Puerto Rico, the Mecca of Boxing
From Wilfredo 'Bazooka' Gomez to Vazquez Jr., the island has been a school for some of the best fighters in the world.
With just over 4 million inhabitants that are often against the ropes, Puerto Rico does not seem at first glance to be an island home to a quarter of the world's best boxers. But it is.
In fact, 53 Puerto Rican boxers have won world boxing titles.
The reason, according to experts, could be a mixture of hobby and the need to improve their financial situations, since many of the great island boxers were raised in very poor neighborhoods, such as Wilfredo 'Bazooka' Gómez, Wilfredo 'El Radar' Benítez, Félix 'Tito' Trinidad, Alfredo 'El Salsero' Escalera, Edwin 'Chapo' Rosario, or José 'Chegui' Torres.
Also nicknamed 'El Niño de las Monjas,' Gomez is considered one of the best boxers in the history of Puerto Rico. He at one point had 15 victories by K.O. in a row, which brought him up against almost invincible champion, Supergallo Don-Kyun-Yum, who he defeated quickly.
He also defended his title 17 times and has the longest record of wins by knockout in history, being considered by many as the best lightweight fighter in the world.
For the president of the Amateur Boxing Federation of Puerto Rico, José Luis Vellón, the country's success in this sport is due to its origins — which started in a clandestine way — and to the fact that it has been a "traditional" sport, as he explained to Listín Diario.
Currently, there are 80 boxing clubs in Puerto Rico and a large amateur circuit that prepares young boxers for entry into the professional ranks, and even the Olympic arena. That dedication has won six of the nine Olympic medals on the island.
The first was a bronze for Juan Evangelista Venegas at the 1948 London Olympics, followed by another bronze in Montreal in 1976 for Maldonado, a silver medal for Ortiz in Los Angeles in 1984, and also Acevedo and Daniel Santos with two more bronzes in Barcelona and Atlanta.
Among them, a curious anecdote from Evangelista Venegas, who represented the island in 1948, when Puerto Rico did not yet have a flag.
Today, there is no doubt that the island's position in the sport has been growing and it was announced by the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee (Copur) that the island will bring about 20 athletes from all disciplines to Tokyo, who are preparing in spite of the pandemic.
For his part, coach Evangelista Cotto pointed out to Listín that boxing has an advantage over other sports and that it is free of charge, since it is not necessary to contribute anything in economic terms to enroll in a boxing club.
He also said Puerto Rico has "the fame" of going into the ring to fight "for real."
"The boys come to the gym and are lent the bandages and everything. Besides, in this sport there is nothing discriminatory," said Cotto, coach of 147-pound World Boxing Association champion Miguel Cotto, among other fighters.
Finally, the world champion Ivan Calderos, holder of the 105 and 108-pound WBO belts, declared that "the hunger of becoming someone to see a good figure" is the fuel of a young boricua boxer that wants to open up in the sport.