Inglorious as it may sound, the punch that made José Torres the new light heavyweight champion of the world was a left hook to the liver. Not to the kidney, as was most often reported, and certainly not to the solar plexus, but to the liver—the largest and one of the most tender organs of the body. When the punch landed, in the sixth round of the second fight of last week's championship doubleheader in Madison Square Garden, there was a loud sharp spat! Willie Pastrano slid a bit to his left, slowly, his mouth open, and then began to fall, amazed, as if half way through a dance step he had found his legs would no longer work. Pastrano went down for the first time in his career and knelt holding a strand of the maroon velvet rope, his eyes rolling up in pain (opposite) as Torres walked away. On Pastrano's right side, where the short ribs come down just above the belt to protect the liver, was a red blotch the size of a fist. A blow to the stomach or to either kidney is debilitating, but a blow to the liver or the spleen is agony. Pastrano bravely managed to get up at the nine count and finish the round. But the fight was over then, 10 minutes before Referee Johnny LoBianco signaled the end, and both fighters seemed to know it.
Shortly before Torres delivered the devastating left hook, Cus D'Amato, his adviser without portfolio, yelled from ringside, "No. 5!" Torres nodded. During the weeks at his training camp Torres had practiced punching to precise points of the head and body on something D'Amato calls his "apparatus." The apparatus is a dummy with vulnerable portions of the nervous system numbered on it. No. 1, for example, is the left jaw, No. 8 is the solar plexus, No. 6 the left kidney. No. 5 is the liver.
On the apparatus Torres developed his speed, power, coordination and stamina and increased his combinations so that he could throw five punches in two-fifths of a second, but in the fight he did not move a great deal against the shifting, bouncing, jabbing Pastrano. Torres placed his gloves on either side of his mouth in the exaggerated peekaboo D'Amato had taught him and came in straight, rather flat-footed, taking the punches that went between the gloves and reddened his nose. A man many had said did not have the heart for fighting, Torres kept coming in, cutting off the ring from the retreating Pastrano and then rattling the former champ with punches in sequence. Torres knew he could hurt Pastrano when he caught him, and he knew Pastrano could not punch effectively if he did not have time to get set. He kept up his attack so well that on my card Pastrano did not win a round.
A left hook to the liver may lack the drama and purity of a smash to the jaw, but there was nothing awkward or untoward about the way Torres delivered his left. In that sixth-round combination Torres also drove in a short right to the head and a left hook to the temple that brought up Pastrano's hands long enough for the left to get through. And the Madison Square Garden galleries—where ex-Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, disguised in a phony beard, slouch hat and glasses, hid among Torres' Puerto Rican fans—exploded. The joy of seeing their man fight for the championship brought in thousands of New York's Puerto Ricans and helped to swell the Garden crowd to 18,112 and a record gate of $239,956. When Pastrano fell it was as if every Puerto Rican present felt that he, personally, had done it. "I was going to hit him again," Torres said, "but I saw he was going down and I thought 'What's the use?' "
The crowd had fretted and fidgeted through the first fight of the championship doubleheader. Welterweight Champ Emile Griffith was briefly stunned by a right hook to the jaw in the first round but recovered to win easily over Cuban challenger José Stable in a 15-round decision. In the sixth Griffith showed a flash of savagery. He hurled the shorter, stockier Stable (pronounced stahblay) into the ropes and pounded him for a few seconds. Then Griffith went back under cover and, despite screamed commands from his corner, seldom used his right. There was a lot of wrestling and grabbing and bulling about, but it was not a satisfactory fight. When Torres and Pastrano came into the ring, the crowd was whetted and ready.
A Puerto Rican trio called Los Antares sang La Borinquena, the Puerto Rican anthem, which has the sound of a lament, while Torres stood at respectful attention. Pastrano, meanwhile, was sweating heavily and seemed nervous. The odds had dropped to even money shortly before the fight. That was enough to worry the champion's handlers, who had tried to deny the importance of Torres' one-round knockout of Bobo Olson in November. Torres had been an almost untested fighter who had earned less than $60,000 in six years. His friend and backer, Real Estate Dealer Cain Young, had put up $100,000 in cash and a guarantee to get Pastrano into the ring with Torres, who got a mere $10,000. But if his handlers thought it would be an easy pay night, Pastrano, from the look on his face, did not agree.
Torres, scoring with two good left hooks in the first round, bloodied Pastrano's nose. In the second Pastrano's right cheek became bruised and red. In the third Torres slammed a hard right hook to the kidney, and Pastrano glanced at his corner in what appeared to be surprise at Torres' speed and power. Early in the sixth round Pastrano missed with a combination and wrung his hands in disgust. They clinched. As they came out of the embrace Torres opened up with the bombing that dropped his man. In the eighth Pastrano's trainer, Lou Gross, yelled: "Fight back, Willie!" Pastrano looked at Gross and shook his head as if to say, "Why don't you try it?" In the ninth Pastrano covered and held and survived on craft, and one judge even gave Pastrano the round.
Then it happened. LoBianco walked over to Pastrano's corner and spoke softly, and the fight was over. Sitting on his stool, Pastrano wept. Torres began leaping up and down, the Puerto Ricans shouted Viva!, Gross yelled that this was all illegal, a dandy fight started in an aisle near ringside and José Torres—only two years after he was knocked out by Florentino Fernandez—was the new light heavyweight champion.
One of the first men into the ring to hug Torres was Novelist Norman Mailer. Novelists feel an affinity for boxers. Both jobs, if done seriously, require more than the ordinary amount of courage and must be performed alone and utterly exposed. In the aisles streamed a yelling, jostling mob of Puerto Ricans. It was like the old days. Torres was the king of Spanish Harlem again. The mob got him and lifted him clumsily, heaving him up sideways so that he lay on their shoulders, and they patted him and slapped him and rubbed his head. They all wanted to touch him. For the first time that night Torres looked frightened.
Pastrano had no such crowd problem, except with doctors. Three of them examined him before he showered and put on black slacks and a blue shirt. "I was horrible tonight," he said. "Everything I did was wrong, and everything he did was right. My legs weren't there. I could never get moving. I don't know that I would like to fight again. When a man takes a beating like I did tonight, he has to wait a long time before he thinks about fighting again." Pastrano's wife came in, and he said, "Don't worry, honey, I'm all right." Torres' left hook to the liver had paralyzed his right leg for a while. Whether Pastrano was really all right was something he would have to reflect on.
The writers immediately began saying Pastrano was washed up. That is not likely. He was, and still is, a very good fighter. But, despite complaints by his manager, Angelo Dundee, and Gross, Pastrano said he thought LoBianco had done the proper thing in stopping the fight, and that is not the way a man usually talks when he is eager to box again.
Torres, though, was talking about fighting anybody who would stand in front of him—Floyd Patterson, Joey Giardello, Cassius Clay, anybody. "We want that Mo-hammid Alley!" shouted someone in his dressing room. Offers were pouring in: an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show with Los Antares, his own radio show, guest spots all over the place. Although it was not revealed until later, Torres had already signed with Chris Dundee, Angelo's brother, to have his next fight under Dundee promotion, and the patient Cain Young had put $25,000 in escrow to guarantee the contract. Wayne Thornton, Harold Johnson, Gregorio Peralta and Pastrano are possible opponents. The World Boxing Association has threatened to remove Torres' championship if he has a return match with Pastrano, but nobody bothers about what the World Boxing Association removes.
It was not the moment for Torres to bother about anything. Not long ago he had had to borrow money to furnish his house, and now he was champion and the money would be coming in. Torres got dressed and led his followers into Toots Shor's, where some of them were banished to the lobby because they were not wearing neckties. Then at 2:45 a.m. Torres arrived at the celebration—a party in his honor at Mailer's Brooklyn Heights apartment.
It was a curiously mixed group to be toasting a fighter: James Baldwin, Ben Gazzara, Leslie Fiedler, George Plimpton, Senator Jacob Javits, Archie Moore, Sandy Saddler, a girl in hip boots, a combo, hundreds of people. A few of them recognized Torres when he came in. "But who is he?" one woman kept saying. Book critics, columnists, actresses, musicians, saloonkeepers, assorted editors and writers, they flocked around the two bars and looked out at the magnificent view from Mailer's living room across the East River to the lights of lower Manhattan, and occasionally somebody saw Torres. Some of the new champion's followers sat in a corner and waited for the next night's party in Spanish Harlem, but others were swept into the action, and it was a fine night.
"I am the champion of the world," Torres said, "and it is for all the Puerto Rican people. When a Puerto Rican shoots somebody, they say it is a reflection of Puerto Rico. I am the champion, and that's a reflection, too. Nobody can say anymore that I only fight bums. I am the champion!"
Young smiled. His $100,000 was safe, and his friend had got where he wanted him to be. "I am not a gambler, and this was not a gamble," Young said. "I was prepared to lose $50,000 if necessary, but I was sure José would win. It will be great now." Madison Square Garden promoters could have been smiling, too. With what is undoubtedly a boxing revival going on, Torres is a good man to keep it going. He is a puncher. Everybody likes a puncher, and New York has 700,000 Puerto Ricans.
Down for the first time in his life, shocked and weakened Pastrano clings desperately to ring rope.