Best I Covered: Ernesto Cherquis Bialo
Good writers are, in general, in short supply but not hard to find. Great reporters are just as scarce, but there are more than a few of them around. Gifted storytellers, however, are very few and far in between. Our subject of today’s BIC series is one of them.
Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1940 to a family of Russian immigrants, Ernesto Cherquis Bialo relocated across the river in Buenos Aires a few years later, and in his early 20’s he was employed by El Grafico, which was already Latin America’s answer to Sports Illustrated – or even bigger than that. As a cub reporter he trekked many times every week the short (500 yards or so) distance between that legendary magazine’s main offices and the no-less legendary Luna Park Stadium, a one-stop all-you-can-watch boxing buffet with its own boxing gym where a few hundred boxers trained every day and a venerable main room where boxing legends were born, made and destroyed week after week.
Cherquis, as everyone affectionately calls him, had a front row seat to that show for the better part of four decades, which were coincidentally the most productive of Argentine boxing history. Names such as Horacio Acavallo, Nicolino Locche, Victor Galindez, Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena and everyone in between were the subjects of his stories, printed in magazines that could sell up to half a million copies across Latin America every week if the story was compelling enough. As one of their leading writers, it was on Cherquis to write those cover stories, and he delivered every time.
The magazine asked their writers to sign their pieces with a one-word pseudonym, and Cherquis chose “Robinson” in honor of the great Sugar Ray. What could be seen as an act of petulance by the untrained eye soon became a perfect choice: Cherquis was, and still remains today, the all-time pound-for-pound best storyteller in Argentine sports. The available space for his stories could be a two-inch column, a one-page piece or a ten-page feature, but the result would always be the same enthralling and captivating mix of sacred and profane, street-wise and book-smart in a piece of writing that so many of his peers (this writer included) revered and tried to imitate for generations.
He was, in sum, El Grafico’s answer to Sports Illustrated’s Mark Kram, if only Kram had had the luck and the blessing of becoming director of that magazine just as Cherquis did between 1982 and 1990. His unstoppable work ethic led him to write dozens of articles for several magazines and to appearing in some of the most successful radio and TV shows in the decades to follow, aside from ghost-writing the biographies of Carlos Monzon (whom he “shadowed” for an entire decade as an embedded member of his camp) and Diego Maradona. Eleven trips to Japan, dozens of trips to Las Vegas and Europe, and a ringside seat to the “Rumble in the Jungle” rubbing elbows with Norman Mailer and other legends are also part of his mind-blowing resume.
Recently, he completed another book entitled “100 years of Argentine boxing in 12 legendary fights” (available only in Spanish) alongside this writer and Carlos Irusta, another beloved boxing writer that Cherquis himself hired for El Grafico back in the early 70’s.
With no signs of slowing down at his 83 years of age, Cherquis sat down with The Ring to share his best moments in boxing. Here they are.
Best fighter: Muhammad Ali
He had it all. He had everything in extraordinary and unique ways for a man who weighted over 200 pounds. Speed, accuracy, intelligence, commitment to his strategy. And he also had a vision of everything that surrounded him. Great fighters are different from the rest because all the others just fight, but guys like Ali, Locche, Leonard, Robinson… they always know where they are, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what they want to accomplish. And they also know who’s watching them, what to do to improve their performance. Muhammad Ali was such a fighter.
Best puncher: George Foreman
I saw him in Caracas against Ken Norton. And I also saw him in New York against Floyd Patterson. There are different levels of punching power, but the true winners are those who can take a punch. Foreman, before Ali, would have been invincible. A well-trained Tyson could have equaled the power of one of those Foreman fight-ending punches. Foreman was tall, determined, worked perfectly behind the jab, which is not usual for a heavy puncher, and always had a third punch ready to go, even though most of the time he only needed one or two punches.
This a complicated subject, because many punchers are fragile. The most accurate punchers often have a certain weakness in their chin or in their necks, a kind of vulnerability that matches their strength. Tommy Hearns is an example. He was a devastating puncher but he had a thin neck and his chin suffered because of that.
Best defense: Nicolino Locche
Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather too. But defense is also difficult to rate. There are fighters who defend themselves by attacking a lot, like Alexis Arguello, or Tommy Hearns. But probably the best who combined both things was Marvin Hagler.
Best knockout: Tommy Hearns to Pipino Cuevas
It was clean, crisp, visible from the first to the last row. Perfection, from the moment that his left was launched until the moment in which his follow-up right hand landed. Also, seeing Pipino Cuevas on the floor was extraordinary, especially after the great first round that Pipino had. That was an impressive knockout.
Best boxing event: Ali vs. Foreman
There was nothing bigger. Not only because of all the exotic things that happened, but also because I had the opportunity to visit their training camps and to see Norman Mailer next to me, and being able to hang out with him. Ali in the ring, Mailer sitting there, Angelo Dundee shouting orders, Ferdie Pacheco translating for me. Unreal!
Strangest moment: Victor Galindez leaving Mike Rossman in the ring
The Nevada State Athletic Commission had decided that, starting with that fight, judges were to be named only by the NSAC itself. The fight was a WBA fight. Its president was Fernando Mandry Galindez, who was back in Caracas for that fight. Since Lectoure was not allowed to communicate with the WBA due to being associated with the fight’s promoter (Bob Arum), I offered myself as liaison. We made one last phone call from the Caesar’s Palace. We saw that the referee was Carlos Berrocal and there were other WBA judges there, but they were not in their seats. The ones seated at ringside were the Nevada judges.
I knew that if the judges were not changed there would be no fight. We asked whether the WBA would withdraw recognition from Galindez if he didn’t fight. And he said no. If the WBA-appointed authorities are not in charge, Galindez shouldn’t fight, and there would be no consequences for him. We start our walk towards the ring. Rossman is already up there. Galindez had made weight after several trips to the sauna, and was very weak. We walked about 50 feet towards the ring, which was located straight and to the left. We knew we had an emergency door straight and to the right. We knew that if we headed that way, the security detail would continue walking towards the ring without looking back. When we spotted the Nevada judges at ringside, we bolted for the emergency door and crossed the entire casino floor with Galindez in full boxing gear. People got to see how a boxer wearing trunks and Vaseline and ready to fight was taking an elevator to his room. They had to give explanations on TV. There was a lawsuit. It was tough.
Most emotional moment: Locche beats Fujii for the junior welterweight title in Japan
I can reminisce about the Locche-Fujii fight minute by minute, like a movie. He was an intrepid guy, he had unlimited talent. Two rounds before the end, he said “if you ask Fujii whether he wants to quit, he’ll tell you that he does.”
Locche was many things to me. I convinced Argentina’s biggest boxing sponsor (Peñaflor wines) to support his fight. The company had just enough money for one event in 1968, and they had to choose. On October 21, Ramon La Cruz vs Curtis Cokes. On December 10, Joe Frazier against Oscar Bonavena (in a rematch), and December 12, Nicolino Locche vs Paul Fujii. They asked for the opinion of a group of writers. Everyone was torn between La Cruz (a devastating puncher) or Bonavena. And I said “the only one who can win his fight is Nicolino”. They all laughed! “This guy’s crazy!” But that, and the association between Locche and his wine-making birthplace of Mendoza convinced them to support the fight. I got them to invest in Locche-Fujii. And it was all perfect. It was a crazy and brazen thing, an impulse of my youth. Today I wouldn’t dare to make such a prediction. I would go for the highest TV rating and get it over with. But I was such a fan of Locche, we had put him so many times on the cover of El Grafico, and he was our idol. He had defeated three world champions back then and could put 20.000 people at Luna Park. He was a marvel.
Biggest controversy: Foster and Ahumada fight to a draw in Albuquerque
There were many robberies against Argentine boxers. One of those was monstrous. Bob Foster against Jorge “Aconcagua” Ahumada, in Albuquerque. It was a robbery, but it was a totally shameless robbery. It was a bank robbery in broad daylight. And it changed Ahumada’s life. If he had been a champion, he wouldn’t have gone to England to face John Conteh. He would have been a terrific champion who would have taken the title from a great champion. His victory would have been on par with the level of his opponent. Ahumada won the fight from bell to bell, all fifteen rounds of it. It was madness. Boxing was terrible back then. It has improved a lot.
For all its context and its historical weight, it has to be Ali-Foreman. But my saddest night as a writer was when I had to cover Ali vs Larry Holmes. I cursed myself for asking my editors to cover that fight. I would have felt the same sadness seeing this on TV, but it was not the same as seeing that empty shadow of a glorious past that Muhammad Ali was in that fight. A man I had seen in his prime. I couldn’t bear to watch it. It was like seeing a son in the hospital, with the added impotence of being unable to do anything about it. You wanted to stand up and scream “stop this fight right now! This is not Ali, you have lied to this people and the people who are watching on TV!” Someone should have walked up to him and tell him “you shouldn’t take this fight. Why? Because of your glory. You need to preserve that glory, and your health.” They didn’t. And it was very sad to see.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.