EDER JOFRE, who stands unchallenged as Brazil’s best ever boxer, came a long way in his life. He was born, March 26, 1936 in the gym his father ran in the Italian district of Sao Paulo yet ended up a member of the Brazilian Congress.
The man known as “The Golden Bantam” ruled that division for four years and, after a three-year retirement, came back to win the WBC belt up at featherweight. In 78 professional fights, he lost to only one man, Japan’s Fighting Harada (who beat him twice). Of the four draws Jofre conceded, he beat the opponents in returns.
Making him stand out was the fact he was a vegetarian, the first such world champion since Freddie Welsh half a century earlier.
He stood only 5ft 4ins but punched like a lightweight – his first nine bantam title fights all ended in early wins. In a 1994 Boxing News feature Jack Hirsch wrote: “Of today’s ringmen, Jofre feels his style most closely resembles that of Julio Cesar Chavez. Watching Jofre on tape, he had that same aggressive style. Chavez had a little more ring generalship and durability, but Jofre could punch a little harder and slightly more effectively when he threw combinations.”
Born into a family heavily involved in boxing and wrestling, Eder made his debut at nine years old against a cousin. He flattened the lad in three rounds.
By 1956 he was good enough to represent his country at the Melbourne Olympics, but he lost in his second bout and, disenchanted, turned professional. Boxing exclusively in his homeland, he stayed unbeaten and in June 1960 he travelled to Los Angeles to meet contender Joe Medel. Even in those days he was having trouble making the 8st 6lbs limit, but he knocked out the Mexican in round 10 and five months later was back in LA to meet Eloy Sanchez for the Americas version of the world bantam crown relinquished by Joe Becerra.
This time the KO came in round six and any doubts about his legitimacy vanished in January 1962 when Jofre unified the title with a 10th-round stoppage of Northern Ireland’s Johnny Caldwell, who had won European recognition as world bantam champion.
Eder had no problems taking his title on the road, defending in Venezuela, the USA, Japan and Colombia. His explanation? “Brazil was a poor country then and I was not making enough money there.”
Such was his domination that his motivation began to waver. In a 1963 interview he talked of retirement and perhaps becoming an interior decorator and designer.
“I was starting to get bored with all the training,” he said. “But I liked the money a lot – that was the reason I continued to box.”
In May 1965 he travelled to Japan to risk his title against Fighting Harada, who had previously held the world flyweight crown. Jofre was badly hurt in round two, rallied to almost stop Harada in the sixth, and eventually lost a split 15-round decision.
Jofre was convinced he was robbed and blamed referee Barney Ross, the former world welterweight champion. Ross was a sick man (he would die less than two years later) and allowed Harada to butt and hold frequently.
A rematch one year later also went the way of Harada, but this time unanimously. Jofre blamed weight troubles, saying, “I hardly ate for three days – I made a lot of sacrifices to make the weight.”
He retired and did not fight again until August 1969, when he was 33 years old. A run of 14 wins brought him a shot at Jose Legra’s WBC 9st belt and Eder turned back the clock to notch a majority decision that made him world champion again at 37.
He made only one defence, flattening (four rounds) another comebacking figure of the 1960s, Mexico’s former champion Vicente Saldivar, in October 1973. The following year the WBC stripped him for failing to meet their official contender – Jofre was kept out of the ring by his father’s terminal cancer.
But he boxed on until October 1976, when he had turned 40. He had won all 25 fights on his comeback but recognised that the burning desire to regain his title just wasn’t there any more.
In retirement this soccer fan became a trainer, kept himself extremely fit and owned businesses including supermarkets.