If you have logged on to any of the social media platforms recently, you have probably noticed that the International Boxing Hall of Fame has mailed out the annual ballots. Luis Firpo is one name on the Old-Timers ballot that should be at the top of every voter’s consideration list.
There were a few events which led to the popularization of boxing in Latin America.
Cornish miners introduced boxing, and soccer, to Pachuca and Real del Monte in Mexico.
Aside from a few public exhibitions, the sport was mostly confined to private athletic clubs.
The Jack Johnson-Jess Willard fight in Cuba created a thirst for the sport large enough that when film of the Jack Dempsey-Jess Willard match played in Latin America movie theaters, it was among the highest grossing films of its time.
But it was the impact of a young man from Junin, Argentina that set Boxeo on the path that led to today’s popularity.
Three of the most sought-after after dates in boxing revolve around Latino celebrations, Cinco de Mayo, New York’s Puerto Rican day parade in June, and Mexican Independence Day in September.
And it was on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day 100 years ago that Luis Firpo became the first fighter from Latin America to challenge for a world title.
Luis Firpo Born A Sickly Child
Born in 1894, Luis Firpo was a sickly child with a bad ear that caused him great pain and poor balance.
Treatments in Buenos Aires alleviated the pain, but the poor balance remained.
Boxing was not yet legal in Argentina, so Luis Firpo turned pro in Uruguay against a power-punching veteran of nearly thirty fights.
To further his career, Firpo walked to Chile, some 900-plus miles.
After nearly a month of hiking through the Andes, he found himself fighting for beans.
Firpo brought those beans home and found out that there was a market for them in Argentina.
He later asked the promoters to pay him in part with books on investing.
When film of the Dempsey-Willard fight began showing in Latin America, Firpo kept one eye on the screen and the other on how many seats were sold.
In his American debut in New Jersey, with no fanfare or publicity, Luis Firpo entered the ring with two trainers – one carrying a towel, the other a camera.
Firpo had negotiated the Latin American film rights for all his fights and a few weeks after his American debut, film of his first fight here played to sold out crowds all over Latin America, which, ironically, placed Firpo amongst the earliest film producers in Latin America.
On September 14, 1923 – the Independence Day weekend for Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Chile – Firpo challenged Jack Dempsey in a fight the Associated Press rated as the biggest sporting event of the first half of the century.
Nearly 90,000 fans packed the stands at the Polo Grounds and, in the streets of Latin America, millions packed the streets of Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, and the rest of Latin America, waiting for radio reports of the fight.
Firpo nearly that night despite fighting with an injured arm and poor balance.
The self-managed Luis Firpo also fought on near even terms with the other top heavyweight of his day, Harry Wills.
Today, four streets in three different countries have his name and a soccer team in El Salvador is called Club Deportivo Luis Angel Firpo.
In Argentina, there is a holiday in his honor.
Next month, in New York at the site of his epic match with Dempsey, a plaque commemorating the event will go up with his name on it.
There should also be a plaque with the name “Luis Firpo” hanging on the walls of the International Boxing Hall of Fame Museum.