Cigarettes and boxing: An all-time great was a serious chain smoker?Written by Lee Cleveland
Today, we know smoking cigarettes is a health hazard and a serious detriment to athletic performance.
Smoking reduces oxygen to the brain, heart and muscles, raises blood pressure and works against the body's healing process.
Fighters, and athletes in general, who smoke have compromised cardios, and are physically weaker and are likely to sustain more injuries than their nonsmoking competitors.
It's 2014 so this information should come as no surprise to anyone.
What may come as a shock is one of boxing's all-time greats was a serious chain somoker.
v.i., v.t. -smoked, -smok•ing. to smoke continually, as by lighting one cigarette, cigar, etc., from the preceding one.
Born in 1942, Carlos Monzon (87-3-9-1 NC,58 KO) is considered by many as one of the top three middleweights ever, along with Sugar Ray Robinson and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
He was that good.
Tall, lean and very strong, the Argentine had a physique ideal for a boxing, possessed fine punching power and employed an array of weapons in the ring. Monzon held the one-and-only middleweight title for seven years, beat the best of his day and was never knocked out during his long career.
A wild man of sorts and world class playboy outside the ring, Monzon was also a smoker... a heavy smoker.
During the 1960s and as late as the mid 70s, smoking was considered vogue and Monzon was far from the only top athlete to fall prey to the almighty cigarette. However, one can only imagine how good he would have been had he not been lured by the sweet puffs of nicotine.
Remarkably, Monzon’s cardio was one his primary strengths - And keep in mind, championship fights were scheduled for 15 rounds back then.
Carlos Monzon loved his cigarettes... and his women.
Somehow, the Argentine ladies' man stayed fit and nimble despite devastating his lungs with up to 100 cigarettes a day when not training.
However, it's believed he cut his smoking in half to a mere (and mind-blowing) 50 cigarettes per day when in the latter stages of preparing for a big fight, still requiring a few puffs to relieve the monotony of roadwork.
Author George Diaz Smith said of Monzon, “A guy like Ricardo Mayorga (a contemporary fighter who smokes) would be a novice compared to the likes of the iron-lunged Monzon."
"Nobody could figure this out. For all of the years that I’d seen him, Monzon never gasped for air, tired or opened his mouth gagging for oxygen in any round.”
Stories are often embellished over time but it's quite clear Monzon's affinity for chain-smoking didn't keep him from reaching the top of boxing's proverbial Mt Olympus and may forever remain one of the oddities of the sport.
Young fighters, the freakishly-gifted Monzon's actions are, in no way, shape or form, a validation of smoking in boxing, especially on the elite level.
He was good enough to get away with it, but you are most likely not.
Carl Monzon facts
- Record: 87-3-9-1 NC; 58 KO (100 fights)
- Division: Middleweight
- Stance: Orthodox
- Height 5′ 11½″ / 181cm
- Reach 76″ / 193cm
- Origin: Santa Fe, Santa Fe, Argentina
- Pro debut: 1963
- Final bout: 1977
- Title defenses:14
- Lost in 1964 and would go undefeated the remainder of his career (13 years, 82 fights)
- Before retirement, in 1974, he starred in La Mary, a hit movie
- Following his retitrement, Monzon became immersed in the party lifestyle and, in 1989, was convicted of killing his common-law-wife.
- Death: In 1995, Monzon died in a car accident while on a prison furlough. He was 52.
Lee is Managing Editor of FightSaga.com, a student of the Sweet Science and longtime boxing fan.
A gym rat in the 1990s, Lee was trained by 1976 Olympic Silver Medalist Charles Mooney and several retired seasoned pros. He was also a sparring partner for former WBA Super Middleweight Champion Steve Little who upset Michael Nunn for the WBA Super Middleweight Title in '94.
Lee created FightSaga.com to honor and preserve boxing's rich heritage, chronicle the achievements of top fighters, celebrate the legacy of big fights and provide a fun, educational experience for fight fans.