Blood, sweat, tears and death – Victor Galindez vs. Richie Kates 45 years later
“Like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew.”
– Sun Tzu
For every fighter that climbs through the ropes, there is a story painted in furious strokes of blood, sweat and tears. There is always a kid leaving his family behind in pursuit of a big dream in a big city, there is a mentor who takes him under his wing, there is an idol he admires and tries to imitate. There is money, there are all the good things that money brings. There is, inevitably, pain. There are perilous travels, there are unknown dangers, there are unsurmountable odds and fearful enemies, and there are all the good things that they destroy.
Victor Galindez was born in 1948 as one of 10 siblings in a family of farmhands in Vedia, a town lost somewhere in the Argentine Pampas. He found his way to Buenos Aires in his teens. Soon enough, the dream of becoming a professional prizefighter toppled every other ambition he brought with him, and he gradually found his way to the fabled Luna Park Stadium, which included a gym in which some of the best fighters in South America trained daily. One of them happened to be one of his heroes, and will soon become his friend and his inspiration.
His name was Oscar Bonavena, but he had become a national celebrity under his nickname: “Ringo.” He even had his own TV show, which was nothing but a live broadcast of his family’s Sunday lunch, where his mother Dominga would cook her famous homemade ravioli for everyone in their house in the neighborhood of Parque Patricios. Occasionally, Ringo would sing corky songs with a pop band on TV, or act as juror in beauty pageants. He shattered every TV audience record in the country when he faced Muhammad Ali in 1970 and had managed to cram over 25,000 people at Luna Park for his bout against Gregorio Peralta. He was every man’s hero and every woman’s guilty crush.
Richie Kates was born in 1953 as one of 11 siblings in a family of farmhands in Savanah, Georgia. Soon enough, he relocated to New Jersey. In his teens, boxing found him and inspired him to devote himself to the discipline that school had failed to instill in him. He lied about his age to make his professional debut in December 1969, only six months after Galindez had made his debut some 5200 miles south in Argentina.
Pierre Fourie was born in 1943 and became a professional boxer 20 years later. A popular fighter with an active and profitable career, he routinely gathered large crowds in his native South Africa. In 1975, he summoned two of the largest live attendances of his career for two unsuccessful attempts at the world light heavyweight title in the hands of Galindez, and capped the year with a loss to Kates. In 1976, his promoters Maurice and Allan Toweel decided that bringing Galindez and Kates back to South Africa for what would be only the second title fight among foreigners in the country’s history would be a great idea.
Twenty days before traveling to South Africa as part of Galindez’s corner, Argentine manager-promoter Tito Lectoure had his former junior welterweight champion Nicolino Locche fighting at the Luna Park Stadium against Houston’s Lorenzo Trujillo.
After the fight, Lectoure claims, Trujillo’s trainer (whose name has been lost in the sands of time) made an unprompted approach to the Hall of Fame promoter with an unusual suggestion.
“Take this,” he said, handing Lectoure an unmarked container filled with an unnamed unguent or ointment. “One of our guys is fighting Richie Kates soon, and he uses his head a lot. You’ll need this”.
One week after coming home to his trailer located within the sprawling 166-acre complex of the Mustang Ranch Brothel only to find the smoldering ashes of what were once his clothes and his passport, Ringo Bonavena was mulling his options at a hotel bar in downtown Reno, Nevada. A fight was being proposed to him, in New York. But he had a different trip in mind. May 23 was his wife’s birthday, and he intended to be in Buenos Aires with her, and perhaps never return stateside again. Even though this would mean leaving, among other things, his other wife behind.
A more detailed explanation is in order.
Bonavena, employed as a host by the Mustang Ranch and under contract as a fighter for the joint’s owner Joe Conforte, had been forced to marry one of the ladies in the stable of “courtesans” (one Cheryl Ann Rebideaux) in order to expedite his immigration papers. A marriage of convenience, yes, with the added inconvenience of Bonavena’s yet unresolved marital situation in Argentina. As well as the not-so-minor inconvenience in the fact that Rebideaux was the romantic partner of Mustang Ranch security guard Willard Ross Brymer.
To top it all off, “Ringo” was at odds with Conforte over his unwillingness to fight again at the extravagant fight cards he held in his property. Add Ringo’s extra-cozy relationship with Conforte’s sexagenarian wife Sally to the mix, and the stage was set for Bonavena to square off against forces he had never envisioned, even as a former opponent of some of the most murderous punchers that the heavyweight division had ever produced.
As the sun rose over the “biggest little city in the world”, Bonavena left the lounge of the hotel to grab his suitcase from his trailer and then board a plane to fly back home.
The brown Montecarlo coupe he drove to arrive at the gates of the Mustang Ranch, however, would be the last vehicle he would ever board.
On the other side of the world, the sun was already beginning to fade. In the late afternoon of May 22 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Galindez and Kates had already hit the scales in their same-day weigh-in, and were ready to fight in the chilly outdoors of the Rand Stadium under the auspices of Toweel’s Springbok Promotions.
On any other occasion, the toughest part of the event would have been left behind for Galindez, who was notorious for his weight issues. As a poor kid growing up in a large family in a small country town in Argentina, a bottle of cold Coca Cola was one of his childhood’s most cherished treats, and as he grew up he became addicted to carbonated beverages. The weigh-in, the “round zero” of every fight, then, became one of the toughest ones throughout his career. The sacrifice, he thought as he stepped down from the scales, is over. But the night was young, indeed.
So busy was Galindez gushing down his favorite post-weigh-in beverage and rejoicing in having complied with this tortuous ritual, that he probably didn’t notice the murmurs being whispered around his entourage, comprised of about a dozen compatriots including doctors, seconds, family members and “embedded journalists” who moved with him wherever he went.
The impending bout, however, required all of his attention. And sweating off the excess weight will soon be the least of his concerns.
Rounds one and two came and went. Kates had quickly established his jab, lunging forward with his head after the jab without following up with a proper punch. The combination (of movements, if not of punches) would become a problem as the fight progressed, but for now it worked for Kates, who managed to stay away from Galindez’s inside game. The champion rolled with the punches and connected a few pull-counter hooks and crosses.
The third round, however, is where the fight unraveled beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
After a glancing head butt by Kates, Galindez grimaced in pain and covered his right eye as he retreated towards his corner. A T-shaped cut had been cracked open by the accidental clash of heads, and blood was spurting out of it in unstoppable quantities.
Confusion reigned. Some 20 people jumped into the ring, including photographers and a few journalists. Kates retreated to his corner and was covered in towels to stay warm as the official decision was announced. In Galindez’s corner, ringside doctor Clive Noble diligently checked the wound, arguing that although it was deep and bloody, it was not an impairing injury.
With this in mind, local referee Stanley Christodoulou, in what was only the second world title fight of his career, displayed a remarkable calmness in invoking, for the first time in history, the use of the no-foul rule for an accidental cut. “In those years, a period of five minutes’ recovery was used for low blows as well as cuts,” said Christodoulou. “However, under the prevailing South African Rules, the fight would have been stopped.”
The announcer was already on the canvas with his microphone in hand, but instead of announcing the end of the bout he cleared the ring for the fight to resume, with the caveat that if the fight had to be stopped due to the severity of the cut later in the evening, Galindez would lose the bout.
Allowing his fighter to continue and facing those odds while suffering a potentially extraordinary blood loss and the debilitating pain that goes with it placed an unimaginable burden on the champion and his corner, but this was the kind of maverick move that Lectoure would become famous for. He patted his own pockets in search of the magic nameless ointment. Making a blind bet on a substance that could have been anything from harmful to magical, from poisonous to miraculous or even simply illegal, Lectoure nodded his approval to the referee. The fight was back on. Christodoulou motioned the fighters to the center of the ring, just a few seconds shy of the maximum five minutes allowed by the no-foul rule.
Galindez’s remarkable comeback began to take shape in the fourth round. Throwing bombs with both hands at an impossibly close distance from his target, Galindez stood right in Kates’ face while launching a demolishing attack. His caution-to-the-wind approach left him open for a few serious uppercuts by Kates, but a pattern had been established that would last for the foreseeable future: Galindez would charge towards Kates like a wounded animal, and Kates would continue waiting for a mistake or an opening that rarely surfaced.
Galindez began shaking his head trying to spray off the blood gushing through his sliced eyebrow. Also at around that time, Galindez began using Christodoulou’s shirt as his own personal face towel, clinching Kates until the referee came to separate them, and then wiping his face clean on his shirt.
The fifth round was a no-jabs, all-you-can-eat power punch buffet from Galindez. He let go his hands like his life depended on it, and managed to sneak in a low blow just as a measure of revenge against Kates, who returned the favor later in the round.
By the sixth round, Christodoulou’s shirt was already an essential stage prop in the gory tragedy that the fight was becoming. Just as in the sixth station of the Via Crucis, Christodoulou’s sleeves turned into the veil with which Veronica wiped the bloodied face of Jesus on his way to Mount Calvary. The second half of the round was a full-on slugfest, as Galindez started to realize that his punches were causing enough damage to perhaps force an early stoppage.
Galindez picked up where he left off in the seventh, putting Kates immediately in trouble with a barrage of power punches. Hurt as he was, Galindez did not neglect his defense, bobbing and weaving in and out of danger as needed. Midway through the round, Kates went on a defensive shell as Galindez pounded on him from all angles. A relentless attack in a neutral corner saw Galindez connect what seemed to be a couple of dozen unanswered punches. A few well-placed uppercuts towards the end of the round sent Kates to the canvas, sliding off the corner padding. He got up just in time to receive yet another barrage of punches before the round ended.
In the eighth, Kates’ desperation became clear, as he rammed Galindez with his head during a clinch in the early going and then repeated the dose midway through the round before receiving a warning from the referee. Lectoure climbed onto the ring apron to complain about the accumulation of transgressions by the challenger.
Blood pours from his cut once again, but the imminent end of the fight inspires Galindez to neglect that problem in favor of a continuous stream of punches
The ninth was one of the champ’s best rounds, and it ended with a barrage of about 30 unanswered punches by Galindez. This may have been enough to stop the fight under any other circumstances, but the current ones dictated that no amount of pain or punishment seemed enough to stop a fight that, at this point, was pretty much defined by both.
Kates furthered the case for a stoppage when he staggered towards his corner at the end of the round. Determined to finish him off at any cost, Galindez turned his jab into a chocking hold with which he set Kates in position to punish him with his right hand, a maneuver that Christodoulou quickly convinced him to abandon in the early going of the 10th. With the bleeding under control during the first minute of each round, Galindez seized those early moments of each episode to pick his spots and connect with accuracy, leaving the wildest sweeping swings for the portion of the round in which he became half-blinded by his own blood.
In the 11th, after spending the previous round almost entirely in his own corner receiving a great amount of punishment, Kates revived the snappy jab and some of his mobility, but not for long. Galindez, after keeping the cut under control for a couple of rounds, had blood streaming down from it midway through the round. Sensing opportunity, Kates resumed his jab-based attack on the injury, keeping Galindez at bay and forcing him to clinch and wipe his blood off his eye with his glove.
The 12th started with Galindez taking a break from his offense and going on the retreat, backing away from Kates and trying to save some energy for the final stretch of the fight. Christodoulou checked his cut once again during the round, and the fight went on. Kates was warned about charging with his head in the early going of the 13th, and a low blow landed on Galindez on the 14th round as well, but Galindez did not complain. When a second and more clear low blow landed on him later in that round, Lectoure jumped back onto the ring apron to voice his discontent and ask for a disqualification in favor of the champion.
Galindez, however, chose to work on his karma instead of complaining, amicably touching gloves with Kates as if dismissing the seriousness of his infraction in exchange for one more chance to cap his gutsy performance in style.
Karma, finally, would win the day.
After a slow start, the 15th and final round brings a sound that had not been heard up to that point. From the bleachers down to the ringside seats, a loud chant begins to flow like water on a slope: “Víc-tor, Vic-tor!”. The roar of the crowd put the zip back on Galindez’s hands and the speed back on his legs as well, and he began to pummel Kates with a two-fisted attack from all angles. Blood pours from his cut once again, but the imminent end of the fight inspires Galindez to neglect that problem in favor of a continuous stream of punches, looking for a final statement to cement what he expected to be a decisive points win in his favor. A low blow by Kates goes unpunished, and one of his jabs clears out the thick layer of Vaseline covering Galindez’s cut.
As blood flows again from Galindez’s cut, and with only seconds to go in the fight, a left hook shakes Kates and forces him to clinch. Galindez breaks clean and lands an assortment of hooks and uppercuts. After breaking three or four consecutive clinches, Christodoulou steps back and Galindez rips Kates with an uppercut to set him up for a devastating sequence of punches.
With his right eye all but useless, Galindez launches three left hooks to Kates’ head in rapid succession, as if wanting to be able to witness what would prove the most memorable combination of his lifetime with his good eye and in full view. Those punches successively buckle, freeze and knock down Kates, placing him motionless on the canvas. The roar of the crowd forces Christodoulou to kneel down and shout the count on Kates’ face. As he does it, he briefly interrupts the proceeding to summon Galindez back into a neutral corner, to no avail. The Argentine champ is shouting each number as he jumps and pumps his fist into the air while Kates is counted out.
The ring is invaded again. This time, it is in celebration of a win that came all but three seconds before the end of the final round.
The exultant crowd leaves the stadium and Galindez is rushed to the hospital. The entourage is reduced to a small group of his closest associates: his doctor Roberto Paladino, Lectoure, and Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, dean of Argentine boxing writers.
As Galindez is set on a hospital bed and doctor Noble begins to insert the first of what would end up being 54 stitches on the gruesome cut, the trio of companions hold Galindez firmly in place as they prepare him for the most painful moment of the night.
As the thread follows the needle through his flesh, Galindez hears the news whispered in his ear: his idol, his sidekick, his sparring partner, his beloved friend and his mentor Oscar Bonavena had been shot to death by Willard Ross Brymer at the gates of the Mustang Ranch, four hours before the beginning of the fight. All the tears that Galindez didn’t shed in the ring are now in full display, as a deeper cut tears into his heart.
“I think that this fight puts him at a level that it will be difficult to topple,” said Marcelo Dominguez, a former cruiserweight titlist and one of Argentina’s most underrated former champions. “It will forever be remembered as one of the great heroic feats in the sport. When everything seemed impossible, he made it happen.”
Dominguez had his own “Galindez moment” when he survived a broken rib to halt the unbeaten streak of Russia’s Sergei Kobozev (who was, incidentally, a bodyguard who was murdered a few months later). Galindez himself would have another chance at surviving a horrific injury on his way to a win, when he fought Marvin Johnson for eight rounds with a broken jaw. It was not meant to be, though, as Galindez’s corner exercised more caution and stopped the fight – which proved to be Galindez’s second-to-last.
Galindez received a hero’s welcome in Argentina. He was greeted by thousands of fans on his way to the Luna Park, where his friend Ringo had had his funeral only a few hours earlier.
Three months after his last bout against Jesse Burnett in 1980, Galindez was the co-pilot of a race car he was planning to purchase from Antonio Lizeviche when the car broke down and was forced to pull over. As Galindez was returning to the pits on foot, another car veered off the track and hit him and Lizeviche at full speed, killing both of them instantly.
Galindez had his funeral at the Bonavena Funeral Home, a business that one of Ringo’s brothers had opened with the help of the fighter himself. Only after that, he was taken to the Luna Park for a final viewing before heading to his final resting place.
Both Galindez and Bonavena were survived by their respective mothers. They were both named Dominga.
“I still have the shirt I wore the night I refereed Victor Galindez’s battle with Richie Kates in Johannesburg in 1976,” says Stanley Christodoulou, in a chapter of his autobiography that is entirely dedicated to this fight, in which he also describes the process he used to preserve and frame that shirt, like a work of art. “It still represents what I love most about boxing – that never-say-die spirit that drives true champions on when the odds are stacked against them.”
In every chaotic and violent story painted in furious strokes of blood, sweat and tears there is a masterpiece waiting to reveal itself. There is always a kid leaving his family behind in pursuit of a big dream, there is more money to be spent and more miles to be traveled and more danger to be faced than they ever expected. And there is death at the end.
Somewhere in the middle, sometimes, lays something that cannot be destroyed.