Boxing: Chile’s Chillingly Bad Luck
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (July 4, 2009)  
Without a question of a doubt, Anglo, Asian, African and Latino countries have contributed to the history and quality of the sport of boxing. Latin America in particular, has been a steady provider of some of the all time greats, and when one looks at the list of countries who have given most Champions in boxing history, the United States is number one, but it’s followed by Mexico at number 2, and Puerto Rico at number 3. Japan or Italy may follow, but Panama and Argentina cannot be far behind the latter two.

But there are many countries in Latin America, believe it or not, who have never been prosperous in boxing. Nicaragua has had a handful of Champions such as Alexis Arguello, Eddie Gazo, Adonis Rivas, Rosendo Alvarez and Ricardo Mayorga, but it did not produce a Champion until the 1970’s when Arguello won his first world title. Other countries, like Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay, are countries which just disappeared from the boxing map. Uruguay actually had a couple of top notch challengers once, Alfredo Evangelista and Jose Maria Flores Burlon. Evangelista lost for the Heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, and Burlon lost for the WBC Cruiserweight title to Carlos “Sugar” De Leon. In essence, one can say that countries like Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Puerto Rico, while headline stealers, are the exception among Latin American countries in boxing, others like Costa Rica, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala and Chile actually being more of the norm.

But Chile’s history in boxing is particularly daunting in that one look at the sport’s chronology there shows so many weird things that have happened to their boxers in order for them to somehow avoid becoming world Champions, that Chicago Cubs fans who believe in “Billy the Goat” could relate to Chile’s boxing fans. Let’s see:

In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s there was a very good Heavyweight boxer from Chile, Arturo Godoy. Godoy challenged Joe Louis for the title at the Madison Square Garden in New York on February 9th, 1940, attempting not only to become Chile’s first world Champion, but the first Hispanic world Heavyweight Champion as well. After Louis was announced as winner by a split 15 round decision, a riot ensued. 45 years later, Ring en Espanol Magazine maintained that Godoy was victim of a robbery, although my very good friend Ted Sraes recently corroborated for me that it was a very close fight but not a robbery. 4 months later, Godoy and Louis rematches. Of course, everybody knows Louis was one of the greatest rematch fighters in history, and so Godoy lost by eighth round knockout, once again, with the Heavyweight title on the line.

In the 1970’s, Chile had a boxer named Martin Vargas, who became a national hero in Chile and is generally recognized there as their greatest fighter ever. Vargas challenged for world titles not once, not twice, not thrice but four times!! Each time he came up short because he had to face all time greats. Vargas lost a unanimous decision to “The Little Teacher” Miguel Canto for the WBA Flyweight title in Merida, Mexico, and later also in Santiago, Chile. He then tried to take the same title away from Betulio Gonzalez in Maracay, Venezuela, but lost by a twelve round knockout. Not giving up on his dreams and hopes, Vargas traveled all the way to Kochi, Japan, in search of the elusive WBA Flyweight world title. Only that the great Japanese dynamo, Yoko Gushiken, probably the closest thing the Flyweights had to a Roberto Duran, was awaiting him. Vargas gave it his all in another gutsy attempt but was knocked out in round eight by arguably one of the greatest Japanese fighters of all time, if not downright the greatest. Vargas fought until 1998, but never again challenged for a world title. Count that: 4 chances, 4 misses!

Cubs fans have Steve Bartman, the guy who caught a foul ball that Moises Alou was supposedly about to catch and which may have played a role in the Cubs not reaching the World Series in 2003. Chilean boxing fans have Benedicto Villablanca, who, by one tiny, but huge also, mishap, did not become Chile’s first world Champion boxer. On June 5, 1982 in Santiago, Villablanca challenged Samuel Serrano for the Puerto Rican’s WBA world Junior Lightweight title. Serrano bled profusely, and the fight was stopped in round eleven, Villablanca given an eleventh round technical knockout win and Chileans everywhere finally celebrating their first boxing world Champion. For 20 days, it was all celebrations and parties at the Villablanca household. But day 21 changed all of that. You see, many miles, several countries and one sea away, Serrano’s management had called for the WBA to investigate the fight claiming Serrano had been a victim of a head butt in round six. The WBA converged at their then Panama based offices and decided that indeed, Serrano’s cut came from a head butt, so they checked the scorecards and Serrano was ahead on them. Villablanca received the bad news that the fight’s result had been overturned to a technical decision loss for him and thus he had not been a world Champion officially. One year later, Villablanca had a second go at the title but got frozen in one round by talented Roger Mayweather in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Cardenio Ulloa was next. The Bantamweight got a chance to fight Richie Sandoval, who had taken the WBA world Bantamweight title from all time great Jeff Chandler just months before. On December 15, 1985 in Miami, Florida, Ulloa dropped Sandoval in round three, and was close as a nail to win Chile’s first title. According to reports, even Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, jumped in his room, in front of his television set, happy of the possibility of seeing such a momentous occasion in his country’s history. But it was not to be, as the black cat once again showed it’s ugly head, somebody went under a stair, or number 13 loomed large somewhere in Santiago. Whatever which one of those superstitions you believe in, Sandoval rose and recovered, knocking Ulloa out in round eight.

Women’s boxers in Chile were not safe from the long run of bad luck either. Beautiful model Patricia Demick is also known as a boxer. She challenged Valerie Henin for the WIBF’s world Welterweight Championship in Anchorage, Alaska, and came very close but no cigar, when the fight was declared a ten round draw. Not finished with her unfortunate turn of events, she then challenged Karla Redo for the WIBA’s version of the world title. Chile once again celebrated it’s first boxing world Champion. And once again, it turned out to be a premature celebration. Hours after being declared winner by decision, Demick found out that there had been a mistake on the scorecards, and she actually lost the fight and the decision.

There have been others from Chile who once or twice challenged for a world Championship, like Alli Galvez and Bernardo Mendoza. They all came up short.

Bad luck? A curse? Bad karma? Phenomena? I don’t know, but Chile’s luck in boxing looks like it’s been taken right out of a horror book!


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