The Crunching Power of Carlos Zarate

The Crunching Power of Carlos Zarate

By Jim Amato 

When the question comes up, “Who was the greatest fighter to come out of Mexico,” the answer is usually Julio Cesar Chavez. Some say Salvador Sanchez while others may say Ruben Olivares. These three are truly legendary fighters, although to me one other outstanding boxer from Mexico is Carlos Zarate. 

Zarate began his career in 1970 and won his first fifty two fights with fifty one by knockout (clearly a simply amazing number). That being said, a lot of Zarate’s early opposition may have been in the words of Greg Haugen, when he questioned Chavez’s fine record, a bunch of Mexican taxi drivers. Well I don’t know if I’d go that far, but Carlos beefed up his record with some poor opposition yet he was also learning his trade and learning it well.

By 1974, Zarate was moving up in the ratings. During that time he stopped a tough fighter from Odessa, Texas named James Martinez. He then halted unbeaten Joe Guevara, as well as Orlando Amores, Benicio Sosa and Nestor Jimenez too.

In May of 1976, Zarate halted the talented Rodolfo Martinez in nine rounds to win the World Boxing Council bantamweight title, which would lead to a run of seven title defenses. In 1977, Zarate would meet World Boxing Association champion Alfonso Zamora in a non title match. Zarate won the “Battle of the Z Bombers” with a convincing fourth round kayo. In 1978, Zarate would turn back the challenge of future champion Alberto Davila.

Zarate decided to move up in weight and challenge the also undefeated Wilfredo Gomez for the WBC 122 pound title. The fight took place October 28, 1978 in Puerto Rico. The extremely gifted Gomez appeared to be too fast for Zarate. Wilfredo had Zarate down and the fight was stopped in the fifth round with Gomez retaining his title.

Zarate would drop back to 118 pounds where he would defend his WBC title one more time before meeting the tough Lupe Pintor. Zarate started well but Pintor came on strong in the later rounds. After fifteen rounds Pintor was awarded a very controversial decision and the title. In disgust Zarate would walk away from the game for nearly seven years.

Zarate returned in 1986 and would reel off twelve more wins, ten by knockout. In 1987 he took on Australian sensation Jeff Fenech for the WBC super bantamweight title. Jeff held on to his crown by a technical decision in four rounds. On February 29, 1988 Zarate met Daniel Zaragoza for the vacant WBC 122 pound title. The rugged Zaragoza stopped Zarate in the tenth round. It would be Zarate’s last fight.

In all, Carlos Zarate had 70 fights winning 66 with 63 knockouts. He was tall and rangy. He had a stiff jab and a booming overhand right. He also had one of the best left hooks to the liver I have ever seen. Three of his four losses were to boxers now enshrined in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame. To me he has to rank among the best bantamweights of all time as well as one of the greatest Mexican fighters.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

 

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Bat Nelson and the Toledo Whammy

Bat Nelson and the Toledo Whammy

By Aaron Lloyd

Former World Lightweight Champion “Battling Nelson,” known for his wild ring wars and even wilder antics outside the ring, attracted some rather “unwanted” press coverage of his own while reporting on the heavyweight title bout between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio on July 4th, 1919.  Nelson, whose own fighting career had ended in 1917, was covering the fight for the Chicago Daily News, and being as tightfisted as he was, decided to set up camp outside of Dempsey’s training headquarters rather than yield to the disbursement of “travel expenses” as most sportswriters did.  So, living out of a big blue tent, aptly labeled “Bat Nelson,” the Durable Dane proceeded to fulfill his journalistic duties, all the while disregarding societal norms regarding personal hygiene and appeals to cleanliness.

To make matters worse, beginning in late June of that year, the Toledo area was struck by an almost unprecedented two-week heat wave that had residents and vendors scrambling to find creative ways of dealing with the triple digit heat.  Food rotted, ice cream melted, and even the pine seats of the custom-built stadium oozed sap, forcing spectators to bring (or purchase at $.50 apiece) cushions in order to avoid getting the annoying sap on their clothing.  Perhaps no one was more indirectly affected by the heat, however, then the poor lemonade vendor, who, after word of a “Bat Nelson-related contamination,” suffered the most dramatic sales decline of all.    

It all started on July 3 (the night before the fight), when Nelson, determined to beat the heat, snuck out of his tent and decided to go for a dip in nearby Maumee Bay, just as he had done the previous night.  Nelson went searching for the same swimming trunks he had “borrowed” from Dempsey’s manager Jack “Doc” Kearns the night before, but unbeknownst to him, the trunks had been burned after Kearns got wind of their previous unauthorized appropriation.  Undeterred, Nelson decided to venture out into the night wearing just his underwear and the strong scent of alcohol on his breath.  On his way to the Bay, Nelson came across six liquid filled zinc tubs that, oddly enough, were meant to hold a syrupy lemonade concoction and not the stinking, unclean body of someone looking for a little relief from the heat.  Nevertheless, Nelson climbed the ladder into the vats and plunged headfirst into the syrupy mixture anyway, quickly realizing that the contents in the container were more lethal than refreshing.  Immediately seeing the error of his ways, Nelson began flailing and screaming for help, and were it not for the quick response of a few close good Samaritans, might well have drowned in a sweet and citrusy grave. 

Unfortunately, this story, while ending happily for Nelson (he lived until 1954), was a financial disaster for the individual who had paid $1,000 for the rights to sell lemonade during the fight.  In fact, when word got out that Nelson had taken a “bath” in the vats (arguably the only one he ever had), even those with the most unquenchable thirsts were not willing to accept the one in six odds that Nelson had not been dredged from the vat that their particular glass of lemonade originated.  As a result, sales tanked, and despite the 114 degree temperatures at ringside, the lemonade vendor sat patronless; just another victim of the “Toledo whammy.”

 

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Pernell Whitaker

Pernell Whitaker

By Jim Amato

Pernell Whitaker is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserves. His storied amateur career along with his “ Who’s Who ” list of boxers he met in the professional ranks surely entitles him to this honor. What a career he had !

Within two years after turning pro, Whitaker was beating the likes of John Montes, Rafael Williams and former champion Alfredo Layne. In 1987 he outpointed the highly regarded Roger Mayweather. He garnered his first title shot in 1988 and he lost a decision that has to be rated among the most unjust of all time. Tough Jose Luis Ramirez had “retained ” his World Boxing Council lightweight title. It was quite a gift.

Pernell regrouped in 1989 and proceeded to give rugged Greg Haugen a boxing lesson to win the International Boxing Federation version of the lightweight title. Later that year he avenged his “loss ” to Ramirez and picked up the WBC title too. Pernell was awesome at 135 pounds beating back the challenges of men like Freddie Pendleton, Azumah Nelson, Juan Nazario and Jorge Paez. In 1992 he moved up to the 140-pound division and captured the IBF crown with a win over Rafael Pineda.
In 1993 Pernell moved up in weight again and won a decision over the crafty Buddy McGirt to win the WBC welterweight title. Next came a “draw ” with the unbeaten Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez. This was a ludicrous verdict as Pernell out-boxed, out-slicked and frustrated Chavez throughout the contest. In 1994 Pernell would again out-duel McGirt and in 1995 he moved up again to challenge Julio Cesar Vasquez for the WBA light middleweight title. Pernell put on a boxing clinic in winning another title belt.
Pernell decided to stay at welterweight and in 1996 he received a stiff battle from feisty Wilfredo Rivera. Pernell retained his title but it was really the first time in his pro career that somebody almost beat him on a legitimate level. Cracks were beginning to show in his armour. He defeated Rivera convincingly in a return match. Then in 1997 he nearly met disaster against a spirited Diosbelys Hurtado. Behind on the cards Pernell showed his champion’s heart by stopping Hurtado in round eleven. No longer did Whitaker appear invincible.
Next it was Pernell vs. the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya. Although the judges gave Oscar the decision by a comfortable margin there were many who felt Pernell had again been robbed. A fight against Andrei Pestriaev resulted in a No Contest after Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. In 1999 Pernell had one more shot at the limelight as he faced IBF titleholder Felix ” Tito ” Trinidad. Tito soundly defeated an older, slower and fading Whitaker. Pernell would have one more fight but an injury led to his defeat in four rounds against Carlos Bojorquez.
Pernell retired with a stellar 40-4-1 record. I was not a Whitaker fan when he was on top. I found him rather boring to watch, but he rarely even lost a round during a fight. Looking back I see now that Pernell was so boring because he was so good. I watch tapes of him now and I see just how gifted he was. Roberto Duran is my favorite fighter. I feel he was the best lightweight of my time. Nevertheless I feel that there was one lightweight who would have given him fits. That man was Pernell Whitaker. Ironically they were both inducted the same year. Two of the finest lightweights I’ve ever seen.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Seeds of Deception: West vs. Bonner (1899)

Seeds of Deception: West vs. Bonner (1899)

By Aaron Lloyd

If singer/songwriter Roger Waters (frontman of the legendary progressive rock band Pink Floyd) and Saint Paul (best known for his work in the Bible) were correct in their assessment of “Money” being the “root of all evil,” then the sport of boxing, based on its financial ties, is a culpable extension of that evil.  Bad decisions, corrupt rankings, and greedy promoters, have all conspired to perpetuate the notion that boxing is a dishonest source of entertainment, and now more than ever, it seems the sweet science is explicitly soured by its connection to the almighty dollar.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, for those who choose to think the worst is not upon us), duplicitous behavior in boxing is not a new trend; and I offer as proof, the case of Tommy West vs. Jack Bonner, two middleweights forever entwined in a scandal that dates back to the turn of two centuries. 

Born in Cardiff Wales in 1873, Tommy West was a competent welterweight and middleweight contender who fought all across the United States between 1892 and 1906, and compiled a 27-11-8 record against the very best the era had to offer, including future hall of famers Mysterious Billy Smith, Joe Walcott, Philadelphia Jack O’ Brien, Joe Choynski, and Charles “Kid” McCoy.  Unfortunately, for every fight that West was involved in where he actually demonstrated legitimate pugilistic qualities, there is an equal amount of fights on his ledger that ended under dubious circumstances; and his second fight with Jack Bonner stands as one of the most conspicuous.

When Tommy West and Jack Bonner met for the second time in New York City on February 28, 1899, West entered the bout with a record of 17-6-8, and having decidedly beaten Bonner by way of a newspaper decision less than a year before, was the “logical choice” to win the rematch. He had just narrowly missed defeating Joe Walcott a year earlier, he was coming off of a draw with venerable title challenger “Mysterious” Billy Smith, and he appeared to be in control through seven rounds in the return match.  In the eighth round, however, things took a very bizarre turn when West, recoiling from a clinch, claimed that he had been blinded by a foreign substance on Bonner’s gloves.  The referee, a fellow by the name of Charley White, verified the existence of the offending odor, and immediately sent Bonner to his corner in order to begin the process of determining the source of the contaminant.  After several minutes, White concluded (through verification from Bonner’s corner) that the substance in question was the “oil of mustard,” which had been applied to Bonner’s legs to help alleviate soreness and improve blood circulation in their fighter.  Unfortunately, the “raw” form, given to Bonner by mistake, was known to cause undue irritation to the skin, the eyes and nasal passages, and it left both fighters completely incapacitated and unable to continue the bout.  White, left with little choice in the matter, disqualified Bonner, and the bout went into the record books as an 8th round disqualification victory for Tommy West.  Newspaper headlines read, “POISONED GLOVES USED, DEADLY OIL OF MUSTARD WAS SMEARED ON BONNER’S FIGHTING MITS, NEARLY BLINDING HIS OPPONENT,” and for some time after the fight Bonner was the subject of scorn and ridicule for his role in the fight’s outcome.  However, it wasn’t until later, after a closer examination of the betting history, that people began to also question the extent of West’s involvement in the charade.   

As mentioned, West was no stranger to controversy (just three months earlier he was involved in a six round no-contest with Tommy Ryan that ended when a “lack of effort” by the two fighters sent the crowd into a frenzy), and the fact that Bonner was a 2 to 1 favorite over West only fueled speculation that the fight was not on the level.  By most conservative accounts, the fight should have gone off at no more than 6 to 5, yet at 2 to 1, it stands to reason that those with the “foresight” to make a sizable wager on West (a 2-1 underdog) would have made a substantial return on their investment (as many did-including West himself).

Unfortunately, after more than a century, no one can say for sure whether Tommy West actually had a hand in planning the “Great Mustard-Oil Caper,” or if he was even a willing participant in the theatrics (it is possible that West’s sordid reputation has clouded the lens on which we view the past, and created an assumption of guilt without the burden of proof).  Of course, in the words of 19th century author Henry James, “It’s never permitted to be surprised at the aberrations of born fools;” and in the case of Tommy West, I would say a healthy dose of skepticism is appropriate.

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Archie Moore

Archie Moore

By Jim Amato

He was possibly the greatest light heavyweight of all time, the wily “Old Mongoose” Archie Moore. The man who scored 140 knockouts in a career that spanned from 1936 to 1963 never lost his crown in the ring. Although he unsuccessfully challenged twice for the heavyweight title, he did campaign successfully among the “Big Boys” throughout his tenure as a professional boxer. His record reads like “Who’s Who” of boxing history. In 228 recorded bouts, Archie was only stopped seven times, a testimony to his courage and uncanny defensive ability.
 
Born on December 13, 1913, (or 1916 to Archie) Moore boxed for years without due recognition. He fought all over the country. He even traveled to Australia and Argentina in search of fame and fortune. After six years on the circuit, Archie began to make his move toward the big time. In 1942, he knocked out Shorty Hogue in two rounds. Hogue had decisioned Archie no less than three times earlier in his career. He also beat rugged Jack Chase and drew with Ed Booker. In 1943, he won two out of three against Chase. In 1944, Moore lost by a knockout to Booker and also dropped a decision to the great Charley Burley. 1945 was a good year for Archie as he lost only two of fourteen fights. He beat Cleveland’s Lloyd Marshall twice. He was stopped by another Cleveland native, the outstanding Jimmy Bivins, and he lost a decision to Holman Williams, but he kayoed Holman in a rematch.

By this time Archie was formidable enough to warrant a title shot but it would be seven long years before he was granted one. Along the way Moore would beat Curtis Sheppard twice and Bert Lytell twice. He would beat Bivins four times in rematches and he would defeat Harold Johnson in three out of four contests. He also scored victories over Ted Lowry, Bob Satterfield, Phil Muscato, Alberto Lovell and Jimmy Slade. The only boxer who could handle Archie was Ezzard Charles. Ezz beat Moore three times, the last time by a spectacular eighth round knockout in Cleveland. Finally on December 17, 1952, presumably just after his 39th birthday, Archie met yet another Cleveland legend Joey Maxim. With Maxim’s world light heavyweight title on the line Archie won a clear cut decision to become a champion at last.
 
As world champion the legacy of Archie Moore would flourish. He defeated Maxim twice in title rematches. He beat heavyweights Nino Valdes twice, Bob Baker and Bert Whitehurst. He would successfully defend his crown with knockouts over Harold Johnson and Bobo Olson. On September 21, 1955, Archie would get his first crack at the heavyweight crown when he met Rocky Marciano. In the second round Archie sent Marciano to the canvas. Rocky beat the count and lasted out the round. Slowly the tide turned in Marciano’s favor. Rocky proved to be too strong for the gritty Moore who finally succumbed in round nine. Archie kayoed Yolande Pompey in a title defense and on November 30, 1956, he was matched with Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship that Marciano had vacated. Although Archie was given a good chance to win by experts the youthful Patterson was much too fast and stopped Moore in round five.
 
Archie went back to defending his light heavyweight crown stopping the highly regarded Tony Anthony in seven rounds. Moore continued to meet heavyweights in hope of securing one more shot at that title. Archie defeated Howard King twice, Roger Rischer, Willi Besmanoff and Charley Norkus before putting his title on the line. Moore’s 1958 bout with Canada’s Yvon Durelle secured Archie’s place in fistic history. Repeatedly knocked down in the early rounds and then down again in the fifth, Moore refused to surrender. By the middle rounds Durelle began to tire. Archie came on to stop Durelle in the eleventh round to retain his title in a classic thriller. In their 1959 rematch, Yvon was a lot less troublesome as he exited in round three. Moore did not defend his title at all in 1960, much to the dismay of the National Boxing Association who withdrew recognition of Archie as a champion on October 25th, and old foe Harold Johnson beat Jesse Bowdry to claim the vacant NBA title. Still recognized by the New York State and the European Boxing Union, Archie decisioned Giulio Rinaldi in his final title defense. On February 10, 1962 New York and the EBU stripped Archie of his crown. A feat no mere mortal could accomplish in the ring.
 
Finally the ageless wonder began to slow down. Archie still wanted to prove he had something left and met former protégé Cassius Clay. Cassius (Muhammad Ali) had won the light heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics and had trained briefly under Archie early in his pro career. The brash upstart overwhelmed the aging warrior as he had predicted in round four. Archie had no more illusions of becoming heavyweight champion.
 
Upon his retirement, Archie did some acting and he also became very involved in helping the youth of America. He started a program called “Any Boy Can” and used this as a vehicle to reach young people in a positive manner. Archie’s book which is aptly titled “Any Boy Can” explains Archie’s views on helping youth as well as Archie covering his life and boxing career.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Henry Clark

Henry Clark

By Jim Amato

There were many who thought he was going to be the next Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.  He was a tall, smooth boxing heavyweight with a world of potential. His professional career began in 1964 and before long he was mixing it up with some of the best fighters in the world, including a four round decision loss to the rugged Joey Orbill in his pro debut!
Less than two months later he pounded out a ten round verdict over future title challenger Manuel Ramos. The following year he whipped tough trial horse George “Scrapiron” Johnson. In 1966, he fought a no-decision bout with Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, and he lost a decision to highly regarded Zora Folley. The year 1967 saw Henry establish himself as a force in the heavyweight division by winning on points over Bill McMurray, Steve Grant on two occasions, Fred Lewis, Eddie Machen and Roger Rischer.
Henry opened 1968 by defeating the clever Leotis Martin. This led Henry into a major bout against come-backing ex-heavyweight king Sonny Liston. This was Sonny’s first major step on his comeback trail and he passed with flying colors. Sonny pummeled a game but overmatched Clark in scoring a seventh round stoppage.

The year 1969 had mixed results. Henry drew with Brian London and kayoed Bob Stallings. He then lost on points to “Florida” Al Jones and Jeff “Candy Slim” Merritt. In 1970, his best win was a points call over Jimmy “The King” Fletcher. In 1972, Henry won and lost to Jack “The Giant” O’Halloran. He was then stopped in nine rounds by an up and coming Ken Norton on the Muhammad Ali-Bob Foster undercard.

Henry came back to win three bouts in 1973 and then on March 4th 1974 in a rematch, Henry blew out the now ranked Jeff Merritt in one round. Henry quickly followed with a decision win over faded ex-contender Mac Foster. Henry remained unbeaten through four more fights and was then matched with the dangerous Earnie Shavers in Paris, France.

Try as he might for the KO, Shavers was unable to stop the wily Clark and had to settle for a hard earned points win over Henry. They met again six months later on the undercard of Ali-Norton III. This time Henry was overwhelmed by the murderous punching Shavers in two rounds.

Henry attempted to bounce back four months later but was defeated over ten by Howard “Kayo” Smith. Henry did not fight again for over two and a half years. When he did return he was defeated in ten rounds by fringe contender Bernardo Mercado.

Henry’s final tally was 32 wins, 12 losses and four draws. He scored seven knockouts but he was only stopped on three occasions. That was by Liston, Norton and Shavers. Surely no shame there.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Nicolino “El Intocable” Locche

Nicolino “El Intocable” Locche

By Jim Amato

He turned professional in 1958 and ten years and one day after his pro debut he became a world champion. Nevertheless, it was a long road for Argentine defensive wizard Nicolino Locche. By the time he met Paul Fuji in Tokyo, Japan for the World Boxing Association Light Welterweight title, Locche had amassed over one hundred fights. He halted the pained and frustrated Fuji in the tenth round to capture the crown.
From the beginning, Locche fought almost all his battles in his native Argentina. His early career had its ups and downs but he won far more times then he lost or drew. In 1963, he burst onto the international scene with a decision win over former world lightweight champion Joe “Old Bones” Brown. In 1965, Nicolino met newly crowned lightweight titlist, the slick Ismael Laguna. The non title, overweight affair was judged a draw. Laguna then lost the title back to the great Carlos Ortiz, and in 1966 Locche met Ortiz in a non title affair. Again, the crafty Nicolino had to settle for a draw.
Locche then set upon securing a world title shot for himself. In 1966, he won a non title ten round verdict over reigning world light welterweight champion Sandro Lopopolo. In 1967, he beat rugged L.C. Morgan and former champion Eddie Perkins. In 1968, he defeated Mexican Al Urbina. Then the shot came against Fuji who had defeated Lopopolo.
In 1969, Locche defended against former champion, and very dangerous Carlos Hernandez, as well as the talented Joao Henrique. In 1970, he turned back the challenge of the able Adolph Pruitt. In 1971, he defeated Domingo Barrera Corpas and scored a masterful victory over Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes. Finally, in 1972, Nicolino was enticed to go to Panama where he met Alfonso “Peppermint” Frazier. The underdog Frazier out hustled the aging Locche to annex the crown. Nicolino would then put together a four fight win streak, while Frazier lost the title to Cervantes. In 1973, Nicolino met Cervantes in Venezuela and was stopped in the beginning of the tenth round.
No longer a champion, the proud Locche reeled off seven straight victories in hopes of regaining his crown. Finally in 1976 it became apparent that a title shot was not going to materialize so Nicolino hung up the gloves for good. Locche ended up with an amazing 117-4-14 record. Although he was not a hard hitter (scoring just fourteen knockouts), Nicolino was a master boxer. He ranks right up there with the great Willie Pep as a defensive genius. He was not nicknamed “El Intocable,” (The Untouchable) for nothing.

Nicolino was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2005, leaving behind a true legacy of his tremendous talents.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Fightin’ Words: Quote of the Week

This week’s quote was taken from the book Raging Bull, by former middleweight world champion Jake LaMotta, and it illustates the (somewhat calming) influence that boxing had on LaMotta during his time spent at the State Reform School in Coxsackie, New York as a juvenile.

“If a kid is punching a heavy bag, he obviously can’t be making a dagger out of a mess-hall spoon.” 

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Esteban De Jesus; A Tragic Story

Esteban De Jesus; A Tragic Story

by Jim Amato

If ever a boxer was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was Puerto Rico’s Esteban De Jesus. This former one time claimant of the WBC lightweight title may have been the best Puerto Rican 135 pounder since Carlos Ortiz. Unfortunately, he boxed during the era of possibly the greatest of all lightweights, Roberto Duran. On November 17, 1972 at Madison Square Garden, Esteban floored Duran in the first round and then boxed his way to a decision win in a non-title bout. Then he twice whipped the respected Ray Lampkin in bouts for the American Lightweight title thus establishing himself as the top contender.
On his way to his first meeting with Duran, Esteban had lost just once and that was to WBA featherweight champion Antonio Gomez in a non-title fight. He defeated Josque Marquez twice, Victor Ortiz, Lionel Hernandez, Percy Hayles, Angel Robinson, and Cleveland’s Chuck Wilburn. After his victory over Duran, Esteban defeated the classy Johnny Gant and former junior welterweight titleholder, Alfonso Frazier. These victories finally set up a title shot against Duran. On March 16, 1974 in Panama City, Esteban again decked Duran in the first round, however, this time Roberto was in much better condition and he gradually wore down his formidable foe stopping Esteban in round eleven.
One year later De Jesus moved up in weight and challenged Antonio Cervantes for the junior welterweight championship. Once again Esteban faded down the stretch as he dropped a fifteen round decision. Again, one year later De Jesus received yet another title opportunity. He was matched with WBC lightweight champion Guts Suzuki. Showing his true class, Esteban Dominated Suzuki to win an easy decision and the crown. De Jesus would defend his title successfully three times thus setting up the rubber match with Duran for the undisputed title.
Duran v De Jesus III was held in Las Vegas and this much anticipated Superfight would determine once and for all who was the world’s best lightweight. In possibly the best performance of his career Duran proved his superiority halting Esteban in round twelve. De Jesus would come back and put together another win streak that included a victory over Edwin Viruet. Once more De Jesus was granted a title shot. This time he would meet WBC junior welterweight champion Saoul Mamby. The bout took place on July 7, 1980 and the signs of Esteban’s obviously eroding skills were there for all to see. Mamby finally halted an exhausted and outclassed De Jesus in round thirteen. The final chapter in this fine, yet tragic career, ended with Esteban never gaining full acceptance as lightweight champion, although only the great Duran could master him. Esteban’s final ledger is as follows; 62 bouts, 57 victories, and only 5 defeats. He scored 32 knockouts and he was stopped 3 times. All of his setbacks were to world champions, Gomez, Duran twice, Cervantes, and Mamby.
The bad luck that dogged Esteban’s career was only an omen of things to come. Not long after his retirement Esteban was involved in a traffic dispute during which he shot and killed a seventeen-year-old youth. For this crime De Jesus was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison De Jesus was infected with AIDS; and bedridden and dying, Esteban received a surprise visit from none other than his old adversary, Roberto Duran. In a moment of compassion completely out of character for the mean and macho Duran, he had come to pay his respects. He had come to show his admiration for his toughest foe. He also knew in his heart that Esteban was a true champion.

Jim Amato is a participating member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the International Boxing Research Organization. He is a longtime correspondent of sport, both inside and outside the ring, and he is currently the president and owner of Amato Sports Memorabilia. Jim’s other works and “Legends of Leather” articles can be found at http://boxinggreats.multiply.com.

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Fightin’ Words: Quote of the Week

This week’s quote (taken from the book Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion, by W.K. Stratton), comes to us courtesy of International Boxing Hall of Fame journalist Jimmy Cannon, as he attempted to make light of the inordinate number of times (9) that Patterson went down in his three fights with Ingemar Johansson. 

“At first, I thought he (Patterson) would be the first heavyweight champion with a cauliflower tail.”

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