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When This Writer Met One of His All-Time Favorite Boxers Kid Gavilan!”

Image: When This Writer Met One of His All-Time Favorite Boxers Kid Gavilan!”

By Ken Hissner: The first time this writer met one of my two favorite all-time boxers in Kid Gavilan, known as “The Cuban Hawk,” it was at Muhammad Ali’s Deer Lake, PA, camp. I had watched his many fights on television delivering that famous “bolo punch” of his. He developed it from cutting sugar cane in the fields in Cuba.

It would be years later when I heard he was living in an apartment in Harrisburg, PA, and I was able to locate him. I wasn’t writing at the time when I knocked at his door. Wow! It was “Kid Gavilan.”

I asked Gavilan what he was up to, and he said he was writing a book about Blinky Palermo, Philadelphia mobster, and Fidel Castro, President of Cuba. I said, “I hope you live to write it!”

When Gavilan lost a highly disputed decision to Johnny Saxton losing his welterweight title at Convention Hall, in Philadelphia, PA, in October of 1954, it was Palermo managing Saxton.

In Ring Magazine, editor Nat Fleischer stated, “the referee (Pete Pantaleo) showed favoritism, frequently warning Gavilan against holding, whereas Saxon was mainly to blame. It was an extremely dull fight, with scarcely any action for the first 8 rounds.


Image: When This Writer Met One of His All-Time Favorite Boxers Kid Gavilan!”

Referee Pantaleo had Saxon up 9-6, with judges Nate Lopinson 8-6 and Jim Mina 7-6 in the end. Gavilan was 98-14-4 going into the fight. In his previous fight, which I would at a later date, watch him lose a disputed decision to then middleweight champion Bobo Olson. I watched it in the Catskill’s bedroom of 15-year-old Mike Tyson. I was a guest of Cus D’Amato, and the films were supplied by his partner Jim Jacobs “Fights of the Century.” Tyson loved watching heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, no socks, no robes, and ferocious.

It was the beginning of the end of Gavilan’s career losing Saxon and, of course, no rematch that he ended up 108-30-5. He went 10-16-1 after this loss.

Getting back to my meeting with Gavilan, I had a Ring Record Book Encyclopedia under my left arm and asked, “do you have your boxing record (few ex boxers do)? He replied, “no, I don’t” I said, “I have it in this book.” He replied, “Can I borrow it?” I said “no” and hesitated, adding, “but I’ll give it to you (copy)!” Gavilan proceeded to give me a photo of himself signing it “to my very good friend Ken.”

Gavilan had all his property confiscated in Havana, Cuba, by Castro and, as previously mentioned, his world title belt by Palermo. I have no idea if he ever finished the book.

I do know Gavilan gave the greatest boxer in the history of boxing “Sugar” Ray Robinson, 95-1-2, at the time, two of his toughest fights per Robinson, losing a non-title fight in 1948 and losing 12-3 and 9-6 twice, at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia before 27,805 in attendance for Robinson’s title in July of 1949.

In May of 1951, Gavilan won the NBA world welterweight title at Madison Square Garden in New York City, stopping Johnny Bratton, 44-16-2, breaking his jaw within the first 5 rounds going onto take a 15 round decision. Before their rematch, Gavilan won 3 non-title bouts and one defense, a split decision over Billy Graham (not the Evangelist), 91-6-6, at Madison Square Garden.

For some reason, the Bratton rematch in November was a non-title fight ending in a draw at Chicago Stadium. In February of 1952, Gavilan defended his title-winning a split decision over Bobby Dykes, 88-10-6, at the Miami Stadium. In July, he would go to Philadelphia and knock out Philly’s Gil Turner, 31-0, in the eleventh round. After 10 rounds, it was 6-4 and 5-5 twice on the cards.

In October, Gavilan won a rematch with Graham, 98-8-8, in Havana. In February of 1953, he hit Chuck Davey, 37-0-2, on the Adam’s Apple, if memory serves me right in the tenth round stopping him.

Gavilan won numerous non-title bouts but one in between title bouts. In September of 1953, he defeated Carmen Basilio, 35-10-5, by split decision in Basilio’s hometown of Syracuse, New York. Two months later, again, he defeated Johnny Bratton, 60-20-3, in Chicago. Then, a couple of non-title wins and before losing to Olson for his middleweight title by majority decision. He weighed in with his clothes on to come in at 155 to Olson’s 159 ½.

Gavilan was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in its first year in 1990. In 2008 Ring Magazine named him the third greatest welterweight of all time.

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