NYF ARCHIVE HIT: Remembering Corpas vs Juan Laporte



NYF ARCHIVE HIT:  Remembering Corpas vs Juan Laporte

It was a simple gesture. It happened on one of those summer days where not much more than a hot breeze was happening. It was an unintentional act, unplanned, and probably long forgotten by the future champ that did it.

I was six years old and my Aunt Suzie’s neighbor, Felicia Candelaria, had a son who just pitched a no-hitter for the Pirates.

John Candelaria, MLB pitcher from Brooklyn

“The Candy Man” could get it done, his no-hitter told kid Corpas that neighborhood kids could make good

I started rooting for the Pirates after that, and, because of a simple gesture, I also began rooting for a young boxer from the other side of the park named Juan LaPorte.

Before LaPorte paid us a visit, I only knew of four boxers – Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, and Danny Lopez.

“He always goes down,” my father used to say of Lopez when we watched him on television. “But he always gets up and wins,” he added.

Lopez kept winning over the years until he ran into an outstanding fighter from Mexico who never got tired and never got hurt.

The two things I remembered most about Lopez were his headdress and that he was a featherweight, just like the fourth boxer I knew.

My older brother by ten years was only 126 pounds, but he had a wide back and biceps the size of softballs. That summer, he carried a sofa from the curb inside to the living room all by himself.

“Be careful,” my parents urged but he just laughed and insisted that he could manage. “I got it, I got it,” he kept saying.

Juan LaPorte

My brother was no slouch—but LaPorte was on another level

He wrapped his arms around the sofa at one end and lifted it, struggling for a second to keep it steady while the other end moved up then down like a see saw.

Somehow, he balanced it, and took it inside. For a while, my big brother was considered the strongest guy on the block.

He was an amateur boxer getting ready to compete in one of the annual competitions. He was trained by a 300-pound short-order cook whose claim to local fame was his being in the losing corner against Roberto Duran.

“I know his every move,” he used to say of Duran.

Ace was his name and though he never made it to the big time, he had been around the camps of well-traveled fighters like Benny Huertas and Herschel Jacobs. It meant a lot to the six-year-old me when Ace told me that my brother had “the goods.”

That summer, my brother lost to LaPorte, an opponent with an even wider back and a reputation for knocking teeth loose.

At first, I was in disbelief. Then disappointment sank in. When the fellas on the block heard what happened and began making fun of him, I got angry.

They cracked jokes about him and feigned being knocked out whenever they saw him. My brother laughed it off and told me, “They’re just messing around.” Every day and night, they messed around.

LaPorte won some, lost some…but his resume stacks up with plenty of guys who are in the Hall of Fame, just sayin’

Ace was also an avid fisherman. A few days after the loss, he took my brother fishing because, he said, “there’s something about the ocean and recuperation.” I tagged along, still mad.

Ace could guess how big and what kind of fish was hooked from the way it pulled on the line. Still, no matter what came out of the water, he would always say “Holy mackerel!”

While I practiced my casting, the talk turned to boxing.

“Even Muhammad Ali lost,” Ace said.

Ace could talk about fishing and boxing for hours.

When he was my age, he listened to the radio while Joe Louis and Henry Armstrong became champions. They all lost too, I found out.

It was a part of the game, every game. Even the Pirates lost two straight after Candelaria’s no-hitter.

But it was the teasing and the mocking that I did not like. It continued for about two weeks, until that simple gesture.

Juan LaPorte was only about seventeen himself but already was being spoken of as a future champion. The guys on the block did not know any of that. That summer afternoon, when nothing but the breeze was happening, LaPorte showed up on the block looking for my brother.

The empty block suddenly became crowded. Like ants, when they detect food, the fellas had arrived with their jokes. This time, they were cut short.

“He gave me a good fight,” LaPorte interrupted. “If he had ducked left instead of right, he might have won.”

With that statement, the teasing came to an end.

LaPorte invited my brother to train with him at his gym. “I could use the sparring,” he said. It was a simple gesture, but it made playing “Hot peas and butter” with the others fun again.

The next time any of us on the block saw LaPorte was on television a few years later when he fought Salvador Sanchez, the excellent Mexican boxer who ended Danny Lopez’ title run.

LaPorte gave Sanchez a run for his money, holding him even in the early going until Sanchez found another gear and pulled away. Sanchez told the whole world that LaPorte would be a future champion. Two years later, LaPorte made a prophet out of him.

LaPorte would go on to beat Rocky Lockridge and Eusebio Pedroza in a foul-filled fight that was originally a loss but was later turned over by both the New Jersey and New York boxing commissions.

LaPorte ran hot-and-cold after the Pedroza fight and after a bizarre limousine ride with Don King where he was not let out of the vehicle until he signed a new contract.

LaPorte sleepwalked against Gerald Hayes and Wilfredo Gomez, but he turned the clock back and fought evenly against Julio Cesar Chavez.

Chavez told the NY Daily News that he would not have complained if LaPorte was given the decision.

If the writers and recordkeepers paid more attention to the commissions instead of the WBA, LaPorte would probably be in the Hall of Fame.

Those fights, and the ones where he had Azumah Nelson and John-John Molina on the run, stack up with the records of a lot of fighters currently in the hall. And let’s not forget, he also beat a teenager who could carry a sofa up one flight of stairs all by himself.

I like to think that my brother played a role in LaPorte’s success.

The truth is I am not even sure if he ever accepted the future champ’s offer to spar.

He took me to the gym a few times after that and we met up with Ace at Madison Square Garden to watch the closed circuit broadcast of Holmes-Ali.

Ace’s weight kept rising and he died shortly after the Holmes fight. That may have been why my brother stopped boxing. Or maybe he just grew to like the streets more, especially after the sun went down.

No gyms were open at midnight. Instead of punching heavy bags, his friends played with needles.

I wish I could have kept my brother from hanging on the seedy side of town. When life threw that big left hook at him, I wish he would have followed Laporte’s advice. If only he had ducked left.