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Latin American Boxing
Latin American boxing began slowly and developed quickly.
Boxing originated in England and became semi-legal in the United States in 1892, but it took a couple of decades more for the sparks of pugilism to kindle Latin America.
There was hunger for boxing and thousands of fans that traveled north to see fights, but the fight game took time to develop. Latin fighters could not develop without trainers and schools to form boxers. Without talent no entrepreneurs could be found to promote matches. So, the process of an infrastructure took time. In 1910 the first boxing academy opened in Cuba, where John Budinich, a Chilean middleweight with some preliminary experience in the U.S., became Havana's first trainer, manager and promoter. In Cartagena, Colombia, a few amateur sparring clubs became the focus of the first paid promotion in 1917. Mexico was active due to the border proximity to the United States, but most boxers, including turn of the century lightweight Aurelio Herrera, disdained the amateurs, pragmatically fighting for money instead of trophies.
In Argentina, the sport developed in a half a dozen pockets of the nation. By the early 1920's with the challenge of Luis Firpo for Jack Dempsey's crown, boxing became a national rage. In compiling thirty-two wins (26 by KO) in a thirty-eight bout career, Firpo was responsible for a boxing boom in Argentina, as hundreds of young men enrolled in gyms, hoping for ring stardom.
In 1928, Argentina became the first South American nation to win two Olympic Gold Medals. Heavyweight A. Rodriguez Jurado and light-heavyweight Vitorio Avendano established Argentine dominance in the games, for their country was the only nation win two gold medals in pugilism.
In Los Angeles, in 1932, Argentina's Santiago Lovell took heavyweight gold. Lovell was a good stylist whose son, Pedro, followed into boxing. Pedro Lovell had a fair record and an unspectacular career with a brief moment of glory. Lovell was Sly Stallone's opponent in the opening scene of "Rocky."
In most Latin countries, due to harsh economic and social conditions, professional boxing developed faster than amateur programs. Latin fighters needed to eat, and medals were not digestible. Argentina was the only country of the Southern Hemisphere to continue harvesting amateur gold. In 1936 they won one in Berlin and scored two more in the London games of 1948.
One of the 1948 Argentine stars was Pascual Perez, a little flyweight with quick moves and a crisp punch. After winning gold in London, Pascual had am 83-7-1 pro ledger with 56 knockout victories, becoming the first Argentine to win a world crown.
Argentine dominance in the Olympic Games ended with political change in Cuba, although Argentine fighters continued doing well in the Pan American Games. In Cuba, when Fidel Castro's revolution banned pro sports in the island, amateur boxing became the spearhead of the impressive machinery created to generate international propaganda.
In the last thirty years Cuba has been a dominant player in the Olympic Games. Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon won three gold medals each. Other outstanding gold medallists include Joel Casamayor, Maikro Romero, Jorge Hernandez, Andres Aldama, Orlando Martinez and Angel Herrera. A few, like Casamayor, have been able to gain political asylum, turning professional in foreign lands.
Other Latin countries have enjoyed modest success in the quest for Olympic gold. In 1968, Francisco Rodriguez won the light flyweight honors, the first Venezuelan to gain an Olympic tittle. In the same ring, Mexican Ricardo Delgado won his flyweight gold in front of a hometown crowd.
Latin influence has also impacted the United States team. Starting with flyweight Paul Gonzalez in 1984 to the popular Oscar De La Hoya, Hispanic fighters have made their mark as Olympic champions.
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