Born on this day: Fidel LaBarba
He was one of the very first gold medalists who also went on to earn a world title. The great Fidel LaBarba was born on a day like today, 117 years ago.
Fidel LaBarba was born on September 29, 1905 in New York City. He relocated to Los Angeles in his early childhood, and soon enough he found himself selling newspapers in traffic lights to help out his family. The territorial disputes for the best corners in town were a perfect way for young people to get an education in basic pugilism, and LaBarba proved to be quite effective in the defense of his territory.
He began his illustrious amateur career at the age of 14, starting a career that would take him to the United States Olympic team while he was still in his late teens. LaBarba won the gold medal in the flyweight division at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, and shortly thereafter he turned professional.
It was only one year later that LaBarba defeated fellow Italian-American tough cookie Frankie Genaro in a 10 round decision to win the American flyweight title while beginning to make a name for himself.
Then, in 1927, only three years after obtaining his gold medal, LaBarba defeated Elky Clark to win the vacant Ring flyweight championship of the world, knocking Clark down five times in the process and winning all twelve rounds.
After back-to-back losses to Johnny Vacca in Boston, LaBarba had seven more fights before meeting Vacca for a third time, defeating him and announcing his retirement and enrolling in college without making any defenses of his belt (all those fights were non-title bouts) and leaving the flyweight division in disarray for the next 10 years, in which a number of claimants to the throne disputed various versions of the title.
LaBarba returned to action only seven months later, fighting in the featherweight division. He went 1-1 with fellow all-time great Kid Chocolate before receiving an opportunity in 1931 to face Battling Battalino for the world featherweight title, but he was outpointed.
Undeterred, LaBarba trudged on until he met Kid Chocolate again in 1932, in a fight in which he suffered a detached retina, a repeat of an injury suffered during training. After losing the fight undergoing an unsuccessful surgery, LaBarba lost vision on his injured eye and eventually had to have the eye removed.
Finally retiring for good, he enrolled again in Stanford University, earning a degree in journalism. He later worked as a sportswriter, screenwriter, and as technical advisor in Hollywood for boxing movies.
LaBarba died in Los Angeles, California, on October 2, 1981. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.