Wilfred Benitez vs. Carlos Palomino

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1979-01-14 : Wilfred Benitez 146 lbs beat Carlos Palomino 146½ lbs by SD in round 15 of 15

Turmoil in the Benitez Camp

Benitez's father, Gregorio Benitez, who had managed and trained his son from the beginning of his career, sold Wilfred's managerial contract to Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton for $75,000 in 1977. The following year, Jacobs hired former welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith to train Wilfred. Gregorio was not happy with the hiring. "You may be his manager now, but I'm still his trainer," he told Jacobs. "You can both train him," Jacobs responded. The arrangement did not go smoothly.

For Palomino, Griffith planned a defensive fight from the center of the ring. "Don't go for a knockout," Griffith instructed. "Palomino is a dangerous one-punch fighter. He can hit. He is dangerous. He punches over punches. Keep your hands up and fight to go the distance. Be sharp. If you listen to me, you will win."

Griffith didn't give Wilfred many compliments during training. "I tell him he's got to do better. I want a perfect fighter," Griffith said. "I got this from my manager, Gil Clancy."

Gregorio thought Griffith's plan was sheer nonsense. "All Griffith does is tell him about how it was when he was champion," he scoffed. He said Wilfred "doesn't listen to him. He only listens to me."

Griffith trained Wilfred at the gym behind the Benitez home in a San Juan suburb. He tried to avoid confrontations with Gregorio. Each day, Griffith would quietly work with Wilfred and then return to his hotel in the city.

The Fight

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.

Controversial Scorecard

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."

Reflecting on the fight in a 2006 article, Michael Katz, who covered the fight for the New York Times, wrote:

I watched as the self-proclaimed "Bible of Boxing" put on a clinic. The art of self-defense was never more pervasive. The masterful Benitez won at least 12 of the 15 rounds, I figured. Then they announced a split decision. The crowd moaned. . . . Now, there are some ring officials of whom the late Frankie Carbo – the mobster who pretty much ran boxing in the Fifties – would say, "See that guy? I can buy him for a cup of coffee." I’m not saying Clayton was one of these. I’m not saying he wasn’t, either. After the Benitez fight, I confronted the Philadelphian who was better known as a referee. I demanded that he explain his strange scorecard. "You’ve got to count body punches," he said. Palomino was a fine body-puncher, but in this fight, Benitez landed most of those shots. His elbows took care of Palomino’s. I pressed on with the interrogation. Finally, Clayton said, "Well, the sun was in my eyes."

Bob Arum, who promoted the fight, was furious over Clayton's score. "Nobody in their right mind could have scored that fight for Palomino," he said.

Arum accused rival promoter Don King of trying to fix the fight. "We had heard rumors that Zach Clayton was under the influence of Don King and Bill Daley (King's Puerto Rico representative) and they wanted Palomino to win," he said.

Arum believed King wanted Palomino to win because Palomino didn't have an option for his next fight and was available to sign with King. Benitez, however, was committed to Arum.

Daley denied that he wanted Palomino to win. "I was sitting in the first row, rooting for Benitez all the way," he said. "I sure wish I could own all the referees — that would be some business."

Clayton also denied Arum's charges. "If we're such good friends, how come he [King] has never given me a fight to work," Clayton said.

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