, though, even if the defenses weren’t particularly high quality.
“Bad” Benny was still in the back of Monzón’s mind, though. Briscoe hadn’t really gone anywhere, but he had his own difficulty staying consistent; it seemed he was either bruising foes or getting out-maneuvered by them. In the five years since the first Monzón fight, Briscoe tabbed a record of 24-6, with only two of those losses coming against recognizable names in Rodriguez and Vicente Rondón.
But Briscoe signed with future legendary Philadelphia promoter Peltz, whose very first promotion at the venue The Blue Horizon had Briscoe fighting Tito Marshall in the main event. Together, win or lose, Briscoe and Peltz helped usher in a memorable age for Philadelphia boxing, and more specifically, Philadelphia middleweights.
A return bout against Briscoe was initially scheduled for July 22, but Briscoe asked for a postponement as he recovered from hepatitis. Further issues, which were reported as “liver and stomach problems,” pushed the fight, which was rescheduled for August, back even more.
After defeating former European middleweight champion Bogs, Monzón said of Briscoe, “He is the toughest opponent I ever met,” and restated his intent to take on Briscoe again the following October. Benvenuti said of Monzón’s reign after the Monzón-Bogs fight, “There is nothing one can do about it. As long as Monzón’s energy lasts, the world title will be his.”
However, a busy schedule at Estadio Luna Park in Buenos Aires led to another postponement, pushing the fight into November. Not surprisingly, an early November date was scrapped for one a week later, as Monzón was facing assault charges for punching a photographer five years earlier — a recurring theme of trading one bout of vengeance for another.
A few weeks before the fight Monzón did his part with a bit of pre-fight promotion, vowing to take on light heavyweight champion Bob Foster if he beat Briscoe.
Briscoe, apparently understanding he was at a disadvantage both stylistically and in terms of venue, said he knew he needed a knockout to win, telling an AP reporter in Buenos Aires, “…and I intend to do it!” He went on to add, “I hit as well or better than Monzón.” But, “If I don’t win strong and the fight is anywhere near even, with Argentine judges and the Argentine referee, Monzón is sure to be the winner.”
Monzón predicted a win by knockout in 10 rounds, while Briscoe’s trainer Quenzell McCall said, “The only possible way for us to win is by knockout. Here, the judges won’t give a victory on points to any foreign boxer.”
Rather than stalling or out-boxing Briscoe, Monzón smacked the challenger with jabs for being foolish enough to bring a fight to him, signaling early on that he had developed since their first meeting. Backward motion by Monzón only led to combinations and pivots that left Briscoe reaching. Briscoe wasn’t without claws, though, and every so often he reminded Monzón he was there by jabbing with him, banging at his body or raking with hooks upstairs.
In round 5 combinations from Monzón brought the crowd of about 17,000 to life. Monzón unloaded, landing hooks, overhand rights, uppercuts and every manner of poking jab in between. Briscoe didn’t give more than a step or two, but Monzón threw with serious intent. The Philadelphian inched closer to catching Monzón, but the latter’s upper body movement and slippery defense held steadfast. It just couldn’t forever.
Per the United Press, “Briscoe, a veteran Philadelphia left-hooker, caught the taller Monzón with a right cross to the cheek in round nine, sending the champion into a corner, and badly dazed the champion. Monzón threw both arms around Briscoe in a desperate clinch. His eyes rolled and his knees buckled.”
Monzón draped over the top rope from the effects of the right hand and he struggled to last through the round. Experience got the champion to the bell.
After the 9th round, Briscoe refused to sit in his corner, attempting to stay warm following a huge round. In 12 years of competing as a professional fighter, this was his opportunity to slay the beast, and he would not succumb to fatigue.
Except for he would indeed give in. In round 10, despite Briscoe’s enthusiasm Monzón had recuperated, using the ring to stay away and set the distance, his spindly arms safely wrapping Briscoe up in close. Not only did it neutralize Briscoe, but it seemed to sap his will, too, and Monzón grabbed the momentum all for himself.
An AP report briefly described the rest, saying, “With Briscoe tiring, Monzón went on the offensive in the final five rounds, forcing Briscoe back into the ropes or into a corner. In contrast, in the early rounds, Briscoe had moved constantly forward, trying to get through to Monzón’s head and doggedly absorbing punch after punch to the face.”
Not totally content to pile up points, Monzón took initiative in round 13, accelerating his offense about as well as anyone in their 37th minute of fighting could do, and Briscoe took some of his first steps back in the contest. Ever the scrapper, Briscoe fought back in the 14th, possibly winning just enough to call the round his, but not officially. The 15th round saw both men playing out their roles, only as exhausted, dehydrated versions of themselves, making for respectable action.
No question remained that Monzón would triumph, just not without a serious scare. But one judge scored no rounds for Briscoe outright. There would be no argument from Briscoe this time, and he said after the bout, “Monzón’s a great champion. He clearly won.”
In an almost cartoonish display, the Argentinian president Alejandro Lanusse appeared on television to address Monzón, saying, “We were worried in that ninth round,” to which Monzón replied, “That was my worst round since I won the title, but I proved I can take it.”
A motherly quip from Lanusse followed. “You must follow the advice of your corner in a disciplined manner.” Monzón responded, “Well, Mr. President, they told me to attack his body, to grind him down like the others, but I just couldn’t. He was too short, too bent over and too well covered below. He was tough.”
Almost 5,000 of the 22,000 seats were vacant for some reason per AP reports, but the turnout was still an impressive one and Monzón walked away with $100,000. Briscoe more than doubled his take from the first fight with $20,000.
Monzón told reporters after the bout, in the third person, no less, “Monzón’s going to be champion for a good while longer. I’ve got a lot of mileage left.” As it turned out, Monzón had more time remaining than mileage. In a sharp contrast to his early career, Monzón fought only nine more times over the following five years, defending his title eight times.
Only months after the Briscoe rematch, he had been seen publicly with a number of women, and often they donned sunglasses to hide the bruises he gave them. Models, actresses, girlfriends — all were targets. At one point Monzón was even shot in the leg by his wife.
Countless dramas, court cases and scandals passed, usually eclipsing Monzón’s in-ring triumphs. Following a difficult second bout against Rodrigo Valdez, Monzón announced his retirement in 1977.
In 1988, he shoved his then-girlfriend, Alicia Muñiz, off a balcony to her death while vacationing. The following year, he was convicted of homicide and sentenced to prison. While on temporary release from prison in 1995, the car Monzón was traveling in flipped and he was killed.
Briscoe’s career ended rather poignantly in December of 1982 when he told his corner mid-fight, against Jimmie Sykes, that he no longer wanted to do harm to his opponents. Without argument it was all over. Briscoe defeated a number of contenders, popular and not, and kept matters close with near-royalty more than once.
Briscoe was and is regarded as one of the best fighters to never win a world title. 1980s light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who Briscoe defeated in 1975, said of “Bad” Bennie following his passing in 2010, “I respected Bennie and always will. When you fight Bennie Briscoe, you gotta bring your A-game. You can’t come in half-steppin’ and stuff like that. You gotta come right. He was a competitor and a credit to boxing. And a credit to Philadelphia. When you say Philadelphia you right away think of Bennie Briscoe. No nonsense, blue-collar worker. Bennie was the greatest fighter to never win a world title. You gotta take your hat off to him because he fought everybody and not just in Philadelphia. He went around the world.”
Boxing and revenge are old friends. The issue is that boxing is its own revenge. Nobody gets out unscathed. Not the “Bad,” and not the worse.
DISCLAIMER: As the host of the Hannibal Boxing Podcast, I’m a little biased toward the books released by Hamilcar Publications, Hannibal’s literary parent company. But if you’d like to read more about Argentina’s middleweight legend Carlos Monzón and his crimes, order FISTFUL OF MURDER: THE FIGHTS AND CRIMES OF CARLOS MONZON, by Don Stradley.
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