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It was 45 years ago. It was the hottest night of the century and 20,000 people packed the stadium. Each Locche presentation at Luna Park was the promise of a full stadium.
At ten at night the street was boiling. The feverish air weighed on the humanities as if a hidden and aggressive sun was soaking our skin. When entering Luna Park through any of its doors, the effects of a bonfire were felt; everything was brutal, inhuman. In less than five minutes sitting in any armchair and motionless – and much more crammed into the stands -, the intense heat caused a bath of sweat. The air was not running in the stadium: oxygen was a suffocating and heavy mass that altered the palpitations, the behavior and even the character of the spectators. Only Nicolino Locche could produce this phenomenon; Only he and his incomparable magic could summon in such conditions to a Luna Park with 20,000 people who defied the 50 degrees of the interior temperature on a night of atypical weather in Buenos Aires with 43 ° in the open air that was held from before 8 pm until late Sunday morning.
I remember it with indelible fidelity. It was saturday January 17, 1976. And the businessman Tito Lectoure was encouraged to schedule that fight in a stadium without refrigeration because the protagonist was Locche and because the traditional Holiday on Ice show was to debut two weeks later to stay –as every year- until mid-March.
Nicolino had reconciled with his unforgettable teacher Don Paco Bermúdez after the defeat against Kid Pambelé (1973) and he had not fought at Luna for more than a year., the stage where he had given his captivating exhibits. His last presentation had been in October 75 ‘against the American Jimmy Hear, a tall, skinny blond who had beaten him on points. As his return to the rings became official, people began booking tickets from mid-December. It was thus that the habitues of the Moon, the inevitable ones of every Saturday, emphatically warned when making their telephone reservations to the stadium ticket holders, who would come especially from Punta del Este, Pinamar, Mar del Plata and other places where they were on vacation. “Please”, they exhorted: “that I do not lack the tickets … look that I will arrive on the hour”, they cried.
The 20,348 spectators who left 3,539,020 pesos at the box office at a rate of 290 pesos for every dollar did not care who the rival was. His name was Emiliano Villa, he was Colombian – today he resides in Santa Marta – he was 23 years old and 23 fights. He was considered a great promise of boxing in Barranquilla – his land – and it would have been a great reality if he had not crashed, a few months after fighting here, against Mano de Piedra Duran who defeated him in 7 laps.
The idolatry that Nicolino exercised over the public produced a phenomenon never seen before: people weren’t going to watch the fight; he was going to see Locche; the combat then became an obligatory excuse to do the show. But what about 50 ° heat? Yes, with 50 ° heat; But leave the beach and travel especially to Buenos Aires for it? Yes sir; But, do you also pay a premium for each ticket to secure the seat? Obvious and also, having to go with a jacket over the shirt as it is almost mandatory to enter the ring side? Yes, the fights on Saturdays were not televised and that was the rule to be near the ring … And what did Locche offer for such a sacrifice …? A unique show based on an artistic defense without flight, singled out in a prodigious sight that eluded the opponent’s fists by moving the head, torso and waist in synchronization. It was an aesthetic and sensual spectacle. They called it The Untouchable: men admired him and women loved him; signature boxing …
Locche could place his hands, but the art most enjoyed by the public was his dodges that made opponents ridiculous. They couldn’t hit him, that’s why they named him The Untouchable.
That night of dread the tickets were sold out. Many people who had been left outside tried in vain to enter through one of the four corners of access to the popular tribunes; also by those of the ring side and even by those of the Super Pullman on Bouchard Street. The doors were closed with police custody. FIt was then that about a hundred people moved to the entrance of the special platform, that of Avenida Madero. It was there that many managed to enter compulsively, running over the doormen and jumping the corridors. But policemen on motorcycles quickly arrived traveling on the sidewalk and assault cars that parked at the door from where and to disperse those who were struggling to enter, they began to throw tear gas under those burning shadows.
When the disbandment took place in the special gallery and in the ring side, Locche’s dressing room – located exactly below the affected sector – seemed to shake. In less than two minutes, through a gap in the dividing wall with the exit corridor to the stadium, the first emanations of tear gas began to leak. Locche, his son Lolo, his technical team and I were victims of the situation. Locche was seriously affected: he could not see, he was breathing with difficulty, his throat became sore and he began to retch, as if he were about to vomit.
The scare, that is how El Gráfico had titled the image where it was seen how many spectators had run through the gases and run over, in the middle of an oppressive hot night in Buenos Aires
In the midst of the commotion, a man was seen running desperately in a white robe with boxer boots, his cuffs bandaged, his face packed, his thinning wet hair and a white towel around his thick neck. In his desperate run, he managed to come across people who wanted to enter along with other people who wanted to leave; in both cases affected by tear gas. It was Locche who, in anguish, had gone to the place where his family was. We had to go find him, calm him down, persuade him and return him to the dressing room, totally invaded by individuals in the midst of tears and despair. The same thing happened to his rival Emiliano Villa, ten meters further …
Once seated on the massage table, the head of Section 22 came, who to reassure Nicolino, his team and Lectoure, tried a coherent explanation. And said:
– The gases emitted in the street leaked through the doors and into the stadium. When the heat is so high, the gas is under pressure and cannot rise normally, so it seeks to expand below. In this case, the lower slits of the Madero Avenue doors were the most accessible channel for the gas to expand. And it expanded into Luna Park. . .
According to what I saw and remember, it was there that the confusion was born: the audience that was seated in sector “C” of ringside produced a disarray when they found themselves suddenly unable to breathe. Even then there were not only nerves and unbearable heat, there was also uncertainty, fear, running, thrown seats, torches in the stands to dispel the gas and thousands of watery eyes seeking the relief of a wet handkerchief.
“What are you going to do Nicolino, are you going to fight the same?” I asked him before I knew that his rival, who had also been a victim of the gases, was not willing to suspend the fight, he wanted to return to Colombia as planned.
—And yes, because of my fight… Wait for the irritation in my eyes to go away, do you have droplets? He asked “and stop gagging…”. And finally he stated: “You also have to see what Don Paco says” (Bermúdez, his manager).
Little by little, Luna Park was regaining its calm. Meanwhile, in Lectoure’s office a conclave had begun, in which the doctors of the Boxing Commission of the City of Buenos Aires, Leonel Primavesi and Defilippis Novoa, participated; the secretary of the Argentine Boxing Federation, Icaro Frusca, Commissioner Ventimiglia of the 22nd and senior police chiefs, who were as spectators and participated in the meeting.
Despite the tear gas added to the almost 50 degrees that it made inside the stadium, the fight was delayed but could be carried out. The public remained stoic, resorting to wet handkerchiefs … Even the sodas were exhausted
“Gentlemen, do I have guarantees that the fight will proceed without further disturbance?” Asked Lectoure.
“Absolute,” replied a Chief Commissioner, the one with the highest position at that meeting.
“And tell me, dear doctors: is there any damage that prevents boxers from fighting?”
—No, just let as much time as possible pass, let them rest as much as they can in silence, lubricate their eyes, take their blood pressure again and if everything is normal they will be able to get into the ring…, responded the official match doctors.
After this meeting, Tito went to Locche’s dressing room and told him: “Listen to me, Nicolino, we have to fight, there are 20,000 dehydrated people waiting for three hours, we cannot suspend it, they kill us all, you saw how they got banned the heat, the gases, the runs, the paper torches and to top it all, Can you believe that the coca growers ran out of merchandise?.-
“Of course I’m going to fight Tito,” Locche replied, “I don’t leave those people in a band or fart.”
He threw himself on the stretcher. Two ice packs were placed on him: one on his neck and the other on his forehead. At 20 minutes he stood up to cast a little shade. Don Paco adjusted his gloves and his assistant Alberto Andrada smeared his eyebrows and cheekbones with solid petroleum jelly. I got behind him and his assistants to accompany them to the ring. When the door of the dressing room opened, we began to hear more clearly a chorus that filled that airless hell, singing: “Ni-co-li-no, Ni-co-li-no….!.
As soon as the public saw him walk towards the ring with his light and fast little Chaplinesque step, the voices were roaring and when he stepped into the ring, Luna Park embraced him with the unconditionality of perpetual love.
Just by raising their arms, bowing to each side for a few seconds, thanking with the nod of their head and going back to the corner to rehearse some movements before the presentations, they had amortized the “torture” of the traumatic wait … And when the announcer Jorge Morales lengthened the Nicoooliiiino Looccheee those stands had forgotten the heat, the gases, the panic and the bullfights because Nicolino would have to begin his incomparable show of gloved magic.
By the way, he won the fight against Villa on points. And obviously that the temperature and the context did not allow a full fight throughout the 10 rounds. Everything should have been slower and scientifically administered because remaining seated was already a burden … And when he descended from the ring after the failure, the public cheered him again, hugged him again …
Idols are not analyzed, they are enjoyed; they are not evaluated, they are loved.
This alone explains why more than 20,000 people would have preferred to become dehydrated than to stop seeing that unrepeatable angel who transformed boxing into art.
Ben Oakley is the guy you can really trust when it comes to Mainstream News. Whether it is something happening at the Wall Street of New York City or inside the White House in Washington, D.C., no one can cover mainstream news like Ben. Get a daily dose of Trustworthy News by Ben Oakley, only at Globe Live Media.