Life, says Jeff Chandler, imitates cartoons. Certainly he does. The WBA's bantering bantamweight champ was never more animated than last Saturday at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City, where he kept his title with a technical knockout of Oscar Muniz in the seventh round of their rematch. In fact, Chandler appeared to conform to the Laws of Cartoon Motion, discovered some years ago by Mark O'Donnell, a New York writer whose laboratory was Saturday morning TV cartoon shows.
The opening round was proof of O'Donnell's Sixth Law: "As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once." Chandler was so quick that he seemed to hit Muniz three times with one punch from all four corners simultaneously. In any case, he stunned Muniz with an overhand right, a very serious punch for the 116¾-pound Chandler, who had fooled around and lost a non-title bout to Muniz last July, his only defeat in 35 pro fights.
Chandler had signed for that over-the-weight match on a week's notice. He didn't train much and took his opponent lightly. Clowning through the final round, Chandler lost a split decision. This time, with the title he had earned three years ago on the line, he got serious. "I wanted to feel him crumbling and crushing under my fists," Chandler said. "Before the first fight I was sleepwalking through the bantamweights. I'd been blowing guys out of the ring easier than you could say 'blow.' Beatin' up on dog-meat was boring. I felt like there was a log over my head with a saw going through it and Zs coming out."
The first Muniz fight followed O'Donnell's First Law: "Any body suspended in space will remain suspended until made aware of its situation," e.g., Wile E. Coyote doesn't fall until he realizes he's 10 feet off the edge of the cliff. "I never did get up for that fight," said Chandler.
"I dreamed I was winning, but really I was just stepping off a cliff. In the 10th round I got my wake-up call. Then I heard the crowd boo me, and I thought, 'Whaaa?' Suddenly—pffft!—and then I dropped to the other side of the world. I fell all the way to Japan, and just when I was about to flatten into a pancake, I did my Popeye number—pulled out the spinach and came out with my fists blazing." In his next fight, in Tokyo in September, Chandler knocked down No. 1 contender Eijiro Murata five times before the referee stopped it in the 10th round.
Chandler applied the Ninth Law of Cartoon Motion—"For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance"—in the Muniz rematch. "By losing I found I was a lot more sensitive than I thought," said Chandler. "All of a sudden I was Joltin' Jeff Chandler, the clown. No one wants to idolize a clown." After that first-round overhand right, which Muniz thought had broken his jaw, Chandler opened a cut above Muniz' left eye in the second. Following their first fight Muniz had to be sewn up with 22 stitches. This time it took 10. In the fourth round Chandler opened another cut, in Muniz' right cheek. Referee Vincent Rainone halted the fight 23 seconds into Round 7 when the eyelid cut reopened. That's all, folks.
After being cut, Muniz set Chandler up in the third with a left and staggered him with a chopping right. But Muniz could never get his inside attack going. He tried to upset Chandler's rhythm by working him laterally, but the Philadelphian was as supple as pretzel dough, slipping nearly everything thrown his way and keeping Muniz backing up.
Chandler's training routine for the fight included watching the cartoon He-Man with Tahem and Samech, the children of his fiancée, Julianne Savoy. "Jeff is a cartoon fiend," says Julianne. "He'd sit around with Tahem and discuss who was stronger, he or He-Man."
"Those kids don't talk about Batman or Superman," says the 27-year-old Chandler. "It's always He-Man, He-Man. But their idol is definitely the Jolter. I'm one of those real-life superheroes, the kind that says, 'Quiet. Lie down. Go to sleep.' He-Man never says that to them."
Muniz, who's 28, grew up in East Los Angeles. He came into the fight with a 37-3-3 record, all three losses the result of split decisions. Still, until he beat Chandler, Muniz wasn't in the Top 10 of either the WBA or the WBC, though he was ranked No. 3 by The Ring magazine.
Muniz is co-managed by Ed Sobel, a Los Angeles office supply wholesaler, and Sobel's brother, Howard Storm, a Borscht Belt comic turned television director. Storm flew in Saturday on the red-eye from L.A., where he was completing a version of The Three Little Pigs for Faerie Tale Theatre. "One of these runts will turn into the Big Bad Wolf," Storm said of the two fighters. He was right. Chandler huffed and puffed and blew Muniz away.
Chandler won the fight with only subdued support from his manager, onetime vaudeville hoofer K.O. Becky O'Neill, who went to the fight with a bandage around her head. "My house exploded," she explained. Police believe a defective gas meter caused the explosion and subsequent fire on Dec. 10 in which K.O. suffered first-degree burns while salvaging Chandler's championship belt. "You could smell the smoke on the belt in the dressing room," said her husband, Willie O'Neill, Chandler's trainer. "It was still sizzling."
Chandler was gracious in victory. He embraced Muniz and praised his gallantry. "Oscar is a great bantamweight," Chandler said. "Jeff is a great bantamweight champion," Muniz said.
"I was rock and Oscar was paper," offered Chandler. "He was big enough to cover me the first time, but the second time, I smashed myself into him and ripped right through him. My forward progress stopped his momentum."
As O'Donnell says, "Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly."
Cuts cost Muniz his chance at the title.
When Muniz pressed the attack, Chandler kept out of danger by slipping and sliding.
Chandler once played the clown against Muniz, but now he was serious—and victorious.