A Dedication to my Grandfather
A Dedication to my Grandfather
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Jan 4, 2013) Doghouse Boxing
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Boxing Gloves
A long time ago, someone said that whenever somebody dies, a bit of the entire world died with him or her. The world of boxing lost many legends in 2012, such as Emanuel Stewart, Hector Camacho Sr, Carmen Basilio, Johnny Tapia and the such. To me, the most important loss, however, was not that of any of them but of a person who was unknown to the world of boxing, but who was a part of it nevertheless. Whenever I watch a boxing fight for the rest of my life, I shall remember the times I spent watching them with my grandfather, Eusebio Rivera.
 
"Rive", as we called him, was born fighting. At the age of 11, he moved away from home to earn money in 1928 Puerto Rico, when the country was still known as "the poorhouse of the Caribbean". He loved telling me about how once, a barber who should have known better, called him "shorty" in front of customers at the barbershop. The barber ended up knocked out from one single punch to the jaw. My grandfather was small, but he was proud, short-fused and strong. He was also, an excellent grandfather, but we'll get to that later.
 
As a teenager, he became enthralled with boxing by listening to Sixto Escobar's fights with Lou Salica, Harry Jeffra, Tony Olivera, Baby Casanova, Pete Sanstol and others on the radio. To him, an Escobar win would mean festivities all around. Because of Escobar, my grandfather became a boxing fan. Once television came about in Puerto Rico, my grandfather would not miss a single show until moving to the United States 36 years later.
 
When I was born, he transformed. You could not have associated the brave featherweight of his youth with the caring, loving grandfather of his mid-life. He went out of his way to please me, and often, if I saw a toy I liked on the other end of the country, he would get in the car and go straight to the store and buy it. Keep in mind that, in tiny Puerto Rico, you can go from one end to another in 5 hours (if you drive East to West or vice versa) or less, two hours tops from north to south. Still, in our thinking, being that those rides cover the entire country, to us, those were long rides!
 
Still favoring Escobar over everyone else, as I grew, my grandfather let me hear and become familiar with names like Ali, Duran, Gomez, Olivares, Cuevas, Benitez, "Kid Pambele", Arguello, Escalera and Monzon. Of Ali, he'd say 'ese si es la ley!" (literally "That one is really the law" but which really meant "he's the man!") Of Gomez, he'd say "A Gomez nadie le gana" ("nobody beats Gomez", which of course, was proven wrong when he fought Salvador Sanchez) and so on. Like mostly every boxing fan and reporter, he first scorned Larry Holmes as just an Ali wannabe, but later came to respect the "Easton Assassin"s greatness. Duran was also a favorite of his, and he attended the fight between Duran and Mexican Leoncio Ortiz, held at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan.
 
Now, I began watching fights with him at a very early age, but at that time, to me, boxing was just like a pick-up game. Any two people could just put on shorts and get in that ring as far as I was concerned, since I was only about 5. But, in his own way, he let me into the talk around me, asking me who I thought would win, and making me be interested in the fight. He would make sure he pointed out at the fighters and called them by their name so I could follow the fight a bit better. He would, however, tell everyone to shut up if he thought the conversation was getting in the way of us actually looking at the fight on television!!
 
You all know about the time that we went to the airport (a favorite activity of mine that I still plan on carrying on with) to watch airplanes and then he mentioned he was going to see Gomez fight Jose Luis Soto in person that night. It was my first ever in-person boxing experience and how honored I am it had the all time great Gomez involved and that my grandfather was there! Then on November 12, that year, began the one month process in which I gained fanatical appreciation for boxing, when Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello fought their first fight, culminating with the night in which Gomez beat Lupe Pintor and Thomas Hearns defeated my dear friend Wilfred Benitez. Grandpa watched those fights with me, as he would thousand others. A few months later, we went to my first in-person world title fight, Edwin Rosario-Jose Luis Ramirez I for the vacant WBC world Lightweight title. Grandpa always spoke his mind, and, despite being Puerto Rican, he told me when we walked towards our car after that fight that ":you know Ramirez got robbed!" I did not exactly understand the meaning of those words, since I was still only 10, but with time, I learned to score fights, and, although I do not agree that Ramirez 'got robbed' that night (it was very close, through), most of the times when he said someone got robbed, I agreed!
 
My grandfather saw them all, and he loved and respected them all. He was sorrowed about the state in which Benitez now lives, and he was saddened by news of Sanchez's death. In fact, he was saddened to hear that Camacho had died when he himself was about to die a few days later!   
 
All the words I say about him cannot really describe how much he meant to me as the person with whom I saw so many fights, so many fighters. When people are still reluctant to enjoy women's boxing nowadays, grandpa had, by 1996, become a fan of Christy Martin and he recognized Laila Ali as a very, very good fighter.
 
That, and the memories he shared with me! He loved telling me of how he saw Esteban De Jesus 'ice" Alfonso "Peppermint" Frazer. He also told me about how 'Duran hit the Mexican guy (Ortiz) over and over and he wouldn't fall", and of how, one day, he thought there was a boxing card at San Juan, and when he got into the arena and someone told him it was a wrestling show instead, he broke his ticket and headed back home-never mind Carlitos Colon, the greatest Puerto Rican wrestler of all time and father of the WWE'S Carly and Eddie Colon, was the one headlining the show. My grandfather just loved boxing and hated wrestling.
 
He continued to love boxing until he could see no more. When Felix Trinidad fought De La Hoya, Hopkins, Vargas and Joppy, we saw it together. When Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. beat Camacho  and Greg Haugen, we saw it together, as we did when he got that gift of a draw against Pernell Whitaker, and when Whitaker was re-paid for that and for his loss to Ramirez (in their first fight) with two decision wins over Wilfredo Rivera that were horrendous prove of how a fighter's status as champion can persuade judges. Together, we saw it all, the strange and the not so strange. The funny and the not so funny. We saw Dokes-Weaver I and the fast stoppage that fight had. We saw Holmes fall to age and to Mike Tyson. We saw Duran and Davey Moore go to the wrong corners after their epic seventh round, and we saw Duran quit in the rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard.
 
On December 10th, I spoke to him for the last time, Asking him if he knew about Camacho's death, he answered "si, pobre Camacho" ('yes, poor Camacho") and then, after I told him I loved him, he spoke his last words. He did me that honor of having someone, him, speak his last words to me. You know what he said? "I love you too!"
 
To boxing, my grandpa's passing may have been nothing but just another fan who died. To me, however, grandpa was much more than that. To me, grandpa was part of the sport of boxing. He was, after all, the man who introduced me to it.
 
I hope that you are enjoying the company of Monzon, and of Joe Louis and all those other boxers that died before you up there in Heaven, grandpa. And of Grandma as well. Because someday we shall both reunite overthere, God willing. And both you and I know how much we love boxing!
 
Rest in peace, abuelo "Rive", December 15, 1917-December 11, 2012.

Please send all Questions and comments to Antonio at TJ69662094@aol.com.

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