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There was a time in the mid 60's that revolved around who would be Muhammad Ali's next opponent. The former Cassius Clay was chewing up and spitting out challengers with alarming ease. His hold on the heavyweight title was reaching the point of fan boredom. Few could see any serious contenders on the horizon.
Then a tremendous boxer-puncher of Puerto Rican heritage exploded on to the scene. He was really a blown up middleweight with an extensive and successful amateur background, but boy could he fight !
He was a thing of beauty to watch. Hands held high in front of his face in the peek-a-boo style taught to him by his mentor Cus D'Amato. The flashing combinations, the burning body shots and his business like command of the situation inside the ropes. He was quite simply, a fighting machine.
When Jose Torres lifted the world's light heavyweight title from Willie Pastrano on March 30, 1965 he was truly great. Who will ever forget the picture perfect body shot that sent a pained Pastrano to the canvas. Only Willie's undeniable gameness kept him the fight until the ninth round.
Almost every conceivable positive boxing adjective was heaped upon Jose after his stellar performance. Rightfully so as Jose seemed destined to a bright and illustrious future.
Let's go back to Jose's early pro career. This young man appeared to have success stamped on his forehead. He turned professional in 1958 and won all nine of his fights that year. In 1959 he scored four straight kayos two of which were over rugged Joe Shaw and talented Al Andrews. He finished the year by drawing with future welterweight king Benny Paret.
In 1960 he stepped up in class and was forced to go the distance three times. Twice against the clever Randy Sandy and once versus tough Tony Dupas.
In 1961 and 1962 Jose put together an impressive ten fight knockout streak that led to his coming out party. On May 26, 1963 Jose took on the feared Florentino Fernandez in San Juan. Florentino had unsuccessfully challenged Gene Fullmer for the middleweight crown in 1961. He was still very much a threat the night he met Torres. Time would have to wait for Jose Torres. Fernandez gave him a very rude welcoming to the big time halting an overmatched Jose in six rounds.
The loss seemed to make Jose even more determined. Less then five months later he returned to out score Don Fullmer. Jose picked right back up in 1964 reeling off seven very impressive wins. Among the victims were Jose Gonzalez, Wilbert McClure, Gomeo Brennan and a crushing one round blitz of former middleweight king Carl " Bobo " Olson.
Next came Pastrano and the championship. Then a foray into the heavyweight ranks to cop a verdict over Tom McNeely. Three solid defenses of his crown followed against capable challengers Wayne Thornton, Eddie Cotton and Chic Calderwood. The future seemed vast and unlimited.
Then came December 16, 1966. Where did it all go wrong ? It was supposed to be a routine defense against the respected former middleweight king Dick Tiger. If a stuffed welterweight named Emile Griffith proved to be too much for Tiger in taking Dick's middleweight title, how could he beat Jose ? Answer ? Tenacity, conditioning and a burning desire and relentless will to win. Jose was just outworked. It was close and debatable but nevertheless a loss.
The rematch five months later was almost a carbon copy of the first engagement. Neither fight will go down in the annals of classic encounters but little did anyone suspect that Jose only had two more dates on his dance card.
Almost a year after his second setback to Tiger, Jose traveled to Australia and beat a useful Bob Dunlop. Fifteen months later he emerged in New York. The colorful but erratic Charlie "Devil " Green all but knocked Jose out cold in the opening stanza. Call it guts, pride or whatever, Jose came out in the second round and he downed the " Devil " for good. It was high drama but also the curtain call. Jose Torres would never box again.
What Jose Torres has done in his post boxing career is a tribute to the man himself. He has established himself as a fine writer and humanitarian. He is a hero to the Puerto Rican people and rightfully so.
I can give you my account of what I saw of Jose Torres, the man. It was June of 1998 and I was attending a fight show during the festive International Boxing Hall Of Fame weekend in Canasota, New York. Many former boxing greats entered the ring to have their pictures taken. Jose was among them. The photo was taken by Mike Greenhill and I have it in my office at home. It shows over twenty smiling warriors enjoying the companionship of their peers. In one corner of the photo I notice a frail and aged Beau Jack. The now late former lightweight champion was not in the best of health at the time. What I see behind him is a man, a caring man who is not worried about smiling for the camera. I see concern etched on his face thinking only of watching out for the once robust champ.
As they say, a picture says a thousand words.
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