Carlos Monzón in 1973 — Public Domain
″I beat all my women, except one, and nothing ever happened to any of them,″ Carlos Monzón once said.
In late 1988, Argentina was going through a significant upheaval. The economy was in shambles during a record period of inflation. The military was in the middle of a rebellion against the democratic government.
But one of the most newsworthy events that rocked the country was boxing idol Carlos Monzón being charged with homicide. His estranged lover and mother of his 6-year-old son, Alicia Muniz, died from a fall from a second-story fall in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Randall Hackley at the Associated Press says autopsy results showed a crushed skull from a head-first fall. The autopsy also showed she was strangled to the point of unconsciousness before falling from the balcony.
Monzón himself was also injured from an altercation with his wife. He had two broken ribs and a broken clavicle from falling off the two-story balcony as well. After the incident, a judge ordered him to get a psychiatric exam.
It was not the first instance where Monzón had gotten into trouble. According to Don Stradley, author of A Fistful of Murder, news reports said Monzón shot himself on February 28. 1973 and had to undergo a two-hour surgery to remove the bullet from his right forearm. However, that was a strange story since he was shot twice — once in the arm and another time in the shoulder. Someone might accidentally shoot themselves once but twice is almost impossible.
It turned out Monzón and his wife, Mercedes, were seen fighting by neighbors in the yard just before Monzón got shot. The shooting was rumored to have happened after Mercedes found out about an extramarital affair. The two eventually separated, but Mercedes made charges of wife-beating against him in an incident where he punched her at her son’s birthday party. Monzón would serve six months in prison, pardoned only after pleading momentary insanity.
Monzón, throughout his life, would beat almost every woman he was with. According to Hackley, these women included:
“His wife, two women who also were called wives but with whom he never married, and short-lived affairs with several actresses, including Ursula Andress.”
On July 3, 1989, Monzón was found guilty of murdering Muniz. According to the Schenectady Gazzette, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The prosecution said he intentionally threw himself off the balcony to cover up the crime and make it look like an accident. Monzón legal team said he was going to appeal the sentence to the supreme court of the province of Buenos Aires. His defense team also said he fell off the balcony trying to save his wife, and the tragedy was all an accident.
Monzón had many, many defenders. After the sentencing, 150 fans of Monzón attacked the attorney for the Muniz family, beating him and throwing sticks and stones at him outside the courthouse. The attorney had to be escorted by the police to escort him from the courthouse.
According to Jack Dougherty on SportsCasting, Monzón was one of the best boxers in the 1970s, who should be mentioned in the same sentence as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Forman. He finished his career with 87 wins as a professional and 59 knockouts. His overall record was 87–3–9, and he only lost early in his career. Many consider him the best pound for pound boxer of all time, and The Ring magazine named him the 11th best boxer from 1922–2002. According to Mike Tyson:
“I always loved Carlos Monzón. He was a tough guy, for real, a guy from the streets…He didn’t talk much. He didn’t need to. The ring belonged to him.”
He started boxing at 20, and early in his career, he had his losses. But then he would go undefeated the rest of his career. His most impressive accomplishment was defeating Olympic gold medalist, Nino Benvenuti for the World Middleweight Championship in 1970 by knockout. For seven years, he would hold the title against the world’s best challengers in 14 different defenses. In nine of those defenses, he won by knockout. In Bunce’s words:
“It is the type of statistic that will never be equalled in the squeaky clean modern business.”
Monzón’s style, according to Bunce, was to deceive his opponents with his movements. He would wear down his opponents little by little before crushing them in a “reign of terror.”
He retired from boxing in 1977, but he was still a national sensation in Argentina due to his private life. Even after he got his 11-year sentence, another professional boxer, Mickey Rourke, took a film crew to prison for a boxing session against Monzón. Monzón was 50 years old, and yet he knocked Rourke out.
“He remains both a violent, flawed idol and one of the greatest middleweights in history.”
In 1995, Monzón was granted a furlough from prison to see his family. When he was driving back to prison, he lost control of his vehicle, dying before anyone could come to save him.
When Monzón died, opinion was divided, as it was during his sentencing. Boxing journalist Carlos Irusta said:
“There were others who, on the sporting side, saw him as a great champion, and as someone who looked after his family and cared about them…He always maintained that he couldn’t remember what had happened that night with Alicia. When I went to his funeral in Santa Fe, people sang, ‘dale campeón’ (Go champion).”
So what is the legacy of Carlos Monzón today? Is he more remembered as the unrepentant batterer and abuser of all the woman he was with, a convicted murderer of his wife? Or is he more remembered for his art of being one of the best middleweight boxers of all time?
Jake Hirsch at Boxing News Online makes a compelling comparison of Monzón — O.J. Simpson.
“Both were involved in sensational murder trials that gripped their countries. First there was disbelief that they could be involved in such a gruesome crime. When the shock wore off anger set in, transforming them from national heroes into disgraced ones.”
Of course, the difference between O.J. and Monzón is that O.J. was exonerated and declared innocent. Monzón was guilty of murder and sentenced to 11 years in prison. But regardless of the actual legal outcomes, O.J.’s legacy was tarnished in the eyes of many, and he became a much less sympathetic public figure, much like Monzón. That would compromise their previous images as almost God-like legends in the eyes of much of the public.
Their celebrity would, largely, shield them from a lot of consequences. Anyone who has been in America for a long time knows O.J. has a lot of defenders (I’m one of them). And Monzón certainly did too. For him and the women he was with, the warning signs were there. The abuse and the battering were no secret. And yet he largely escaped culpability until the unspeakable happened.
Of course, just because Monzón was a celebrity doesn’t mean he was expected to be a saint. But there is still a societal expectation to be a somewhat decent human being. Jack Porter at The Sportsman says Monzón’s behavior in his personal life overshadows his nearly untarnished career in the ring, much like O.J. When you ask people now what they think of O.J. Simpson, most won’t immediately say “oh, he’s a great football player,” much like for most people, Monzón’s personal life and treatment of women define him most.
In A Fistful of Murder, Stradley pulls no punches, calling Monzón “just an angry, illiterate man consumed by petty jealousies and the shame of his background.”
Originally published at Frame of Reference on January 28th, 2021.