Hit By Briscoe: When
Bad Bennie Crushed The Golden Boy In Paris
By Mike Casey
Briscoe, ever gracious and still mildly dazed by his violent night’s work, was
full of praise for Eugene (Cyclone) Hart’s left hook after their epic ten-rounds
draw. Bennie reckoned that Cyclone could knock down the walls of Jerusalem with
that punch if he had a mind to.
no less impressed by the immovable object he had encountered. The Cyclone was
grateful, he said, to be back in the sanctuary of his dressing room and able to
talk about the fight. The way Briscoe had been hitting him, Hart figured he
might be going some place else.
just another vicious, life-or-death war at the Spectrum in the Philadelphia of
1975. What was it like to be Bennie Briscoe? Well, for some twenty years, you
got to lay your life on the line by jousting with the likes of Mr Hart, Stanley
(Kitten) Hayward, Tom Bethea, Billy Douglas, Luis Rodriguez, Rodrigo Valdez,
Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon and Emile Griffith.
one shot at the middleweight championship for all your hard labour and came up
short against an Argentinian iron man who chain-smoked his way through life and
might just have been inhuman.
in a glorious while, you got to set off a mighty explosion that was heard around
Mundine, Australia’s Aboriginal stylist, been blessed with a solid chin, we
might now be comparing his name to those of middleweight greats such as Mickey
Walker, Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson or Carlos Monzon. During his peak years
in the early seventies, Mundine was a majestic boxer-puncher who seemed destined
for world championship success. When he journeyed to Paris in 1973 and
outpointed former five-times champion Emile Griffith, the fight media lavished
praise on the smooth-moving, skilful youngster.
time, Griffith was past his best, but he was still a formidable campaigner, a
wise old general whom few men could outsmart. Mundine’s timely performance
pushed him into the top bracket of the middleweight rankings and suddenly the
world championship was within his reach.
beginning of 1974, only one man stood between Mundine and world champion Carlos
Monzon, and that man was a source of worry to Mundine’s more sceptical critics.
His name was Bennie Briscoe, a tough and rugged thirty-year old slugger who had
campaigned against the world’s top middleweights in a colourful career that
spanned more than a decade.
Augusta, Georgia, but a product of the notoriously tough Philadelphia fight
school, Briscoe was a hard, ruthless puncher who always came to fight. His ring
reputation as a man of violence hardened the reservations of those observers who
had long doubted Mundine’s durability.
two skeletons in Tony Mundine’s closet, two jarring defeats that had been so
sudden and emphatic that the balance of his record (44 wins and a draw) couldn’t
bury them. The first loss had occurred in 1969, Tony’s first year as a
professional and a mixed year for two of his illustrious countrymen. Johnny
Famechon won the world featherweight title from Jose Legra in January, but seven
months later, Lionel Rose, another greatly talented Aborigine, lost his
bantamweight championship on a fifth round knockout to the sensational young
turned professional in March of that year and quickly impressed Aussie fight
fans as he reeled off ten successive wins in seven months. It seemed another
Australian world champion was in the making. Then the first bomb was dropped in
Melbourne on November 10, and the seeds of doubt were sewn. Matched with Kahu
Mahanga, a less talented but hard punching prospect, Mundine was shockingly
knocked out in the ninth round. Had Tony been stopped on his feet or forced out
of the fight by an injury, he might have been spared a further mauling by his
critics. But he was counted out and the vultures always begin to circle when a
coming boy is crushed so comprehensively.
fighter’s chin is one of the most important yardsticks of his potential, because
ruggedness and endurance are such essential ingredients in the fight game. Those
men devoid of natural skill, those who don’t possess a knockout punch or an
innate gift for slipping and blocking, are recognised as lacking in special
qualities, yet their limitations rarely incite panic. But a man with a
susceptible chin is so often administered the last rites before he is even out
of the starting blocks.
trainers and fans quietly dread that first time when a young fighter has his
chin tested, because his reaction can instantly foretell his future in the
sport. The special few, such as the unlucky and those in the wrong place at the
wrong time, can meet with violent defeat and survive the crisis. But not those
whose weakness is inherent and permanent. They can only bluff and duck and weave
their way to the highest point on the ladder they can reach.
surface, Mundine didn’t appear badly affected by his defeat to Mahanga. Tony
quickly returned to his winning ways with a knockout victory of his own just a
month later. Indeed, his confidence seemed higher than ever the following year
as he combined skill and power to restore the faith of his supporters by
chalking up eight consecutive wins inside the distance.
1971, he challenged Bunny Sterling for the Commonwealth title in Sydney, and
looked impressive in forcing the evasive, underrated Sterling to a 15-rounds
draw. It seemed that Mundine was on his way, but then came another bolt out of
the blue. He was matched with veteran contender and former world welterweight
champion Luis Rodriguez in Melbourne, and once again Tony’s vulnerability was
exposed as he was sensationally blasted out inside a round.
It was a
damaging reverse for Mundine. For while Rodriguez was still a top class
campaigner, he was considered ripe for the taking after suffering a stunning
knockout defeat to world champion Nino Benvenuti a year earlier. How far had
Rodriguez gone back? Just a month after his decimation of Mundine, Luis
travelled to the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he looked awful in dropping
a points verdict to Bunny Sterling. The prime Rodriguez had plainly disappeared
over the horizon. He looked badly trained, off balance and his reflexes were
poor. The defeat sent Luis tumbling from third to fifth in The Ring magazine’s
revised ratings, but he should have been lower. He was all but gone as a world
Mundine had to answer his critics all over again. He had been blitzed by a jaded
maestro who should have been little more than a stepping stone.
round knockout loss is arguably the ultimate humiliation for a boxer. Confidence
is eroded and despondency can quickly set in. The victim is not only haunted by
his own mistakes, but by the withering verdicts of those who sit and judge him.
And, of course, ‘golden boys’ like Mundine get the stick more than most others,
mostly in the form of sledgehammer sarcasm from the ivory tower pundits who only
bleed when they are careless shaving.
however, was a strange animal and one to be greatly admired. The bitter irony in
his case was that his attitude to adversity had all the steel and resistance
that his jawbone lacked. Far from causing him to lose heart, defeat seemed to
spur him to greater effort and commitment. Such is fate, he proceeded to enter
the finest phase of his career as he compiled a sparkling run of twenty-one
successive victories that elevated him into world championship contention.
return match with Bunny Sterling, Tony scored a thrilling final round triumph to
win the Commonwealth title. Then he punched with authority to stop such
respected men as Denny Moyer, Juarez DeLima, Matt Donovan, Luis Vinales and
Nessim (Max) Cohen.
measure, Mundine even stepped up a couple of weights to win the Australian
heavyweight title from Foster Bibron. Mundine was on a roll and when he capped
his 1973 campaign with his highly acclaimed victory over Griffith in Paris, the
stage was set for Tony’s final drive towards a world title challenge.
February 25, 1974, he was back in Paris again to confront the formidable
Briscoe, and the public’s imagination was caught. It was a pairing of two of the
world’s most exciting middleweights, a young lion against a battle-scarred,
Briscoe was one of the game’s great characters, whose imposing, shaven-skulled
appearance complemented his simple and brutal fighting style. Like so many
hardened ring mechanics from poor backgrounds, Bennie’s career read like
fiction. His aggressive, uncompromising style was a legacy of his wild days as a
youth. As a fourteen-year old newcomer to Philadelphia, he joined a teenage gang
and inevitably got into trouble with the law.
parole officer advised Briscoe to take up boxing and Bennie quickly took a shine
to the sport. He became a US amateur champion and was good enough to be selected
as a reserve for the 1960 American Olympic squad in Rome. But it was in the
professional ranks that he made his name and acquired his reputation as a man to
turned pro in 1962, and through the sixties and seventies he met the best talent
in his domain. He seemed to labour for an eternity before establishing himself
as one of the division’s top contenders Bennie was always dangerous, but he
could be foiled by the more scientific boxers and dropped a number of decisions
on his way up the ladder. It is a worrying sign of how things have changed that
such educational defeats were not frowned upon in Bennie’s era. Indeed, they
were rightly seen as positive grist to the mill if the beaten fighter learned
from his mistakes and doubled his reserve.
lose, Briscoe was a physically and mentally tough cookie who never gave up and
who personified excitement. As he progressed up the ladder in his gloriously
determined way, so his record became sprinkled with the kind of fights that fans
love to recall. His fiercely contested duel with the highly regarded Stanley
(Kitten) Hayward in 1965 was a case in point.
apparently instructed to ‘box’ Hayward for the first seven rounds of their
scheduled ten-rounds encounter and fell some way behind on points. From the
eighth round, the game plan was belatedly revised and Bennie was told to go out
there slugging. He gave Hayward such a beating that Stan was taken to hospital
with concussion. Alas, the big charge came too late and Briscoe dropped a split
also been involved in a short-lived but violent encounter with another renowned
puncher, Mexican Rafael Gutierrez, in which Briscoe survived a rocky first
session to score a dramatic second round knockout. It was a slugfest that was
rife with controversy.
the tank-like Briscoe broke Gutierrez’s right hand and bruised his left, but
Rafael came close to breaking the bank in a whirlwind first round when he decked
Bennie twice with vicious rights to the head. The pendulum swung back to Biscoe
when he clearly hurt Gutierrez with a body punch on the bell.
was being handled by Sid Tenner, a Sacramento furniture dealer, who insisted
that Briscoe’s punch was low and that Rafael was in no fit condition to come out
for the second round. Whatever the truth of the incident, Bad Bennie was the
consummate pro as ever and quickly finished the job. He sank another right into
Gutierrez’s body and put him down for the count.
was not a happy man. “I wish now I would have held him (Gutierrez) back and
protested the fight – but I know how far that would have got me. We got zilched
– very bad.”
spring of 1972, Boxing Illustrated magazine rated Bennie Briscoe the number one
middleweight contender to Carlos Monzon’s world championship, ahead of Emile
Griffith, Denny Moyer and Frenchman Jean-Claude Bouttier.
in blistering form and showing his opponents no mercy. Earlier that year he had
ruthlessly despatched Buffalo’s Al Quinney in two rounds at the Philadelphia
Arena. The scheduled 10-rounder featured something of a surprise in the opening
round, as the tall Quinney clearly fancied his chances against Bad Bennie and
tried to seize the whip hand. Jabbing and firing right crosses, Al quickly
discovered, much like Rafael Gutierrez, that Briscoe’s head could be as damaging
as his fists. Scoring with a right, Quinney split his glove and had to pause for
It was an
ill-timed intermission for Al. One can only imagine that the time-out made
Bennie irritable, for he promptly steamed into the attack when the battle
re-commenced. A beefy right to the jaw sent Quinney tumbling for a count of nine
and there was no reason to believe that the scheduled minute’s rest would save
coming into the ring at an even 160lbs, was all business in the second round.
The game Quinney continued to pump out the jab but quickly began to resemble a
man trying to extinguish a fire with a water pistol. Another right to the jaw
crashed home from Bennie and another nine count followed for Al.
Lennon once had a number nine dream, but poor Quinney was having a number nine
nightmare. A right uppercut spilled him once more for as many seconds. Lanky Al
never stopped trying to survive, but he finally reached the number ten when
Briscoe’s final assault culminated in the payoff punch, a slamming overhand
right to the jaw.
understand why so many of Tony Mundine’s supporters harboured serious
reservations about their man going in with Bennie Briscoe. A powerful left
hooker, Briscoe’s punching power and determination had brought him victory
against a string of high ranking contenders and tough journeymen. Quality
fighters such as Art Hernandez, Tom Bethea, Carlos Marks and Juarez DeLima had
failed to subdue Bennie, while Briscoe’s supporters will forever remember their
man’s epic eights rounds victory over the tough Billy (Dynamite) Douglas for the
North American championship.
Mundine’s durability was suspect, Briscoe’s had never been questioned. Bennie
traded heavily on his toughness, and a condition of his no-nonsense attacking
style was that he was able to absorb punishment. He was one of the few men whose
strength and ruggedness nearly rivalled that of the mighty Carlos Monzon, and
Bennie twice took Monzon the distance in gruelling fights. The two iron men drew
over ten rounds when they were both rising contenders in 1967 and it would be
five years before they came together again. By that time, Carlos was the king of
the division. Briscoe, ten months after his quick victory over Al Quinney, gave
Monzon a spirited challenge before being outpointed in a stirring battle.
prepared himself for his meeting with Mundine, Briscoe knew he needed a
convincing victory to re-establish himself as a threat to Monzon. Five months
previously, Bennie had lost ground in the world rankings after being narrowly
outpointed by the fast improving Rodrigo Valdez.
Briscoe had that rare ability to change his fortunes with one sudden explosion
of power, his record serving as a chilling reminder of his punching prowess. In
a 62-fight career, he had knocked out or stopped 41 of his 48 victims. Mundine’s
supporters and critics knew that this was the man to make or break the young
fighters were in superb condition for their eagerly awaited contest. As they
joined battle, the packed Palais Des Sports Arena in Paris crackled with that
special air of excitement that is synonymous with big fight occasions.
game plan was to pressure Mundine, just as Bennie pressured every opponent. The
Philadelphian looked menacing and purposeful as he marched forward, gloves held
high. But it was Mundine who caught the eye as he set about the most demanding
task of his career in a sure and confident manner.
have expected Tony to start cautiously in view of Briscoe’s reputation and the
crucial importance of the battle. Yet there was almost a touch of arrogance
about Mundine’s work as he peppered his oncoming opponent with rapid jabs and
followed up in style with hooks and uppercuts. On more than one occasion in
those opening minutes, Mundine’s silky, evasive skills had Bennie missing badly,
but Briscoe continued to press forward, as if mechanically geared to move
exclusively in that direction. He struggled to find the range, but when his
punches did connect, they looked solid and hurtful.
the early advantage definitely belonged to Mundine. In the second round, the
Australian produced some of his finest boxing as he repeatedly checked Briscoe’s
advances with beautifully precise counter punches. Tony was keeping just the
right distance between himself and Bennie, a safe but effective distance that
still enabled the versatile youngster to strike home with his own blows.
fighters had now warmed to the job at hand, and the hard punches gradually began
to fly. Mundine’s jaw underwent its first serious examination as Briscoe scored
with a pair of heavy rights, but Tony took the blows well and rallied back to
stun Bennie later in the round with a hard right uppercut.
gripping duel progressed, the tension increased and so too did one’s admiration
of both fighters. They differed so much in style, yet each possessed that
certain touch of class that distinguishes the top-flight ringmen. Mundine’s
boxing was a joy to watch, and though Briscoe’s approach was far more primitive,
it was no less entrancing.
flowed in the third round as both fighters suddenly sported cuts over the right
eye, but it was Mundine who seemed perturbed by this sudden development.
Initially, his injury appeared to have no effect on the quality of his work as
he continued to fence cleverly with Briscoe. However, as the fight moved into
the fourth round, it was noticeable that Bennie was beginning to have more
success with his bulling, hustling tactics. He punched hard to the body and
looked increasingly threatening with long rights to the head, one of which
appeared to stagger Tony.
looked uncomfortable whenever Briscoe found his way inside, but Tony’s punch
rate was still superior to Bennie’s. With the fight approaching the halfway
stage, Mundine was a good way ahead on points.
fifth round opened, the cat-and-mouse game was becoming ever more intriguing
when Briscoe suddenly struck with a hard right to the chin that tipped the
scales dramatically in his favour. Mundine’s legs quivered under the force of
the blow and Bennie saw the chance for which he had been so patiently searching.
He surged forward, forcing Mundine against the ropes and driving in wicked blows
to the head and body as Tony desperately sought a way out of the trap.
was now in his element, a hunter at last in charge of his prey, and one could
see Mundine wilting as Bennie seized his chance with clinical efficiency. Unable
to turn the tide, Tony sank to one knee, his head and right arm outside the
ropes, as referee Paul Tallyrach moved in to start the count. It was a count
Mundine failed to beat.
Australian’s collapse was a sad spectacle. It confirmed people’s worst fears
that, for all his marvellous talent, Tony Mundine did not have the physical
make-up to survive and prosper at the giddiest heights. Briscoe was blessed with
that special quality, and there was the difference.
Bennie, with his usual brand of controlled violence, had once again surfaced to
cast his ominous shadow over the world middleweight championship.
romantic city that runs the gamut of human emotions, it had truly been a night
of heartbreak and joy.
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