|This Sunday, in New York City, the people of that great metropolis celebrate one of their most colorful events of the year in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Last year there were over 100,000 marchers and three-million spectators at the event with organizers predicting greater numbers this year. To mark this, I thought I would|
put down my “Top Ten Greatest Fighters from Puerto Rico,” starting with the best and moving down to tenth place. I could not narrow it down to ten. So here are the “Top Twelve Greatest Fighters from Puerto Rico.” Then I thought about the order and whether to put Gomez first and "Tito" second and Ortiz third and what about all of the guys in the middle? Great champions all and it is not my place to put them in their place! So here is my list of the best dozen from that most beautiful island in alphabetical order. I have only covered their careers, not their personal lives. You can arrange them yourself on our forum. And if anyone is wondering where Hector Camacho is, ask Edwin Rosario. Happy Puerto Rico Day.
1. Wilfredo Benitez 53-8-1 (31)
“El Radar” is perhaps the most naturally talented fighter ever! Although born in the Bronx in 1958 to a famous Puerto Rican fighting family, Benitez returned to his ancestral home and turned professional aged fifteen with a first round knockout. In under twenty-five months, he built a record of 25-0 and was all set to challenge long time WBA light welterweight champion Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes. Utilizing an uncanny ability to slip punches, Benitez won by split decision to become the youngest ever world champion, aged just seventeen. After a couple of defenses, the teenage phenomenon moved up to welterweight where he took on sturdy WBC champion Carlos Palomino who was making his eighth defense. Another split decision win for Wilfredo earned him his second world title, at twenty-years-of-age! After losing the title to the great “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Benitez moved up again and captured a third title, this time at light middleweight, at the expense of Maurice Hope, with a crushing one punch knockout in the twelfth. Defending that title against Roberto Duran would be Wilfredo's last hurrah, as he was out-pointed by Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, going 9-7 over the rest of his career.
2. Esteban De Jesus 57-5 (32)
Between turning professional in February 1968 and losing by “No Mas” to Ray Leonard in November 1980, Robert Duran won seventy-two fights, beat many great fighters and lost only one. That victor was Esteban “Vita” De Jesus. “Vita” turned professional in 1969 and won twenty-five in a row before losing a decision to hometown fighter Antonio Gomez in Venezuela. Rebounding with seven straight wins, De Jesus was then matched against fearsome and undefeated WBA lightweight champion Roberto “Manos De Piedra” Duran in Madison Square Garden in 1972. Decking the Panamanian in the first, the Puerto Rican fighter controlled the bout to win a unanimous ten round decision. Alas, Duran’s belt was not on the line so Esteban had to wait until 1974 for his title shot when he challenged Duran in Panama City. Once again, Roberto was down in the first but this time, De Jesus was up against a smarter, hungrier and more determined Duran and was worn down and stopped in the eleventh. After an unsuccessful challenge for Cervantes' WBA light welterweight title, he finally won the WBA lightweight title in 1976 and defended it three times before the highly anticipated rubber match with Duran in a unification bout. Fighting in front of a Las Vegas crowd in January 1978, a prime Duran proved to be the better fighter and stopped De Jesus in the twelfth round. After another six wins, “Vita” tried again for the light welterweight title but was this time stopped by Saoul Mamby in thirteen rounds in what would be his last bout.
3. Sixto Escobar 39-22-3 (19)
“El Gallito” was a rugged fighter who fought in a rugged time when losses were as common as wins for all but the very, very best. Turning professional at home in 1930, Sixto won five straight before losing a return match to Rafael Morales. Relocating to Venezuela, Escobar won their rubber match before moving on to fight in North America, winning the world bantamweight title against Baby Casanova in nine rounds. “Gallito” would lose and regain the title against Lou Salica before beating fellow title claimant, Tony Marino, winning in thirteen rounds. He then lost to Harry Jeffra and won the title back again from KO Morgan before relinquishing the title due to weight problems and then retiring aged just twenty-seven. Today, a stadium named in his honor stands in San Juan, celebrating the life of this tough professional.
4. Wilfredo Gomez 44-3-1 (42)
Jacinto Fuentes must have been one tough guy. A very tough guy indeed as on November 16 1974, he drew with Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez in the latter’s professional debut. Gomez went another forty-two fights and ten years, before he heard the final bell again, winning forty fights and making SEVENTEEN defenses of the WBA super bantamweight title he won from Dong Kyun Kim in 1977. During this reign, “Bazooka” also rose in weight to meet the excellent Salvador Sanchez for the WBC featherweight title, losing by eighth round knockout against the master counter-puncher in 1981. Three years later he gained that belt, and his first points win, with a unanimous decision over Juan Laporte, losing it in his first defense against the then unheralded Azumah Nelson. This amazing fighter was not quite done and next up was WBA super featherweight champion, Rocky Lockridge, whom he defeated on points to take his third belt, a title he again would lose in his first defense in a huge upset to the unsung Alfredo Layne. This was the end of “Bazooka's” career as a top-flight boxer and after two low-key wins, he drifted into retirement.
5. Juan Laporte 40-17 (22)
While not possessing the greatest record here, LaPorte must surely possess one of the greatest chins of all time as he went the distance with (or kayo'd) the following fighters: Salvador Sanchez, Rocky Lockridge, Eusebio Pedroza, Mario Miranda, Ruben Castillo, Wilfredo Gomez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Lupe Miranda, John John Molina, Azumah Nelson, Hector Lopez, Kostya Tszyu, Charles Murray, Teddy Reid and Billy Costello. Only Zack Padilla managed to ruin Juan's proud record when the thirty-four-year-old Laporte had to retire after ten rounds in a fight for the WBO light welterweight title. His twenty-two-year career yielded a championship record of 3-8 with his purple patch coming when he won the vacant WBC featherweight belt and made two defenses before the loss to his compatriot, Gomez.
6. John John Molina 52-7 (33)
Molina may not be the most well known fighter around but he fought at championship level for well over a decade, winning the first ever WBO super featherweight title, along with the IBF title of the same weight (twice) and attempting to win the WBO and IBF lightweight titles against Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosely respectively. Molina's first title attempt came in October 1988 against hometown hero Tony “The Tiger” Lopez when he lost a unanimous, yet disputed, decision, one that he would avenge one year later with a tenth round stoppage in the same Sacramento arena. Their rubber match was held in Reno and Lopez won a split decision, sealed with an eleventh round knockdown against his Puerto Rican nemesis. Two years later Molina would regain the vacant title and this time make seven successful defenses before moving up to meet De La Hoya. After this setback, he would continue to mix in top company for six more years before being hammered into retirement by Juan Lazcano in 2001.
7. Carlos Ortiz 60-7-1 (29)
One of the many Puerto Ricans who moved to New York as a child, Ortiz begun boxing at the Madison Square Boys Club before turning professional aged eighteen in 1955. Within four years he had won the vacant light welterweight title with a second round cuts stoppage of Kenny Lane, whom he had lost to just six months earlier, defending this title once before losing to light-punching Duilio Loi twice in Italy, a fighter he had previously beaten. Moving down in weight, Ortiz out-pointed lightweight champion, Joe “Old Bones” Brown, who had held the title for over six years â€“ and was in his twentieth year as a professional. Carlos held on to the belt for six years, losing and regaining it versus Panamanian Ismael Laguna before finally surrendering to Carlos Teo Cruz in 1968. A string of wins, while in his mid thirties rewarded the old pro with a bout against recent Duran victim (and ex-lightweight champion) Ken Buchanan of Scotland who caused Carlos to retire in six rounds.
8. Edwin Rosario 47-6 (41)
Born into a fighting family from the barrios, Toa Baja, Edwin “Chapo” Rosario followed his brother into the ring and, after turning professional two weeks before his eighteenth birthday in 1979, beat his first twenty-one opponents, twenty inside the distance, before claiming the vacant WBC lightweight title against the experienced Mexican Jose Luis Ramirez. Two defenses followed before Ramirez gained revenge with a fourth round knockout of “Chapo” in the 1984 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year, getting up from first and second round knockdowns to win. In the summer of 1986, the 28-1 Rosario met the 29-0 Hector “Macho” Camacho in an all-Puerto Rican showdown for Camacho's WBC lightweight title (won from Ramirez). “Chapo” stunned the champion in round five and won the last few rounds, but came away a loser, although many people still believe that he should have won the decision. Rosario was rewarded with a shot at WBA champion Livingstone Bramble and scored an early knockout to become a two time champion, a title he defended once before meeting the super featherweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez in another highly anticipated match. Chavez battered the brave champion around for eleven rounds before the referee mercifully stopped the bout. Still, “Chapo” came back to win the lightweight title a third time with stoppage of Anthony Jones but this was quickly lost and this amazing man moved up to light welterweight to gather a fourth belt by demolishing WBA champion, Loreto Garza. Rosario was an ex-champion within a year and was found dead in his home while still an active professional hoping for a last title shot in December 1997.
9. Samuel Serrano 52-4-1 (17)
“El Torbellino” ruled the super featherweight division for the last half of the 1970’s, defending the title thirteen times successfully and contesting in eighteen WBA title bouts in all. While not exhibiting the knockout power of many from his island, Serrano would counter-punch, dart around his opponent and use an effective bolo to pile up the points. Born in 1952, Sammy turned professional in 1969 and lost just two of his first thirty-three fights before meeting WBA champion, Filipino Ben Villaflor in Honolulu, April 1976. Leaving Hawaii with a draw in a bout many thought he had controlled, Sammy was given an immediate rematch and this time won the title in front of his own fans with an easy decision. Serrano then made ten successful defenses of the title, fighting in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Japan, South Africa before finally losing his title on the Hearns- Cuevas under-card in Detroit via a shocking sixth round stoppage to Japanese challenger, Yasutsune Uehara. Traveling to Japan to regain his title, Sammy then made three more defenses before meeting the up and coming Roger Mayweather who halted the twenty-nine-year-old champion in eight. One quick win was followedby a twelve-year hiatus (Sammy was living the life of Carlito Brigante) and he returned, aged forty-three to record two more wins before finally retiring.
10. Jose Torres 41-3-1 (29)
Jose “Chegui” Torres is known as well for his writing as he is for his fighting, but his style was part of the blueprint laid out by Cus D'Amato in his quest for the perfect fighter. Growing up in the U.S. meant that “Chegui” represented the States in the 1956 Olympics and, after turning professional in 1958, brought a record of 26-0-1 (the draw was against the tragic Benny “Kid” Paret in San Juan - a fight many thought he won) into his fight with the fearsome Cuban puncher, Florentino Fernandez. After being decked twice and losing by fifth round stoppage (his only stoppage loss) would go on a eight fight winning streak, including wins against Don Fullmer and Carl “Bobo” Olsen, before challenging Muhammad Ali stable-mate Willie Pastrano for the world title, a bout he won via ninth round stoppage to become the first Latino light heavyweight champion. Jose then beat Tom “Father of Pete” McNeeley before defending his title three times. In December 1966, he met Dick Tiger, who had just lost his middleweight championship to Emile Griffith, the former welterweight champion. In an upset, Tiger won a fifteen-round decision and the two met six months later with the African repeating the trick, although this time a lot closer. Torres fought once in each of the next two years with his final fight a second round stoppage over the infamous Charlie “The Devil” Green.
11. Felix Trinidad 42-2 (35)
My assumption that “Tito” has retired for good now brings him into the dynamite dozen. All of us were thrilled by this excellent champion who claimed the IBF welterweight title in his nineteenth fight (seventeen by stoppage) and defended it fourteen times over six years before meeting the undefeated Oscar de la Hoya in a unification battle in September 1999 in the biggest drawing non-heavyweight bout thus far. After winning a (disputed by many) majority decision, “Tito” moved up to challenge Olympic Gold medalist David Reid for his WBA light middleweight title, winning by twelve-round decision. He then beat IBF champion Fernando Vargas before moving up again and demolishing WBA middleweight champion, William Joppy. This led to the super-bout against longtime IBF (and recent WBC) champion Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins. In an upset, “The Nard” gave “Tito” his first defeat in forty-one bouts, stopping the Puerto Rican superstar in the final round. One return, followed by a two-year break then led to ex-welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga, with Trinidad looking better than ever to stop the Nicaraguan in the eighth. Alas, the result flattered to deceive and “Tito” was outclassed by light middleweight champion Ronald “Winky” Wright in his final bout in May 2005. Felix must surely go down as one of the greatest fighters ever, especially when you consider this nugget. Between 1999 and 2001, he fought eight opponents with a combined record of 245-7-4. Respect.
12. Wilfredo Vazquez 56-9-2 (41)
Known as “El Orgullo de Puerto Rico,” Vazquez turned professional in 1981 at his father’s request, lost his initial fight and was unsure that this was the career he wanted. However, he kept plugging away and, after his father’s early death, he found the determination to become a world champion at three weights, he was involved in twenty world title bouts. Vazquez’s first title attempt was against the Colombian WBA bantamweight champion Miguel “Happy” Lora, a battle that saw both fighters down. After losing a close decision, Wilfredo got another chance the following year against the new belt holder, Chan Yong Park, and made no mistake against the Korean in the capital, Seoul. His title reign was short lived and after one defense, he lost a close decision to Khaokar Galaxy (one-half of the first twins to hold world titles) and then lost his next bout to the excellent Mexican fighter Raul Perez. It looked like the twenty-eight-year-old was now coming to the end of his career, but after moving up in weight, he won the WBC super bantamweight title (from Perez by knockout) and then made eight defenses, all on the road. In fact, Vazquez had not fought at home since 1985 and his ninth defense was in front of his hometown crowd in Bayamon who saw the Venezuelan challenger, Antonio Cermeno, take the title with a razor thin decision (so much for hometown judging!). Still Vazquez was not finished and his third weight championship came at the hands of WBA featherweight champion, Eloy Rojas (a Venezuelan). Wilfredo had learnt his lesson now and defended four times on the road before relinquishing his title for a challenge in England against WBO champion “Prince” Naseem Hamed, which saw the old warrior downed four times in a seventh round loss. Seven fights followed in the next four years (6-1) before this great warrior finally hung up his gloves for good.
Jonny Townsend can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org