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Hispanic Fine Chance at Boxing History
When John Ruiz faces Evander Holyfield in the ring he has a chance to become the first Hispanic Heavyweight champion in the history of the sport. What has taken so long?
Hispanics, along with Afro-Americans have dominated the sport of boxing. In the lower weight divisions, Hispanics have dominated the sport. But from middleweights up, they have scarcely been seen. Why?
The main reason is that due to genetic factors in the overall Hispanic populations, they aren't many big men. You don't see many six footers who go 200 Lbs. in South America. And when you do, they don't seem to grasp boxing.
Cuba produced a viable contender Nino Valdez, in the 50's. They brought him to New York, and aside from easy training fights, they found he couldn't fight. Today's Nino Valdez would have been Theofelos Stevenson, who made a reputation knocking off young kids for Olympic Gold. Castro kept him locked up in Cuba, well fed, prosperous and happy and luxuriating in a fat-cat reputation as an Olympic boxer. It is as if your team won the state championship in high school but you never played in the NFL.
What would Theofelos have done in Heavyweight championship fights in the States? Ali would have cut him to ribbons and knocked him out. Larry Holmes would have given him a methodical beating, and knocked him out. Stevenson was a figment of Castro's imagination. So much for a sure thing.
Well, have they ever come close? Oh yes, indeed they have. On September 14, 1923 in New York, Argentinean, Luis Firpo, the Bull of the Pampas knocked Dempsey clear into the back row of the press. Some say Dempsey was knocked out, but friendly press hands revived him, pushed him back into the ring before time ran out, and Dempsey was able to recover and come back to attack and finish off Firpo. Was it close? You bet it was. Did Hispanics ever come close again? Close, I mean, not endure a 15 round beating like Chilean, Arturo Godoy against Joe Louis. That was just a workout.
There was one glittering opportunity for a Hispanic to win the title. It was there for the taking, a matter of getting the bell to ring for round one. I was there, I was in the corner, on the braintrust, in the thick of things and here is how we almost gave away the heavyweight championship of the world.
Hector Mendez, was a short, fat Don d' Louise lookalike, who promoted anything he could. He worked out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He came to Angelo Dundee with a very financially rewarding opportunity to fight Gregorio Peralta in Uruguay. The venue was a vital consideration, for no one could promote boxing in Buenos Aires, except for Tito Lectore, a man who controlled Luna Park, where all fights were held. His monopoly was unbreakable.
Angelo Dundee had accomplished a genuine miracle with a fighter named Jimmy Ellis. Ellis had come to the 5th Street Gym, hat in hand, his middleweight career in shambles, and willing to sweep out the 5th Street Gym, just to have a job. Dundee saw his talent, raised him to a Light Heavyweight and got him a fight on the undercard of the Ali-Zora Folley fight with the star Light Heavyweight Jimmy Peersol.
Peersol was a Garden fighter., He was supposed to have an easy fight, an impressive KO in front of the world press, and take on Ali in his last fight before he went into involuntary retirement. Thus was it scripted. They didn't count on a hungry wolf named Jimmy Ellis. It was a sure thing.
Ellis worked up a good sweat and a head of steam, went in an knocked out a surprised Jimmy Peersol in round one. So much for sure things.
Off that victory Angelo sprung into action and put Jimmy into an elimination competition for Ali's vacant title. Jimmy went into each fight a heavyweight underdog and beat all three top heavyweights for the title. So much for underdog's chances.
After a few make-the-money fights Angelo decided the money was right and took the Peralta fight in Uruguay. We got our deposit money and took off. Angelo was fully aware that we would have to KO Peralta for no self respecting Hispanic boxing judge would give Ellis the decision, and with the lucrative crown hanging by thin thread, the chance for a Hispanic to land the crown in South America for the first time were excellent.
In fact, it was considered a sure thing. It was the promoter's greed which saved Jimmy Ellis his crown and caused Peralta to miss his golden opportunity to become the first Hispanic to win the championship.
The promoter got greedy and moved the fight to Buenos Aires, where it was roundly black-balled. All the doors slammed in the fool's face, and he was lucky to escape with his life. We took our hefty deposit and went home with the crown.
To finish the story so you can understand how close we came to depositing the crown in Argentina I'll relate the follow-up.
Fully trained, looking for any work, Gregorio Peralta was offered George Foreman in the Garden. Foreman was a young giant who was knocking out everybody that was put in front of him on the way to a title fight with Joe Frazier. Peralta was a puffed up light heavyweight, and a Hispanic to boot. Another easy night at the garden.
In the strange way that these things happen, I was in the Garden that night and Hector Mendez, our dopey promoter, had brought Peralta, but here it was fight night and he had no corner. So he had found Gil Clancey and hired him, and he found me and asked me to work Peralta's corner. Gil couldn't speak Spanish and neither Peralta nor Hector spoke English, so I came in as a cutman and interpreter.
If you have been following this closely you can predict that Peralta beat Foreman in the Garden that night. Did he get the decision? Well no, Foreman was a Garden protected fighter, and we got one of those squeakier, split decision, Garden fighter friendly decisions.
But, the point is if Peralta could do that to a powerful young Foreman what would he have done to middleweight retread Jimmy Ellis? If Foreman couldn't knock out Peralta, could Jimmy Ellis have knocked him out? So much for sure things in the Garden.
Now, for the first time since that close thing in Argentina, a Hispanic stands a great chance to bring the title to the Hispanic Community, and again, it could be a sure thing. Many fans thought Ruiz won the first fight. Holyfiled is even older now. Last time out he looked like a pathetic old man, unable to get out of the way of one jab. If you are a Hispanic you could talk
yourself into thinking this is a sure thing.
And if you are a Hispanic fan, and have paid attention to my story, you have learned one thing:
BEWARE OF A SURE THING!
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