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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a related entry published in Congressman Jose Serrano's recent newsletter "The Serrano Report."

Serranos Mourn the Passing of 'Chegui' Torres

Last week, Congressman Serrano and New York State Senator José M. Serrano mourned the passing of champion boxer and community leader José 'Chegui' Torres. Torres won the silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne as a middleweight. In 1965, he became the light-heavyweight champion of the world. Drawing on his fame from boxing, he moved to a career of activism, writing and leadership.

“José Torres, who I knew better as Cheguí, was a personal friend, a role model, a mentor, and a hero to me,” said Congressman Serrano. “When I was young, we followed his boxing career obsessively—he was one of our most cherished Puerto Rican sports heroes, up there with the baseball greats. He brought us a great sense of pride and accomplishment as a community through his boxing career. Little did we know that his next step in life would be just as uplifting and important to Puerto Ricans.

“Cheguí next turned his attention from boxing to his second career: community activism and writing as a columnist for various New York papers. His primary concern was earning respect and equality for the Puerto Rican community, but he also was allied with all the various groups and communities in New York and was sensitive to their concerns too. He understood that we all rose or fell together.

“We became friends and allies as I began my career in politics. We would talk about politics, sports, romantic music and life in general. I sought his advice on many difficult issues. I always knew that he would give me an answer that placed equality first. He was a mentor and a friend and I will miss him. When we look back on his life and accomplishments, I can say without hesitation that there will never be another man like Cheguí.”

“José 'Cheguí' Torres paved the way for many of the successes that our community has enjoyed,” said Senator Serrano. “He was an icon in the Puerto Rican community for his activism and his boxing—and he will be missed. As a boxing fan and a Puerto Rican elected official, I look up to Cheguí on two levels. Older generations in both those worlds felt a kinship and a bond with this great man, and I enjoy listening to their stories about him. I hope that my generation will be able to carry the torch that Cheguí lit and carried so long before us.”