Best I Faced: Juan Laporte
Juan Laporte was a hardnosed competitor who gave everyone he fought a tough night out but ultimately lost to the very best. Laporte held the WBC featherweight in he early-1980s and went on to face seven Hall-of-Famers during his career.
Laporte was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico on November 24, 1959. His family moved from to New York when he was seven years old. He took up boxing in 1975 and things progressed quickly.
“I won the New York (Sub-) Novice (championship); a year later, I won the Open championship,” Laporte told RingTV.com. “I went to Montreal and won the AAU Olympics in ‘76 and the Spanish Gloves and the Golden Gloves, turned pro in ‘77.”
Three years into his pro career, the inexperienced youngster – who was 13-1 at the time – gave the legendary Salvador Sanchez all he could handle.
“I wasn’t known at the time. I was still a baby,” he said explaining his mentality. “I went out there with a lot of confidence. I had trained well for him and was determined to get the title. He was just a little smarter than me and won the decision.”
Unperturbed, Laporte, a better fighter for that experience, dusted himself off and set about getting a second opportunity. The teak-tough Puerto Rican won two fights before meeting Rocky Lockridge for the USBA title.
Laporte made a statement of intent to the featherweight division by legitimizing himself with a big TV win over a top contender.
“He was the No. 1 guy from New Jersey and I was the No. 1 guy from New York and we were both in the same weight,” he said. “He was pumping a lot of crap how he was gonna knock me out. It was a huge fight for me. Rocky was the No. 1 rated in the world by the WBC and WBA.
“He went in there with a little fire and I got to him. He surprised me with a right hand in the first round and I thought, ‘He can punch a little.’ I started whacking his body and I found out, that same round, I hurt him to the body, so, when he went to the corner, he was still a little hurt so I just kept doing what I was doing and caught him off the ropes with that right hand. That was it.
“Lockridge was a great fighter but he came out there trying to be tougher than me and he got nailed.”
A shade over a year removed from the Sanchez loss, Laporte took on long-reigning WBA 126-pound ruler Eusebio Pedroza. Laporte dropped a close but unanimous decision in an ugly, foul-filled contest in Atlantic City.
“The Pedroza fight was a very tough fight because of the way he fought,” he said scathingly. “He was a dirty fighter; you continually have to fight him, even though you’re hurt to the groin. It was a rough fight.
“I went in there prepared to win the title. When you get cheated so much in the fight, you get down. I was like, ‘I know I’m winning this fight but they’re gonna give this guy the fight.’ It was a tough fight because of his dirty tactics.
“The cards were close. I beat him in that fight. They just gave it to him. He was supposed to be disqualified. They gave him three warnings in the fight. He used a substance that’s not supposed to be used in the fight; they used ammonia, which was illegal at the time.
“The state wanted to reverse the decision but the WBA didn’t want to because the president is from Panama, so (Pedroza) was protected.”
Laporte was in the process of taking the WBA to court when he was offered the opportunity to face Sanchez in a rematch. He believes, had he continued, he would have got the decision reversed, claiming then-commissioner Jersey Joe Walcott had sided with him.
Laporte contends having shared a ring with both Sanchez and Pedroza, that Sanchez would have won, had he faced Pedroza in a much discussed super-fight that never happened.
Tragically, a month before they were due to meet, Sanchez was involved in a fatal car crash.
Laporte was quickly matched with Mario Miranda to fill the WBC featherweight title vacancy. He made the most of his opportunity, forcing the Colombian to remain on his stool at the conclusion of the 10th round. Laporte’s win was even more significant because the fight took place at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“Definitely, that was my home,” he said proudly. “It was great. This guy was undefeated with a very good record. He came in ready to beat me and take the title but I refused. I worked hard for it and, when he hurt me with that right hand in the second round, I didn’t let me hit me with it again. I just worked his body and took his heart away and got the win.”
Laporte successfully defended his strap twice in 1983 in his birthplace, outpointing wily Texan veteran Ruben Castillo (the two remain good friends) and then-unbeaten Johnny De La Rosa. Later that year, an ill-prepared Laporte lost a non-title bout.
In March 1984, Laporte met countryman Wilfredo Gomez, who was stepping up from junior featherweight. Gomez was victorious in the all-Puerto Rican clash.
“It was a huge night for him; it was a bad night for me (laughs),” he said. “We’ve talked and I told him how dirty he was too because he was hitting with the head, hitting low and stuff like that, but he had to do what he had to do because I was too strong for him. He found out I wasn’t throwing punches the way I usually do and he played with me that day.”
One win and a year later, Laporte packed his bags and traveled to Northern Ireland to face then-rising Barry McGuigan.
“I went out there and fought Barry. I misjudged him a little bit; I didn’t think be that much trouble,” he recalled. “He was a little guy throwing a lot of punches.
“After awhile, I was waiting for the crowd (to quieten down); they were singing. I showed them his punches weren’t hurting me but I was losing time.
“When I put the pressure on him, I started hurting him and, in the 10th round, I had him almost out. They stopped the fight 10 seconds before the bell; they saved him. Over there, the judges is the referee and just picked up his hand. (McGuigan) was a good fighter.”
After some time off, Laporte won two fights and was offered a shot at WBC junior lightweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez with three weeks’ notice.
“I went in there with no respect for him and showed him I’m as strong as he is,” he said. “In the first round, I hit him with a left hook to the body and kept it up from there but I didn’t keep up things (how) I was supposed to do. I just wanted to fight with him, show him I could stay there with him.”
Laporte dropped a close unanimous decision – by a single point on two of the official scorecards.
Over the next two-and-a half years, he went 7-1, collecting the NABF 130-pound belt along the way, before he met his next big challenge in the form of up-and-coming fellow Puerto Rican John John Molina. The two met for the newly-created, vacant WBO title; Molina won a wide unanimous decision.
“He was a good fighter,” Laporte said. “He was a good runner; he could box. I went in there, just treat him like a young guy, fighting his fight. I dropped him and picked him up. We kept fighting and John won the decision.”
A couple more wins and, in October of 1990, Laporte was presented with another title fight, this time in Australia against Azumah Nelson. Laporte was unimpressed with what the West African brought to the ring.
“That fight was set up; I guess,” he said stoicially. “I beat Azumah good and they gave him the fight. Azumah Nelson didn’t fight his fight. He was running, scared the hell of me. He got the decision because they wanted the weaker guy to fight Jeff Fenech and he was the weaker guy.”
With his prime in his rear-view mirror, Laporte stayed active, fighting sparingly for the rest of the 1990s, at the less familiar 140-pounds.
He faced the talented quartet of tough Hector Lopez, a young Kostya Tszyu, the smooth Charles Murray and human whirlwind Zack Padilla.
“When I went to train for Charles Murray, my sister passed away. I had to return home and take care of everything for her to get buried,” he explained. “Then I returned to training and my head wasn’t really on the fight and this guy just outclassed me that day. I didn’t have the tools to do anything that day.”
In the build-up to the Padilla fight, he suffered a pinched nerve on the side of his face.
“Sometimes I used to get electricity shock behind my neck because of the pinched nerve,” he said. “I went to fight like that; fighting (Padilla) was a tough fight.
Laporte gave the naturally bigger Padilla all he could handle before retiring on his stool at the end of the 10th round.
He walked away from boxing for four years before returning and losing twice before hanging the gloves up for good in the summer of 1999, with a record of 40-16-1 (with 22 knockouts).
Laporte, 56, is divorced, and has 10 children (eight boys and two girls) and 15 grandchildren. He moved back to Puerto Rico in his hometown of Guayama and stays busy working on his house and helping train young boxing hopefuls.
“I’m happy because I’m proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “Some of the guys I fought, they can hardly hold a conversation. I’m happy I can hold a conversation and continue life.”
He kindly agreed to speak to RingTV.com about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Eusebio Pedroza: Pedroza had a good jab. He had a long reach with the jab. It was a powerful jab. It wasn’t just a flick jab; it was a strong jab.
Salvador Sanchez: Salvador Sanchez had a good defense. At that time, it was my first big fight and it was kinda difficult for me because I didn’t have all the experience of boxing and he made it difficult for me ’cause he had good reflexes and he’d move away from punches and turn his head, so he had a good defense.
Julio Cesar Chavez: This is the best chin in boxing, me! (laughs) Chavez had a good chin. I hit him a couple of times and I hit him hard. I know, after the fight, he couldn’t eat for a couple of days because his jaw was messed up. He could take a good shot. Ruben Castillo, he took shots and he had a good chin.
Ruben Castillo: Ruben Castillo had fast hands; he was probably one of the fastest hands I fought.
Wilfredo Gomez: Wilfredo Gomez was good for that, his foot movement, defense. Gomez was one of the greatest fighters in the world.
Sanchez: (The smartest) that I fought was Salvador Sanchez. This guy was unbelievable; he kept coming. Defense was great; you’ve got to constantly be thinking every second of the fight because this guy is that good.
Kostya Tszyu: The strongest guy I fought. I was out of shape and on the way out and fought Kostya Tszyu. That was the strongest guy I ever fought. He was like 160 pounds when I was 140 pounds wet. This guy was big and strong.
Mario Miranda: I got rocked about once or twice in my whole career and one of them was Mario Miranda for the title. He only had power in one hand, the right hand. After he hit me in the second round, that’s it. I didn’t let him hit me with that hand anymore. Chavez had power; Gomez had a little power but he didn’t do anything to me either. Salvador didn’t have the power punch. Pedroza had a little power but didn’t hurt me. The only time he hurt me was when he hit me in the groin, low blows and kidney punches. McGuigan, no, he had fast hands; he was like Ruben Castillo. Nelson, I didn’t even feel it cause he didn’t want to get near me. Kostya Tszyu was a very powerful puncher, that’s the only fight that I ever thought I was in trouble ’cause I knew I was out of condition and this guy was way bigger than me out of my (natural) weight (class) and I just had to fight my way all the way to the 10 rounds. Everybody knows Zack (Padilla, the only fighter to stop Laporte) wasn’t a power puncher. He was a busy fighter; he had conditioning, throwing punches from everywhere but he wasn’t a power puncher. I was hitting him harder than he was hitting me. He was just hitting me more and he was way bigger.
Gomez: Best boxing skills…I fought a guy like Charles Murray (at junior welterweight). These guys are different weight divisions. They’re taller and bigger. They can outbox the little guys, so that makes it a little difficult. But my size, Wilfredo Gomez, he was the best. You could tell by his record and the guys he fought. When he fought me, he made the fight so easy for himself. I was over-trained and it was hard to get off. That was my worst fight but I respect that he had a very good day.
Sanchez: To me, since it was the biggest fight of my career, at the time, it was Salvador Sanchez.
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