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Looking at it strictly from a boxer's point of view, the nice thing about fighting a preliminary bout on a world heavyweight championship card is that, if you should happen to stink out the joint, there's a pretty good chance that no one but the immediate family will know about it. Prelims are usually the part of the show where a lot of guys named Vito slug it out in anonymity while electricians wander around ringside trying to figure out why the P.A. system isn't working. But last Friday night in New Orleans, with the world looking on, the prelim guys performed like a bunch of champions. Which is precisely what they were.

With more than 70,000 fans paying $7 million plus to make the biggest gate in boxing history, it was only fitting that; in addition to the Spinks-Ali match, there were three other world title bouts on the card. The promoters figured that if the suckers paying $50 each to sit a quarter of a mile from the ring weren't going to be able to see the fights, they might as well not see good ones. Except for a fairly dull bantamweight opener between WBA champion Jorge Lujan of Panama and challenger Alberto Davila of California—in which Lujan retained his title on a unanimous decision—that is what they got. And then some.

While John Travolta and Liza Minnelli played Celebrity Genuflect in Muhammad Ali's dressing room, and while a throng of late arrivals was still inhaling the Redfish Grieg at Commander's Palace and seeking love and understanding at the Old Absinthe House, Danny (Little Red) Lopez was defending his WBA featherweight crown in his usual eccentric way against Juan Malvarez of Argentina. Lopez entered the ring wearing a feathered war bonnet, not because he is a featherweight—that kind of logic would require Lttle Red to wear a rooster on his head if he were to fight in the bantamweight division—but because he grew up on a Ute Indian reservation.

Lopez left Utah for California, where he met Bennie Georgino. Georgino ran a bar and a pizza parlor, and for 30 years he had been hanging around fighters, helping out when he could. He put Lopez to work making pizzas, which could explain Little Red's fast hands. Lopez came into the Malvarez fight with 35 knockouts in 37 victories. "When my guy hits people," says Georgino, "he sends 'em to the hospital or they retire. Either way, they're never the same again. Danny knocked out Art Hafey and Jose Torres, and now Hafey can't see right and Torres is just a shell of his former self. Pound for pound, Danny is the hardest puncher in boxing."

Not incidentally, Danny is also one of the easiest to punch. Malvarez swarmed over Lopez in the first round, unloading a series of stinging combinations that knocked the champ down briefly and kept him back on his heels until the bell rang. "This guy punches harder than I thought," Lopez admitted later. "I thought I'd feel him out in the first round, but I guess he felt me out."

At the start of Round 2, Lopez was staggered once again by Malvarez, and to the uninformed, those who have never had the pleasure of watching Little Red at work, it must have appeared unlikely that he would last much longer. But suddenly the predictable happened. Lopez pried an opening in Malvarez' guard with a short left and followed it with a thunderous right to Malvarez' jaw. It took quite a while for them to get Malvarez off the canvas and out of the ring.

Still, the brevity of the bout left a rather sizable hole in the schedule—precisely planned to accommodate TV, as these affairs always are—so a couple of nameless heavyweight palookas were thrown into the ring for a standby four-rounder. They pounded dutifully upon one another for a round and a half, whereupon one of them fell down and did not, until much later, get up. Mostly a lot of people looked at Sylvester Stallone through their binoculars and sort of milled about.

The funny thing about a boxing ring is that when there isn't anything going on inside it, it might as well not even be there, for all the attention anybody pays to it. That's about the only reasonable way to explain how a striking-looking woman in a bright red gown could have insinuated herself into the center of the ring out of thin air. She had already discarded the shawl to her tearaway ensemble before anyone much noticed she was even there, and it wasn't until she had doffed the haltertop beneath it that any serious cheering really began. All of a sudden the Superdome was a different kind of Boom Boom Room altogether. She was apprehended wearing only a G string and high-heeled shoes by a muscular chap from security. To its everlasting credit, the crowd booed lustily at the decidedly high-handed manner in which the lady was removed from the premises. After she had been allowed to collect her wits and her garments, she was readmitted to her $200 ringside seat, but not many people recognized her with her clothes on.

The star of this one-round knockout performance was the redoubtable Edy Williams, who has appeared in such soft-core porn films as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Vixen. It was odd and amusing to hear the righteous indignation expressed by ABC's crack commentary team over the incident, which was not inflicted upon the network's viewers. The last time we saw Edy Williams on television was in 1972 in the stands of the Los Angeles Coliseum at a USC-UCLA football game. It was there that she got her first network exposure, so to speak, when an ABC cameraman coaxed her to open her coat and show herself clad only in a bikini to a nationwide audience. Edy's performance last week would have been the ultimate "honey shot" for the network that made that regrettable term famous, but when the chips, and most of Edy Williams' clothes, were down, ABC was taking a station break.

By the time the crowd had settled down, WBA Light Heavyweight Champion Victor Galindez of Argentina and challenger Mike Rossman of Turnersville, N.J. were already engaged in the 11th defense of Galindez' title. Galindez looks like a malevolent Charles Bronson; with dark mean eyes. Rossman had studied the melted-looking skin around those eyes and he knew what it meant. "He's got bad eyes," Rossman said before the fight. "A lot of scars. The man has been in a lot of wars."

Rossman opened a small cut over Galindez' right eye in the first round and then jabbed insistently at the champion's forehead, tearing at the scar tissue until it was soft and pulpy. In the final minute of Round 6 Rossman landed a crunching blow that sent a rivulet of blood squirting down Galindez' face from his right eyebrow. For five more rounds Rossman pounded away at his target, then in the 12th Galindez seemed to sense the enormity of his predicament and struggled desperately to knock Rossman out. Holding on when he could, Galindez leaned his head heavily on Referee Carlos Berrocal's shoulder during one of the breaks, leaving a red mess on the official's white shirt. One round later the fight was stopped, and Rossman, who bills himself as the "Jewish Bomber"—he has a Star of David tattooed on his right calf—was celebrating in his corner with some members of the immediate family. Even when there are a couple of hundred million people around the world looking in, it's nice when a prelim guy has got his family around.


Drawing blood, Rossman bores in on Galindez.


Unscheduled but appreciated, the Lady in Red.