KID GAVILAN was the darling of the early days of televised boxing and it is no wonder with his flamboyant style, dancing feet, flashing white boots and extravagant “bolo” punch. He made an astonishing 34 television appearances in a golden era when anything up to four boxing shows a week were being shown live on coast-to-coast television. Gavilan made 22 appearances at Madison Square Garden, then the centre of the boxing universe. The colourful “Keed” could also fight a bit and his exotic lifestyle and cheerful happy-go-lucky personality cemented his popularity.
Born Gerardo Gonzalez on January 6 1926 in impoverished Camaguey, Cuba, he was soon being employed in the harsh sugar plantations where, he always insisted, he developed his famous “bolo” punch by swinging the heavy seven pound bolo knife to cut the cane. The punch, a long looping uppercut did little damage but was spectacular and the crowd roared when Gavilan employed it during a fight. At 12 years old he joined the local amateur boxing club. By 1943 he was the veteran of around 60 amateur fights and ready to punch for pay. That meant moving to Havana and acquiring a manager, Fernando Balido. Balido is credited with giving the youngster his ring name. He ran a bar called El Gavilan, which meant “The Hawk.” Gavilan had his first professional fight in 1943 at the age of 16. After fighting for three years in Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico he launched his career in America and soon became a top contender for the welterweight title. He lost two decisions to boxing greats Ike Williams and Sugar Ray Robinson but two revenge wins over Williams got him a title chance against the imperious Robinson in Philadelphia. The attendance of 35,000 saw Robinson win comfortably on points, but he was impressed enough with the Cuban to once declare: “Nobody took a punch on the chin like Gavilan.”
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