SI Vault
Martin Kane
December 15, 1958
José Torres, exciting new middleweight, thrills his Puerto Rican compatriots
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December 15, 1958

The Word For José Is A Loud Olé

José Torres, exciting new middleweight, thrills his Puerto Rican compatriots

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Some extremely keen minds have been fascinated by this problem in ring chess. Champion Sugar Ray, a master of the moves, studied the style and decided he knew the answer. Recently he backed the experienced Otis Woodard to prove it. The astute Ray coached Woodard before the fight, and he counseled him in his corner during the fight. At the end of the first round Sugar Ray was pleading with Woodard to throw uppercuts. Woodard threw uppercuts, and at the end of the second round Robinson was pleading with him to protect himself against right-hand smashes to the jaw. At the end of the third Sugar Ray was suggesting that Woodard might try pulling Torres' head toward him with his left hand the while he banged away at it with his right, a sign of desperation since this is not precisely a legal maneuver. At the end of the fourth Sugar Ray had little to say, and at the end of the fifth a doctor stopped the bout to save Woodard from needless punishment. In the howling crowd of Puerto Ricans at St. Nick's a brother of Torres jumped up and down with joy.

The Torres style, so seemingly insoluble, derives from that of his stablemate, Heavyweight Champion Patterson, who has not been solved yet either. Patterson, taking a rather special pride in his protégé, has been giving Torres pointers.

The style was created by their manager, Cus D'Amato, who calls it "boxing out of a defense." It provides an instant and punishing answer to every one of boxing's half dozen standard punches. It is sometimes ridiculed (Charley Goldman, trainer of Rocky Marciano, calls it "the peekaboo style"), but it is the most successful style around right now. It helped make Patterson champion, and it has made Torres the idol of New York's 640,000 Puerto Ricans, not to mention quite a few other aficionados of no particular ethnic persuasion.

The Puerto Ricans are the latest immigrant tide to flood New York. They have been flocking to the city at a rate which sometimes has exceeded 50,000 a year. Their predecessors—the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Negroes from the South—all in their turn have contributed members to the royalty of sport, but it is doubtful if any similar group ever has exceeded the enthusiasm of the citizen-immigrant Puerto Ricans for an athlete. It is understandable. Crowded into slum areas and working at menial jobs, they have little else to cheer about. But in sport they have put up to national acclaim a few representatives like Ruben Gomez, former Giant pitcher, and in boxing they have given us Sixto Escobar, the bantamweight champion of the '30s. The Puerto Ricans are hungry for another hero at the moment and José Torres is it.

He is worthy of it—a young man with a fine air of dignity about him and the warm friendliness of a puppy.

Torres took up boxing at the late age of 18 simply because he was in the Army and was tipped off that if he made an athletic team he would automatically be relieved of grubby details that he hated.

"These fellows told me that if I made a team I would not have to do K.P.," he explained, "so I picked boxing. I thought it would be good to know about it."

He gives credit to Master Sergeant Pat Nappi as "the first who taught me to fight with my hands up," a training that made it a fairly simple matter to adapt to the style D'Amato teaches. Most young fighters hate to keep their hands up. It is tiring, for one thing, and it looks timid. But with hands up José beat everyone he met in the Army, then went on to reach the finals of the light middleweight division in the 1956 Olympics, where he was defeated by the Hungarian veteran, Laszlo Papp. It was the third Olympic title for Papp, who had knocked out Spider Webb in the 1952 Games. Torres takes some consolation in the fact that he lost to him by a single point.

At 22, Torres stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and, his handlers believe, will have no difficulty staying within the 160-pound middleweight limit from which Patterson graduated to heavyweight caliber. He boxes now at about 160 pounds. He has good shoulders, nicely muscled arms, legs that look tireless and a calm, disciplined approach to fighting that seems very un-Latin. Outside the ring he has the gentle ways of any well-raised young man, speaks politely to his elders and most respectfully of D'Amato, whom he regards as another father.

Boxing prestige has meant a great deal to Torres, more than the eight suits and 14 pairs of shoes he has accumulated since he began to fill the small clubs of New York. He has begun to see the sport as a means to greater success, wealth and fame. He still lives in an $11-a-week room in Brooklyn, but in the future he sees a pleasant apartment and marriage to his girl, Ramona Ortiz, who comes to his room once a week with her mother to tidy it up. Torres feels marriage is now about a year away. His first few fights paid him a mere $250, but when he began to appear at St. Nick's he was clearing close to $2,000 a fight. D'Amato so far has refused to take the usual managerial percentage from him.

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