Friday, January 23, 2009
RIP: Puerto Rico’s people champion Jose “Chegui” Torres
Jose “Chegui” Torres was known as a man who wore many hats because he did. Torres, a former light-heavyweight champion who became a boxing official and a writer of books about Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, died January 19 in his native Ponce. He was 72.
Torres was laid to rest in Ponce. His wife of 48 years Ramonita Ortiz said he suffered a heart attack. Torres was honored as the hero he was on the island. The mayor of Ponce declared three days of mourning and ordered flags flown at half staff.
Many in New York City where Torres lived for many years also mourned him.
David Bernier, president of the United States Territory Olympic, spoke about Torres during a radio show, saying, “Puerto Rico has lost a great Puerto Rican, a very valiant person who aside from being a good boxer was a fine human being.”
New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson said: “He cared passionately about this city and all New Yorkers. He gained notoriety in the boxing ring. Eventually, he will be remembered for his strength of character and wealth of generosity.
“He was a role model not just for the Puerto Rican community, but for all New Yorkers who saw that one person could make a difference,” Thompson said. “He wanted our streets/neighborhoods to be safe and clean, and refused to sit on the sidelines because he believed in the power of the people.”
A place that Torres frequently visited in NYC was El Maestro boxing gym in the Bronx. Fernando "Ponce" Laspina, one of the top trainers at the gym, remembered that Torres also made it a point to visit the gym every time he was in town. He wouldn’t work out with the fighters or trainers, but he always talked to the kids, Ponce said.
“He never turned his back on anyone,” Ponce said. “He was always talking to kids telling them to stay in school, not to hurt each other, shaking hands with everyone in the gym. A true sportsman, gentleman.”
Torres was awarded in 1956 the silver medal at the Olympics games at Melbourne, Australia. He turned pro in 1958. In 1965, he became the first Puerto Rican to win the light heavyweight title. He also served as as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.
As a writer, Torres contributed to English and Spanish newspapers. He co-authored the book “Sting Like a Bee,” a biography on Muhammad Ali and wrote the book “Fire and Fear,” a book about former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
In the early 1990s, he served as president of the World Boxing Organization until 1995. He was a member of The International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also served as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. – Ismael Nunez
Note: The website Virtual Boricua has a tribute to Jose "Chegui" Torres. To visit, go to