Sunday, June 04, 2023  |



Torres: Renaissance man

Fighters Network

Jose Torres' fans gave him a royal ride after he stopped Willie Pastrano to win the light heavyweight title in 1965. Photo / THE RING

The sport didn’t lose just a boxer when Jose Torres, 72, died of a heart attack Monday at home in his native Ponce, Puerto Rico. As boxing historian Bert Sugar put it, it lost an “ambassador.”

The longtime New York resident was a soldier, Olympic gold medalist, professional world champion, author, journalist, television commentator, high-ranking boxing official, advocate for his people and so much more.

You get the point: This was no ordinary pug.

Torres was a very good fighter, good enough to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

The durable boxer-puncher began boxing while serving in the U.S. Army and went on to win a silver medal for the U.S. in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, losing to the great Laszlo Papp in the gold medal match.

As a pro, Torres (41-3-1, 29 knockouts) went undefeated in his first 27 fights under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Cus D’Amato, was knocked out by big-punching Cuban Florentino Fernandez (his only KO loss) and then won seven straight to earn a shot at Willie Pastrano’s world light heavyweight title.

The fight took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, in front Torres’ rabid Puerto Rican fans, and no one left disappointed. An inspired Torres simply knocked the fight out Pastrano, who couldn’t go on after the eighth round.

The fans went nuts.

“I was there,” said Mario Rivera Martino, THE RING’s Puerto Rico correspondent for 40 years. “The fans carried him away on their shoulders.”

Torres, who was trained by Cus D’Amato, successfully defended his belt three times before losing it to Hall of Famer Dick Tiger and then losing a rematch, a split decision that caused a near riot at Madison Square Garden. He fought only twice more and then retired.

If you call what he did retired.

Among the things he did in his post-fight career:

— He authored two books , one with Sugar about Muhammad Ali, “Sting Like A Bee,” and a second called “Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson.”

— He was a correspondent for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York.

— He worked as a boxing analyst for ESPN Deportes.

— He was chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission from 1983-88.

— He was president of the WBO from 1990-95.

— He actually sang the national anthem before one fight.

— And, over the past four decades, he earned the respect and admiration of countless people as an outspoken advocate for Puerto Rican people in New York and elsewhere.

In that capacity, he got to know many politicians in the U.S. and in his native land. Rivera Martino said Torres could show up at any time and visit the governor’s mansion of Puerto Rico without being questioned.

He also hob-nobbed with some of the great literary names of his time. Sugar said he did some of his writing at the home of Norman Mailer.

Who ever heard of a prize fighter comparing notes with a legendary author?

“There were a lot of great Puerto Rican fighters,” Rivera Martino said. “(Felix) Trinidad, (Wilfredo) Gomez, others. They might’ve had more boxing ability than Jose did. It was how he took advantage of being champion that made him special.

“Let’s face it, fighters normally don’t end up developing culturally and financially after they retire. Jose did so many meaningful things. I think people appreciated him more and more over time.”

Torres, struggling with adult diabetes, returned to live in his birthplace in 2007 to focus on his writing.

Coincidentally, Sugar said he recently received a set of the latest printing of “Sting Like a Bee,” which they wrote together in 1971. He just sent Torres a copy.

“I didn’t know he’d never get it,” said Sugar, his voice trailing off. “It’s devastating news, knowing someone for so long. I’ll miss him.”

A lot of people will.