A long time ago, someone said that whenever somebody dies, a bit of the entire
world died with him or her. The world of boxing lost many legends in 2012,
such as Emanuel Stewart, Hector Camacho Sr, Carmen Basilio, Johnny Tapia and the
such. To me, the most important loss, however, was not that of any of them but
of a person who was unknown to the world of boxing, but who was a part of it
nevertheless. Whenever I watch a boxing fight for the rest of my life, I shall
remember the times I spent watching them with my grandfather, Eusebio Rivera.
"Rive", as we called him, was born fighting. At the age of 11, he moved
away from home to earn money in 1928 Puerto Rico, when the country was
still known as "the poorhouse of the Caribbean". He loved telling me about
how once, a barber who should have known better, called him "shorty" in front of
customers at the barbershop. The barber ended up knocked out from one single
punch to the jaw. My grandfather was small, but he was proud, short-fused and
strong. He was also, an excellent grandfather, but we'll get to that later.
As a teenager, he became enthralled with boxing by listening to Sixto
Escobar's fights with Lou Salica, Harry Jeffra, Tony Olivera,
Baby Casanova, Pete Sanstol and others on the radio. To him, an
Escobar win would mean festivities all around. Because of Escobar, my
grandfather became a boxing fan. Once television came about in Puerto Rico, my
grandfather would not miss a single show until moving to the United States 36
When I was born, he transformed. You could not have associated the brave
featherweight of his youth with the caring, loving grandfather of his mid-life.
He went out of his way to please me, and often, if I saw a toy I liked on the
other end of the country, he would get in the car and go straight to the store
and buy it. Keep in mind that, in tiny Puerto Rico, you can go from one end
to another in 5 hours (if you drive East to West or vice versa) or
less, two hours tops from north to south. Still, in our thinking,
being that those rides cover the entire country, to us, those were long rides!
Still favoring Escobar over everyone else, as I grew, my grandfather let me
hear and become familiar with names like Ali, Duran, Gomez, Olivares, Cuevas,
Benitez, "Kid Pambele", Arguello, Escalera and Monzon. Of Ali, he'd
say 'ese si es la ley!" (literally "That one is really the law" but which
really meant "he's the man!") Of Gomez, he'd say "A Gomez nadie le gana"
("nobody beats Gomez", which of course, was proven wrong when he fought Salvador
Sanchez) and so on. Like mostly every boxing fan and reporter, he first scorned
Larry Holmes as just an Ali wannabe, but later came to respect the "Easton
Assassin"s greatness. Duran was also a favorite of his, and he attended
the fight between Duran and Mexican Leoncio Ortiz, held at the Roberto
Clemente Coliseum in San Juan.
Now, I began watching fights with him at a very early age, but at that
time, to me, boxing was just like a pick-up game. Any two people could just put
on shorts and get in that ring as far as I was concerned, since I was only about
5. But, in his own way, he let me into the talk around me, asking me who I
thought would win, and making me be interested in the fight. He would make
sure he pointed out at the fighters and called them by their name so I could
follow the fight a bit better. He would, however, tell everyone to shut up if he
thought the conversation was getting in the way of us actually looking at the
fight on television!!
You all know about the time that we went to the airport (a favorite
activity of mine that I still plan on carrying on with) to watch airplanes and
then he mentioned he was going to see Gomez fight Jose Luis Soto in person that
night. It was my first ever in-person boxing experience and how honored I am it
had the all time great Gomez involved and that my grandfather was there! Then on
November 12, that year, began the one month process in which I gained fanatical
appreciation for boxing, when Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello fought their first
fight, culminating with the night in which Gomez beat Lupe Pintor and Thomas
Hearns defeated my dear friend Wilfred Benitez. Grandpa watched those
fights with me, as he would thousand others. A few months later, we went to my
first in-person world title fight, Edwin Rosario-Jose Luis Ramirez I for
the vacant WBC world Lightweight title. Grandpa always spoke his mind, and,
despite being Puerto Rican, he told me when we walked towards our car after
that fight that ":you know Ramirez got robbed!" I did not exactly understand the
meaning of those words, since I was still only 10, but with time, I learned
to score fights, and, although I do not agree that Ramirez 'got robbed' that
night (it was very close, through), most of the times when he said someone got
robbed, I agreed!
My grandfather saw them all, and he loved and respected them all. He was
sorrowed about the state in which Benitez now lives, and he was saddened by news
of Sanchez's death. In fact, he was saddened to hear that Camacho had died when
he himself was about to die a few days later!
All the words I say about him cannot really describe how much he meant to
me as the person with whom I saw so many fights, so many fighters. When people
are still reluctant to enjoy women's boxing nowadays, grandpa had, by 1996,
become a fan of Christy Martin and he recognized Laila Ali as a very, very good
That, and the memories he shared with me! He loved telling me of how he saw
Esteban De Jesus 'ice" Alfonso "Peppermint" Frazer. He also told me about
how 'Duran hit the Mexican guy (Ortiz) over and over and he wouldn't fall",
and of how, one day, he thought there was a boxing card at San Juan, and
when he got into the arena and someone told him it was a wrestling show
instead, he broke his ticket and headed back home-never mind Carlitos Colon, the
greatest Puerto Rican wrestler of all time and father of the WWE'S Carly and
Eddie Colon, was the one headlining the show. My grandfather just loved boxing
and hated wrestling.
He continued to love boxing until he could see no more. When Felix Trinidad
fought De La Hoya, Hopkins, Vargas and Joppy, we saw it together. When Julio
Cesar Chavez Sr. beat Camacho and Greg Haugen, we saw it together, as we
did when he got that gift of a draw against Pernell Whitaker, and when Whitaker
was re-paid for that and for his loss to Ramirez (in their first fight) with two
decision wins over Wilfredo Rivera that were horrendous prove of how a fighter's
status as champion can persuade judges. Together, we saw it all, the strange and
the not so strange. The funny and the not so funny. We saw Dokes-Weaver I and
the fast stoppage that fight had. We saw Holmes fall to age and to Mike Tyson.
We saw Duran and Davey Moore go to the wrong corners after their epic seventh
round, and we saw Duran quit in the rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard.
On December 10th, I spoke to him for the last time, Asking him if he knew
about Camacho's death, he answered "si, pobre Camacho" ('yes, poor Camacho") and
then, after I told him I loved him, he spoke his last words. He did me that
honor of having someone, him, speak his last words to me. You know what he said?
"I love you too!"
To boxing, my grandpa's passing may have been nothing but just another fan
who died. To me, however, grandpa was much more than that. To me, grandpa was
part of the sport of boxing. He was, after all, the man who introduced me to it.
I hope that you are enjoying the company of Monzon, and of Joe Louis
and all those other boxers that died before you up there in Heaven,
grandpa. And of Grandma as well. Because someday we shall both reunite
overthere, God willing. And both you and I know how much we love