The following is an excerpt from A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon, by Don Stradley. Copyright © 2020 Don Stradley.
The report from Argentina: Monzon had accidentally shot himself.
On February 28, 1973, Monzon endured a two-hour operation to remove a bullet from his right forearm. He told the press that he was getting ready to go hunting when his .22-caliber revolver had slipped from his hand, “firing as it hit the floor.” The New York Daily News joked, “Everybody is taking a shot at middleweight champ Carlos Monzon these days.”
The story was soon out that two bullets had found their way into Monzon courtesy of Mercedes, his wife of nearly a dozen years. By now she was better known in Argentina by her nickname, “Pelusa,” which was Spanish for “Fluff.” Mercedes played along with the false story at first. As Monzon underwent surgery at a San Miguel hospital, Mercedes posed for photographers, smiling sweetly. “I’ve always told Carlos to be careful of his weapons,” she said. “But . . . people think badly and try to make me responsible. It wasn’t me. It was only an accident.”
The police seemed satisfied with the “accident” story, which was odd since Monzon had actually been shot twice, once in the arm and once in the shoulder. A gun might discharge after being dropped, but to think it would go off twice—and hit a target—was ridiculous. But Monzon’s standing in Argentina was such that the police acknowledged the story, or perhaps accepted some hush money to drop the investigation, even though neighbors told police that just prior to the gunshots being heard, Monzon and Mercedes had been seen brawling in the front yard of their home.
A story emerged that Mercedes shot Monzon after learning of his affair with another woman. Monzon’s womanizing was a secret to no one—he and Mercedes would even adopt a child, Carlos Raul, whom many suspected was the result of one of Monzon’s extramarital affairs.
Monzon didn’t go for help, opting to sit around the house for a day— only Monzon would consider walking off a couple of bullets—but when Brusa learned what had happened, the trainer arranged for his champion to be taken to a hospital. By now, Brusa was experienced at running interference for Monzon. He was used to negotiating with commissioners, mediating between Monzon and Mercedes, and convincing journalists to ignore Monzon’s frequent scandals. Gunshots were something new. Brusa faced the press with an amazingly calm demeanor, saying the injuries wouldn’t hamper Monzon’s scheduled rematch with Emile Griffith. What Brusa didn’t report was that the second bullet was inoperable, and that the little slug would remain inside Monzon’s shoulder. It would be there for the rest of his life, a small reminder of the damage his infidelities might bring.
While recuperating, Monzon received news from America that the Boxing Writers Association had chosen him as the recipient of the Edward J. Neil Trophy for Fighter of the Year. Along with the BWA accolade, both Boxing Illustrated and The Ring honored him as the top boxer of 1972 (The Ring recognizing Monzon and Muhammad Ali together). Yet, even as the accolades rolled in, Monzon was dealing with problems, and not just his wife’s trigger finger.
First, making weight for fights had become a struggle. Monzon began his career as a middleweight, and now he had to starve himself to make the 160-pound limit. In 1973, there was no 168-pound class for him to join—the super middleweights wouldn’t be established until the 1980s —and he never seriously considered a jump to light heavyweight. Chances are he didn’t want to give up his height and reach advantages, which is what would’ve happened if he’d moved up to face the men of a heavier weight division. Also, a court case was pending regarding an assault charge from years earlier when Monzon had punched a photographer, Daniel Moreno.
Meanwhile, attendance for the Briscoe fight had been lower than anticipated, a mere seventeen thousand. The four thousand or so empty seats at Luna Park left Lectoure puzzled. What could Lectoure do if Monzon couldn’t fill Luna Park with Briscoe as his opponent? Worse, there was growing gossip that opponents wouldn’t fight Monzon in Argentina because of the preferential treatment he received.
As expected, the rematch with Griffith was postponed so Monzon could heal from his bullet wounds. When he felt fit, he agreed to a nontitle bout in Rome on May 5. Looking sluggish, Monzon stopped Cincinnati middleweight Roy Dale at 2:40 of the fifth round. The AP noted that Monzon was not only three and a half pounds over the middleweight limit, but looked “distracted, as many of his punches missed their mark.”
The distraction had to do with the news Monzon received on the morning of the fight. His younger brother, Zacarias, had been murdered by a co-worker in the town of Paleda, sixty miles from Santa Fe. Brusa tried to keep the news from Monzon, but the champion had fought after receiving similar news in the past. On the eve of his first bout with Benvenuti, a brother-in-law died of natural causes, and on the eve of his fight with Moyer, his father-in-law was killed in a car crash.
Death was never far from Carlos Monzon.
He had a bullet in his body to prove it.