Where Have You Gone, Nino Benvenuti?

By Norman Marcus on October 3, 2015
Where Have You Gone, Nino Benvenuti?
Benvenuti is alive and well and living in Trieste. The years have not caught up with him.

The 1960s belonged to Nino Benvenuti, and he ran through that decade like a hot knife through mozzarella…

If you were a boxing fan back in the 1960s, you know the name Nino Benvenuti. He won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. On January 20, 1961, he won his first pro fight on points. He ran wild through the super welterweight division. He went on to make it sixty-five wins in a row!

Nino would walk down the Via Veneto (one of the most famous, elegant streets of Rome) like a movie star, always with a crowd tagging at his heels. His rugged good looks made the women swoon and the men smile. Benvenuti drove a red Ferrari convertible but even the crazy Italian traffic never slowed him down.

He was an excellent boxer, who had a terrific left hook. Nino could give as well as take a strong punch. He had a fluid movement that made him quick and hard to hit.

On June 18, 1965, he met fellow Italian Sandro Mazzinghi at the Palazzetto dello Sport in Milan, Italy. Two Italian middleweights were fighting for the WBA and WBC super welterweight belts—and the country was going wild. Mazzinghi was the defending titleholder. He was beaten that night via 6th round KO. Benvenuti was now the world champion. In a rematch between the two men on December 17, 1965, at the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome, Nino retained the title with a 15-round unanimous decision. (It would have been another KO for Benvenuti, but Mazzinghi was saved by the bell after being knocked down in round 2.)

The following year Benvenuti met Ki Soo Kim at the Chang Chung Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea. Surprisingly, he lost his new WBC and WBA super welterweight belts to the southpaw in a split decision upset after 15 rounds. Strangely enough, Nino had beaten this same Kim in the 1960 Rome Olympic Games! Benvenuti called his first professional loss a hometown decision for the local fighter and decided to walk away from the super welterweight division and campaign as a middleweight.

Next came three fights that would make Nino a boxing superstar. On April 17, 1967, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Benvenuti decisioned Emile Griffith to win the WBA and WBC World middleweight titles. Griffith was knocked down in round 2, Benvenuti was down in round 4, and The Ring selected it as Fight of the Year. Of course there was a rematch a few months later. It was set for Shea Stadium on September 29, 1967. Nino was again knocked down, this time in round 14. He lost the belt back to Griffith. Benvenuti was on the losing side of a MD15.

The two men went back to Madison Square Garden for the rubber match on March 4, 1968. Benvenuti knocked Griffith down in round 9 and won the belt back in another UD15.

Griffith hadn’t been the same fighter since he had killed Benny Kid Paret in 1963. Emile’s jabs and body blows had been deadly that night. After that tragedy, Griffith seemed to hold back his power punches and rely more on his boxing ability to win bouts. Perhaps that explains why all three fights with Benvenuti ended in some sort of decision.

Nino began to lose a step at this point, winning some matches and losing others. He finally lost the title for the last time to a young, strong Carlos Monzon, in Rome on November 7, 1970, in a TKO12. Bert Sugar later said of Monzon’s style, he fought with “a coolness that could no more be melted than ice welded, his style a cross between aggressive caution and cautious aggression. With a long right hand thrown in for good measure.” Benvenuti lost to Monzon again in a rematch in Monaco on May 8, 1971, via third round KO. He retired from the ring that night, never to return.

Nino then took up residence in his hometown of Trieste, a seaport city in northeastern Italy. He opened a posh restaurant and had a national talk show on television. He also worked as a color man for major sporting events. Benvenuti was a complicated character with interests in art, music and literature. In some respects he could be compared to former champions James Corbett, Gene Tunney, or the Klitschko brothers. He even gave up celebrity and the material world for a while. He spent time working at Mother Teresa’s Mission in India for the poor! Eventually, though, he returned home to Italy.

The public loved with Nino Benvenuti. He won half a dozen world titles during the 1960s. The decade belonged to him, and Nino ran through those years like a hot knife through mozzarella. Many consider him the best Italian middleweight in history.

Benvenuti stayed friends with Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon. Both men visited him at his restaurant and were guests on his talk show. In later years, Benvenuti came to Griffith’s rescue when he was broke. Worse problems befell Monzon, who was accused of murdering his wife in Argentina. Nino flew there many times to visit his old friend. Despite Benvenuti’s help, Carlos was convicted of the murder and sentenced to eleven years at Las Flores Prison. He died in a car accident, while on a weekend furlough.

Carlos Monzon died young at 53. Much later, Emile Griffith passed away at the age of 75. But Nino Benvenuti is still alive and well and living in Trieste. The years have not caught up with him yet. Perhaps because he still drives that red Ferrari with the quickness of his youth.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Emile Griffith vs Nino Benvenuti (I)

Carlos Monzon vs Nino Benvenuti II

Nino Benvenuti vs Sandro Mazzinghi-Due Carriere 1 di 2

Nino Benvenuti vs Sandro Mazzinghi-Due Carriere 2 di 2

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  1. Gordon Analla 02:52pm, 10/13/2015

    To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Nino’s, but in reading your article, he sounds like a very good and classy individual.  Best to him.
    P.S.  How about some praise for Tom “The Bomb” Bethea who upset Nino via a knockout in the land down under, circo 1970.

  2. nicolas 08:53am, 10/04/2015

    Great article. Looking also at the video’s, one senses that professional boxing was really big in the 1960’s, probably just behind Soccer. In fact, from 58 to 66, one can honestly say that Italian boxers had more success then the national soccer team, fail to get to the elimination rounds in both 62 and 66, with the loss to North Korea probably being an all time low, and they dud not even qualifying in 58, losing out to Northern Ireland. From around the 70’s, they’re were far few champs it seems, and the venues for these fights got smaller, and non Italians like galindez and Monzon seemed to defend there titles there, even Alexis Arguello. The Amateur game seems to flourish in Italy, but not the professional one. Perhaps they don’t have the promoter they had back then in the 60’s, but it would also be an interesting article what happened in Italy, as well as South Korea, and even Brazil,

  3. Mike Silver 08:36pm, 10/03/2015

    Nice article Norm about a classy gentleman. Wish we could have gotten that talk show here. I notice you write that Nino won “the WBA and WBC” crowns against Mazzinghi and Griffith. You could also have said “the undisputed” crowns or simply “world championship”. That was generally the case in the 1960s. Split titles were rare in the decade before King and Co. ravaged the sport and created multiple champions for each division—a curse that continues to this very day.

  4. Jack Lewis 03:03pm, 10/03/2015

    @jackson.reyes my 4th Ferrari was red but I know what you mean. Good read/ I’m another 80’s an after boxing fan / so I too received an education tonight… For the record first Ferrari was red ;)

  5. Jackson.reyes10@gmail.com 01:23pm, 10/03/2015

    For the record everyone knows you only buy a red Ferrari when it’s your first. The second and third are always an off color. Moving on GREAT STORY Marcus / you summed up a great career in boxing for a person that never heard of the guy as an 80’s baby boxing fan. As far as Monzon goes, guy would have beet anyone that night. The Escopeta Retired a lot of guys, no shame in that. I just hope the man himself has a chance to read this story. Everyone should be so lucky to have fans 50 years past your prime… I’ll take that over a Ferrari anytime. Legacy wins every time.

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