Jose Torres: World light-heavyweight champion who became a political activist

On the wall of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, to which José Torres was rightly admitted long before his death this week at the age of 72, a commemorative plaque sums up his life in just three words: "boxing's renaissance man." He was all that and more, the gutsy former light-heavyweight champion of the world, who later distinguished himself as a political activist and sporting administrator, before enjoying a successful career as a journalist and writer.

In the ring, Torres enjoyed his finest hour at New York's Madison Square Gardens in 1965, where a sell-out crowd saw him knock out Willie Pastrano in the ninth, with a picture-perfect blow to the gut that sent his opponent crashing to the canvas. The next day, on a tour of the city, he stopped to climb a fire escape on Lexington Avenue. Holding the title belt aloft, he told a cheering crowd "this is for everybody!" saying that if someone like him could achieve something like this, then in New York, anything must be possible.

It was the highlight of a long journey that had begun in Ponce, a city on Puerto Rico's southern coast where he was born in 1936, and eventually saw Torres fêted as one of the most stylish fighters of his generation, who mixed a high-handed "peek-a-boo" defence with flashing combinations and a famously destructive body-shot. After learning to box in the US Army, and winning silver as an amateur in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, his 11-year career saw him win 41 fights, with 29 knock-outs. He lost just three times, scoring one draw.

He successfully defended his world title three times, against Wayne Thornton, Eddie Cotton, and Chick Calderwood, before losing an epicbattle on points against Nigeria's Dick Tiger, another of the greats of theera, who narrowly outworked him over 15 rounds. A rematch the following year resulted in a carbon copy of the first engagement, with both men trading blows until the final bell. After the result was announced, outraged fans, who thought Torres had deserved to win, began to riot. The NYPD could not properly quell the violence until sunrise.

In retirement, Torres was drawn to politics, working as an aide to Paul O'Dwyer, the president of New York City Council. He later became Puerto Rico's official representative in the city, and also spent several years as both chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, and a supervisor for the World Boxing Organisation.

During the 1980s, he tried his hand at journalism, writing a column in the New York Post which vociferously championed the causes of the Latino community. It led him to pursuea career as a writer, completing several books about his sport, including Sting Like a Bee, a biography of Muhammad Ali, and Fire and Fear, about Mike Tyson and the "parasites" who surrounded him. Torres wasalso friends with Robert F Kennedy, who he used to take on tours of Latino neighbourhoods, and Norman Mailer, with whom he agreed to spar for three rounds on a Saturday morning,even though the literary great was well into his sixties.

In later years, Torres returned to Ponce, where his wife, Ramonita Ortiz, said he died from a heart attackon Monday morning. The mayor ofthe city declared three days of official mourning and ordered flags to be flown at half mast, in honour of: "avery valiant man who aside frombeing a great athlete was a great human being."

Guy Adams

Jose Torres, boxer, political activist, sports administrator, journalist, author: born Ponce, Puerto Rico 3 May 1936; 1965-67 world light-heavyweight champion; married Ramonita Ortiz; died Ponce, Puerto Rico 19 January 2009.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London