Lee Groves

10: “Singles Hitters”

5. Kid Gavilan: 108-30-5 (28) – .196 knockout percentage

This product from the sugar fields in Camaguey, Cuba owned an athletic magnetism that superseded his profound lack of punching power. His quick feet and flashy fists were hallmarks of boxing’s first golden TV age in the 1940s and 1950s, not only because he was an all-action stylist but also because he could be counted on to go the distance – all the better to fulfill all the ad buys. He eventually appeared 34 times on nationwide TV in the U.S. and partly because of that he became a beloved figure in America.

His signature was the “bolo punch,” a sweeping half-hook, half-uppercut that sometimes was preceded by a dramatic roll of the fist. He said the unique motion was developed while cutting sugar with a machete and its damage was far more psychological than physical. Many times the bolo was thrown as part of a blazing combination and it seldom failed to generate a thrill.

Gavilan vaulted into worldwide prominence with a pair of 10 round over-the-weight decision losses to reigning lightweight king Ike Williams and welterweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson, long regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Gavilan twice avenged the loss to Williams but lost a more comprehensive 15-rounder to Sugar Ray with the title on the line.

After Robinson vacated the belt to successfully pursue Jake LaMotta’s middleweight title, Gavilan became the new 147-pound champion after out-pointing Johnny Bratton. As was the custom of the time, Gavilan mixed in plenty of non-title engagements during his seven-defense reign. His 10th round stoppage of hometown favorite Gil Turner in Philadelphia drew 39,025 fans, which stood as the record for a welterweight championship fight for 28 years. Many thought Gavilan deserved to retain the title against Johnny Saxton, but referee favoritism and mob influence was blamed for his decision defeat.

Besides the wins mentioned previously, Gavilan’s best performances came against Carmen Basilio (W 15), Beau Jack (W 10), Johnny Bratton (W 15 in the rematch), Billy Graham (W 10, W 15, W 15), Walter Cartier (KO 10), Chuck Davey (KO 10), Tony Janiro (W 10, KO 4), Gaspar Ortega (W 10), Chico Vejar (W 10), Ralph “Tiger” Jones (W 10, W 10), Eduardo Lausse (W 10), Laurent Dauthuille (W 10), Rocky Castellani (W 10) and Gene Hairston (W 10).

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