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The Hyena

Aug 5, 2003 4:13 AM

I knew the late Carlos Monzon and chances are pretty good that The Hyena is no Carlos Monzon.

Monzon was one of the great middleweight champions. The first world championship fight I ever covered, several hundred ago, was Monzon’s rematch with Nino Benvenuti in Monte Carlo.

That’s the one where Howard Cosell complained to me over lunch at Fouquets, the old Fouquets, on the Champs-Elysees, "Why do they do these things to me?" He was referring to Benvenuti throwing in the towel after the second round of an even fight.

The reason Benvenuti gave up was he landed his best punch, a perfect left hook to the chin, in the opening round and Monzon did not blink. His hard, cold stare remained impervious as he began to reach Benvenuti in the second round.

Benvenuti knew he had taken his best shot and it was found wanting. He was not going to go through another torture session, as he did in his first fight with Monzon, so he quit. And the hell with Cosell’s feelings.

The Hyena is supposed to have a chin, also. Jorge (La Hiena) Barrios will need one in his Showtime-televised title challenge of Acelino (Popo) Freitas next Saturday from Miami.

Freitas, the junior lightweight champion from Brazil, is one of the hardest hitters in the game. He can also box a bit. Maybe he didn’t beat Joel Casamayor, as ruled, in their 130-pound unification fight a couple of years ago, but few can outbox the fancy Cuban southpaw.

All we know of The Hyena is second-hand. He has a record of 39-1-1, with one no contest and 29 knockouts. Most importantly, he is from Argentina, which every now and then produces a Monzon.

Monzon was an animal, a freak of nature, and not because he went to prison for throwing his lady off the balcony to see how high she’d bounce. He was not very fast. He did not have one-punch knockout power. He scared his opponents to death.

They couldn’t hurt him and he’d just keep plodding forward, his cold eyes portending the mayhem he was about to commit. From the waist up, he was built as strong as any light-heavyweight. He made 160 by having skinny legs. No, I don’t think he would have beaten Marvelous Marvin Hagler, because Hagler could not be hurt, either, and was quicker and a better technician. What a fight that would have been.

Argentina is overdue for a great fighter and Barrios at least talks like one. Going into this fight, he sounds a bit like the other crazy Hispanic who has captivated boxing, Ricardo Mayorga of Nicaragua.

This is not an advocacy of putting the rent money on Barrios in case you can find a place foolish enough to make a line. It’s just a good reason to turn on the show, which also features always-fun-to-watch Teddy Reid in a welterweight clash with Venezuela’s Elio Ortiz and the next step for Francisco (Panchito) Bojado, the sometimes brilliant, sometimes lackadaisical Mexican junior welter. Bojado, perhaps Shelly Finkel’s best hope for the next star, faces Lemuel Nelson, one of Roy Jones Jr.’s buddies.

But those other two bouts would fit well on ESPN. For something that calls itself "American’s No. 1 boxing network" it needs fighters like Popo, whose nickname means "boobs," because he was nursed by his mother until the age of five, which is where he says he gets his punch. It is a considerable punch, leading to 30 knockouts in his 33-0 record. He is so strong that he has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Showtime’s other champion, Kostya Tszyu, which would mean jumping over lightweight to junior welter.

Freitas is going through a marriage split so who knows if he is vulnerable. He is Brazil’s biggest sports star and would probably like nothing better than to whip someone from rival Argentina.

Barrios, who lives high in Argentina and speaks boldly, predicting a knockout, is mostly a pressure fighter, but may choose to box a bit at first to avoid getting caught cold. Word is that he has good speed, good stamina and doesn’t think he can be beat.

Freitas must be considered in any list of the top fighters, pound for pound, currently working. If Barrios is good enough to beat him, then maybe The Hyena could become another Monzon and laugh all the way to the bank.