Monday, January 19, 2009

Hasta Luego mi amigo 'Cheguí'

Puerto Rican boxer Jose

'Cheguí' Torres dies at 72

Updated Monday, January 19th 2009, 5:55 PM

Garrett, Jim

Jose "Cheguí" Torres sparing with Cleo Daniels in a training session before a fight in 1969.

Hall of Fame boxer Jose "Chegui" Torres, the former light heavyweight champion and Olympic Silver Medalist who went on to become a newspaper columnist, author, boxing official and revered representative of the Puerto Rican community, died at his home in Puerto Rico early this morning of a massive heart attack. He was 72.

On March 30, 1965, Torres electrified the Latin American world when he defeated Willie Pastrano by a technical knockout at Madison Square Garden to become the first Hispanic light heavyweight champion.

Before the match, Torres exhibited his fierce pride in his Puerto Rican heritage when insisted he would not get in the ring unless Madison Square Garden officials agreed to play the island's national anthem as well as the Star Spangled Banner. Garden officials agreed.

Torres successfully defended his title three times before losing to Dick Tiger in a close contest in 1966. A Madison Square Garden rematch with Tiger followed a year later. Torres again lost in a close decision, one that so angered his Puerto Rican fans that that city cops had to be mobilized to quell the riot that erupted in the Garden.

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Torres began fighting when he joined the U.S. Army as a teenager. He captured a silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics while competing for the United States, then won a Daily News Golden Gloves championship in 1958.

After his retirement from boxing in 1969, he launched a second career as a columnist for the New York Post and El Diario-La Prensa and as a representative for the Puerto Rican community. At the Post, he was a sidekick for years of fellow columnist Pete Hamill and writer Norman Mailer.

Torres later chaired the New York State Boxing Commission in the 1980s and served as supervisor for the World Boxing Organization. He also wrote two biographies - "Sting Like a Bee" on Muhammad Ali and "Fire and Fear" on Mike Tyson.

In 1997, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

"He used his celebrity status to do good for the Puerto Rican community and for all youth," said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a close friend of Torres for decades.

Velazquez said she had spoken to Torres's wife of 47 years, Ramona, only yesterday, and learned from her that Torres seemed to be doing well after undergoing hospital treatment for diabetes. Then, around 4:30 this morning, Torres suffered a massive, according to his wife.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

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