Wilfredo Benitez of nearby Carolina, P.R., today won the World Boxing Council welterweight title from Carlos Palomino of Mexico by a split decision and his managers said they have an offer to fight Sugar Ray Leonard.
"We've got an offer of $800,000 to fight Leonard from NBC," said Benitez's father Gregorio, out of earshot of promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank Inc., who claimed after the 15-round fight there may have been an unsuccessful attempt to influence the outcome of the nationally televised fight so that Palomino could be matched against lightweight champion Roberto Duran.
Benitez took the title by getting the votes from referee Jay Edson of Miami and judge Harry Gibbs of England by comfortable margins of 148-143 and 146-143. But judge Zach Clayton of Philadelphia scored it 145-142 for the defending champion.
Arum said that Clayton's vote for Palomino was suspicious in the light of rumors that there was a bribery attempt to favor Palomino.
"Nobody in their right mind could have scored that fight for Palomino," Arum said. "I know Palomino. He was a great champion, but you watched that fight and I watched that fight and there is no doubt that Benitez won it."
Clayton had no comment on Arum's charges. However, he also told another reporter that the sun had been in his eyes at the open-air baseball stadium where the fight was held and perhaps he had not been able to see too well.
Turning his attention to a Benitez-Leonard fight, Arum said, "If Benitez's manager (Jimmy Jacobs) wants to fight Leonard it would be a major, major bout. We'd bring it right back to Puerto Rico.I'd love to have him fight Leonard; it would be a big, big money fight."
Bentiez earned $50,000 today, while Palomino received $465,000.
Arum later said Benitez had two options -- to meet Leonard or Englishman David Green of London.
Gil Clancy, matchmaker for Madison Square Grden, watched the bout here and said, "Leonard would be ready for Palomino or Benitez after three or four more fights against top contenders; then, not now."
Palomino said, "I'd give Leonard a chance against Benitez. I've seen Leonard on TV. He's very fast, but he's not very powerjul. He's a tremendous boxer and he's stopped a lot of guys, but they have not been top-rated."
Benitez said he has seen Leonard fight and remarked, "He is a good boxer, but if he went inside with me he souldn't look so good."
ABC televised today's bout to the mainland United States and the competition among the networks is so keen that NBC showed excerpts of Thursday's Leonard-Juhnny Gant bout about the same time.
Before the Palomino-Benitez fight, the United States, Puerto Rican (for Benitez) and Mexican (for Palomino) national anthems were played and whistles and calls greeted the U.S. anthem. There were some cheers, too.
There were no knockdowns in the fight, though Benitez hit Palomino with about 20 straight punches near the end of the 14th round.
Palomino made his opponent's legs wobble from a savage left hook in the fifth round.
Benitez took solid command in the ninth with sweeping rights to the jaw after absorbing Palomino's last effective series of heavy body punches.
Palomino said it was a good decision and added, "Benitez boxed a tremendous fight. He was the lightest puncher I've been in with. I was slow."
Benitez said of judge Clayton's scoring against him, "Boxing is like that."
It was the 34th fight for Benitez, who has had no losses and only one tie, against Harold Weston. Palomino's record dropped to 28-2-3.
Off Thursday's fight, Leonard could punch as fast and harder than Benitez. Palomino may be stronger than Leonard but neither fighter today showed the stylish footwork of the Palmer Park, Md., boxer.