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Greatest Welterweights In Boxing History: Kid Gavilan

Kid Gavilan
Robert Silva kicks off his greatest welterweights series with Kid Gavilan.

In the history of boxing, no division has had more illustrious and legendary fighters as the Welterweight division. From Mickey Walker to Floyd Mayweather, the 147-pound champions’ list reads like a who’s who of boxing greats. In this inaugural series of articles, I will explain in great detail who I consider the five great 147 pound figures of all-time.

I begin with the fifth greatest Welterweight of all time: Kid Gavilan.

Born Gerardo Gonzalez on January 6, 1926 in the small town of Berrocal, Cuba, Gavilan was, like the majority of Latin fighters, a product of extreme poverty. Gavilan turned pro at 17 and had his first 28 fights on Cuban soil, winning 25 of them, before arriving to the United States in 1946. Immediately, he began fighting the top Welterweights of his era. He gave the reigning Welterweight champion of the world, Sugar Ray Robinson, according to ringside observers, his two toughest fights as champion. Unfortunately, there is no available footage of these epic encounters.

After Robinson moved up to the Middleweight division, Gavilan would fight Johnny Bratton for the vacant 147 pound title. On May 18, 1951, Gavilan put on a masterful clinic, breaking Bratton’s jaw in winning a 15-round decision. This began a three-year reign as champion; a reign in which he defended the title successfully seven times. Throughout his reign, Gavilan not only showed his superior skill level over the rest of the 147-pound class, he exhibited incredible box office appeal as he set gate and attendance records in several cities. In his July 7, 1952 title defense against Gil Turner in Turner’s hometown of Philadelphia, 39,000 fans turned out to see their local hero getting beat by Gavilan. In his February 11, 1953 title defense against Chuck Davey, over 17,000 fans paid a then Welterweight title fight gate record of over $275,000 to witness yet another Gavilan virtuoso performance. Finally, in his third and final fight against Bratton, that gate record was shattered.

Gavilan was a master boxer who, like Robinson, was also a crowd pleaser. He was the inventor of the “bolo” punch, a half hook, half right cross that was a major weapon. This technique was copied later on by both Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. While Ali and Leonard used it as a prop or to toy with their opponents, Gavilan used it as a major part of his arsenal. In his title defenses against Turner, Braxton and Davey, he would use it when both men were staggered and about to be knocked out. When Gavilan had you hurt, he would throw several punches non-stop like a hawk, henceforth his nickname “The Cuban Hawk.” The only other fighter I ever saw who would employ this tactic successfully was the legendary Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor. One might see a lot of similarities between both legendary fighters.

Gavilan was one of the greatest counter punchers in boxing history. He would time your jab until you no longer wanted to throw it, as exhibited in both his title winning fight and successful defense against Bratton. In both those fights, he broke Bratton’s jaw, which was a testament to both his hand speed and power. It wasn’t until over 20 years later when Leonard turned pro that a Welterweight would have those same attributes.

In one of the worst decisions in boxing history on June 20, 1954, Gavilan lost the 147-pound crown to Johnny Saxton. Gavilan never received a rematch, and fought way too long, losing eight of his last 11 fights before finally retiring in 1958. As with most fighters of that era, Gavilan faced financial hardships, eventually dying penniless in 2003 at the age of 77 in Miami, Florida. He was given a poor man’s burial, but thanks to legendary fighters like Leonard and Mike Tyson, an appropriate resting place was paid for his remains. Gavilan was the dominant Welterweight of the 1950s, showing a combination of hand and foot speed that was only surpassed during his time by Robinson. He was one of the greatest box office attractions in the history of the 147-pound division. Those are two major reasons why he’s fifth greatest Welterweight of all time.

If you’d like to hear more about Kid Gavilan, check out my check out my podcast “World Championship Boxing” with my podcast partner Logan.

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