Former Light-Heavyweight Champion José Luis Torres had a multi-faceted life that went beyond sports, to include civic service and journalism.
Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1936, Torres joined the armed forces at age 17 and began what would eventually translate into an extensive career in amateur and professional boxing. While serving in the Army, “Chegüi” won several amateur championships, turning pro under legendary trainer Cus D’Amato.
Before that, Torres won a silver medal at the 1956 Sydney Olympics representing the United States in the light middleweight division. Prior to his first professional fight, Torres won the AAU Middleweight Championship and the Golden Gloves Open Championship.
In his 45-fight professional career, Torres tasted defeat only three times to two different opponents. He debuted with a first-round knockout victory over Gene Hamilton in New York, scoring 13 wins in a row before a draw against cuban Benny Paret.
Chegüi became the third Puerto Rican world champion and the first Latin Light Heavyweight champion when he defeated Willie Pastrano via technical knockout at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 30, 1965. He defended the belt five times before losing to nigerian Dick Tiger, to whom he also lost a controversial decision in a rematch that caused a riot at Madison Square Garden.
From boxer to writer
After retiring in 1969, Torres decided to live full time in New York and began a life-long career of service to the Afro-Latino community in that city. He was the first Latino to write columns in English for the New York Post and the New York Daily News, where he shared editorial pages with renowned authors such as Pete Hamill and Norman Mailer. He also wrote articles for The Village Voice and El Diario La Prensa.
“He was a powerful and huge voice and because of that, and there was no one of importance in New York who refused to speak to him,” Hamill told ESPN in 2009.
In his columns, Torres shared the problems of the Puerto Rican communities in New York and sought solutions to the difficulties they were going through.
“He used his celebrity status to do good for the Puerto Rican community and all youth,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a decades long friend of Torres at the time of his death.
His skills as a writer and his highly recognized status led him to write two books: “Sting like a Bee” (1971) co-authored with Burt Sugar, a Muhammad Ali biography, and “Fire and Fear” (1989) a book on Mike Tyson, also a protege of Cus D’Amato, which was later adapted into the HBO television movie ‘Tyson’.
Boxing did not remain far from his life, as he was appointed Director of the New York State Athletic Commission from 1984 to 1988, and then presided over the World Boxing Organization (WBO) from 1990 to 1995.
Torres remained active writing for newspapers in the United States, including La Prensa in New York and El Mundo in San Juan, shining as a representative figure of Puerto Ricans who live in the Big Apple.
After more than 50 years living in New York, he returned to Puerto Rico in 2007 to concentrate on writing about history and sports. He passed away in January 2009 of a heart attack in his native Ponce.