The fight ended with a frenzied sellout crowd screaming happily, a brave and rugged middleweight out on his feet, fans scrambling into the ring and the victor seizing the microphone between gloved fists to shout in Spanish an invitation to his next fight two weeks hence. It was another triumph for José Torres, stablemate of Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson and the most promising young middleweight around, the special idol of New York's multitudinous Puerto Rican colony.
Last Thursday night's fight at Sunnyside Gardens was only Torres' ninth professional bout but in that brief period he has become the sensation of the small clubs of the city, to which he draws bigger crowds than Madison Square Garden gets for most of its televised attractions. It ended, as usual, in a knockout, this time over veteran Ike Jenkins in the fifth round. No other ending would have satisfied the Puerto Ricans. When Torres fights they demand a knockout, with howls of "¡Ahora!" as they sense it is coming and a thumbs-down gesture that points to where they want to see his opponent. Before each Torres fight they patronize peddlers who pass among them hawking pictures of their hero, including one which features a Spanish calendar. During the preliminaries they whistle at girls, boo the boxers in the ring and have a glorious time betting on the round that the knockout will come in. They do not bet against Torres.
All this is fine and healthy for the sport, but it signalizes an important change that has come over it.
In this time of prizefighting's decadence even a very promising new boxer must be no less than sensational to impress the old hands of the sport because, they tell you, television is a cannibal that eats up bright young fighters when they are tender. It is hard nowadays for a beginning boxer to learn his art. If he is good there is danger that he will be rushed too fast into the contender ratings. In the old days a promising young fellow was given years of seasoning and scores of fights, all of them educational, before he was taken too seriously. Benny Leonard had 107 professional fights before he was allowed to try for the lightweight title. Sugar Ray Robinson had 75 before he won the welterweight championship. Other great men of the ring waited even longer for their glory. Consider the case of Archie Moore, who had 17 years of fighting behind him before he won the light heavyweight title.
So the old hands around Stillman's Gym sigh a little these days when they see the tempest of excitement being stirred up in New York by José Torres, who already has acquired an impassioned following of fans and is even being talked of as a future champion. In his eighth fight Torres drew one of the largest crowds in 20 years at St. Nicholas Arena. His fans, who are mostly Puerto Ricans, too, at present, will assure you that José is ready right now to take on Sugar Ray Robinson for the middleweight title.
José, who has sparred with Robinson, does not deny this.
"I think I hurt him," he says, and adds with quiet enthusiasm for himself, "I think I could take him."
Torres' self-confidence is astonishing in one so young and with so little ring experience. He is only 22 years old and started boxing when he was 18, which is three to five years late in the opinion of most trainers. But he has justified it in every fight.
"My only problem now," says José, "is that I don't know yet whether I can go a really fast 10 or 15 rounds. I will have to find that out first. Then I can tackle some big name fighters."
He will not find it out soon, the way he has been going, because he generally stops his man early. His opponents at this stage, naturally, have been unranked and even pretty much unknown, but they have included veterans who might reasonably have been expected to solve the puzzles that the Torres style imposes on opponents. None of them has been able to do it. So far he has not been hit a really hard blow in any pro fight.