Boxing: More victories than in any other sports.
Boxing is undoubtedly the sports discipline where Panama has achieved most victories, joy, satisfaction and champions and, therefore, boxers, together with baseball players, are the most popular athletes for the people of Panama .
It should be noted that the first world champion born in Latin America was from Panama, for which Panamanian boxingdeserves the historic credit, as well as one of the most outstanding and influential boxers at the end of the 20 th century, a pugilist considered to be an inspiration for sporting figures such as Mike Tyson and who is considered nowadays amongst the 10 best boxers of all times.
Nevertheless, it is contradictory that this country, in spite of the significant number of world champions it has produced, does not enjoy the honour of having at least one boxer who has been able to win an Olympic medal in the history of boxing.
It has been rightly published that it seems as if Panamanian boxers have little to do in amateur categories, as it is in the professional arena where they have shown their merits.
It is true that Panamanian boxing has lost some of its superiority at the international level in the past few years. However, there are boxing figures who stand up for all boxers in this country, including, amongst others, Roberto “ La Araña ” (“the Spider”) Vásquez.
These achievements are not pure coincidence, but rather the fruit of the effort made by several people who devoted part of their life to professional boxing in Panama and contributed to its reaching international levels.
Mention should be made of that passionate man who had been nicknamed “The Black Whirlwind”. We are talking about Teófilo Alfonso “Panama Al Brown”, who was the first world champion from Latin America and the one who opened the way to a group of boxers who would fill Panama's sky with world championships in various categories.
Regardless of his greatness, this member of the boxing Hall of Fame, who was only admitted to it after his death, was the son of Horacio Brown, a former slave from Tennessee State , in the United States , and Esther Lashley, a young woman from Colón. He was over six feet tall and weighed less than 118 pounds. He is still considered one of the greatest bantamweight champions of all times.
During his most glorious years on rings in several countries, he was, like many others, the victim of a lot of pressure and exploitation. Consequently, he often had to fight up to three times a week and, as a result, lost some of his fitness, but it did not become an obstacle for him to continue winning victories.
Panama had to wait 30 years, for another medal-winning athlete to emerge in the 60's, someone longed for by the local boxing fans.
We are talking about Ismael Laguna, considered by many the best one in Panama . He had the historic responsibility to open a period covering the 60's, 70's and 80's. During such period, a number of great men emerged rapidly and their deeds took them sky-high. It all started in 1965 with “El tigre ” (“The Tiger”) Laguna.
He was born in Colón city on June 28, 1943 and like “Panama al Brown”, he had a twin brother, Carlos Laguna Meneses. “El Tigre” only studied until sixth grade.
Reportedly, Ismael Laguna got involved in boxing naturally. At that time, boxing on the streets of Colón was not a luxury but a necessity. Laguna used to put his skills into practice every day, sometimes to stay alive; other times, to stand up for his younger friends; and others, just for fun. He used to be a shoe cleaner and newspaper vendor and got into eight or nine fights every day. When he played football with his “Calle 4” team, he was the goalkeeper. It has been said that his beginning in formal boxing took place when, being still a teenager, he was asked by a professional boxer to be his training “sparring”. Laguna not only accepted the boxer's proposal, but taught such a good boxing lesson to the professional boxer, that a coach who was watching the fight asked his parents to allow him to train Laguna in the organized boxing world. After a successful career that is more widely described in the chapter dealing with Panama 's Great Sporting Figures, it should be noted that he entered New York 's Hall of Fame on June 10, 2001 and his name joined that of “Panama Al Brown”.
It would be inexcusable not to mention other world monarchs of that time such as Ernesto Marcel, Enrique Pinder and Alfonso Frazer.
But definitely, the most widely remembered and acknowledged boxer up to the present day, on a national and international level, was that boy who was inspired during his takeoff by Ismael Laguna's movements and punches, a boy who then promised himself to be better than “Santa Isabel's Tiger”. His name was Roberto Durán.
Roberto “Stone Hand” Durán is, without doubt, the most famous of all. His fame is backed up by four world titles, his cold blood, his powerful stone fists, his peculiar boxing style, his liver hook and his contempt smile.
He had a long career and there are even some who believe that his retirement was too much postponed. He finally retired after he had been fighting for five decades. He is considered amongst the top 10 boxers of all times.
Other world monarchs, who also earned a place in history were: Jaime Ríos (1975), Alfonso López (1976), Rigoberto Riasco (1976), Jorge Luján (1977), Rafael Ortega (1977), Eusebio Pedroza (1978), Luis Ibarra (1981), Rafael Pedroza (1981), Hilario Zapata (1985) and Alfredo Layne (1986).
In particular, it should be noted that Eusebio Pedroza, “The Scorpion”, successfully championed his featherweight crown on 20 occasions with his remarkable style, a record that has not been broken to date.
The following names should also be mentioned when we talk about the last ten years of last century: Víctor Córdoba, who won the super middleweight title in 1991, and Carlos Murrillo, “the Spine”, who did a similar thing in junior flyweight category in 1996.
Mauricio Martínez burst into the year 2000 winning the bantamweight title, while Pedro Alcázar, “the Rocker” won the flyweight championship in 2001.
It is painful to mention that Pedro Alcázar, “the Rocker”, one of Panama 's greatest world boxing champions in recent times, died after his last fight.
As the World Flyweight Champion, “the Rocker” travelled to Las Vegas , United States , on June 22, 2002 to fight Mexican Fernando Montiel, who won the fight. Two days later, Alcázar died of a supposed brain stroke.
On June 24, 2002, at 6:00 p.m., “the Rocker” reportedly had a minor headache, took a pill and showed no other symptoms until his sad death.
Flip Homansky, the doctor who attended the dead boxer, said to the Athletics Commission of the State of Nevada : “This has taken me by surprise, we are not sure yet of what actually happened…For some reason, his brain had swollen up. I had never seen something like that, especially such a long time after the fight”.
After this tragedy, Santiago Samaniego, another Panamanian boxer, won the world super welter championship in August 2002, but he could not retain his title for too long as he lost it during his first defence.
There are those who believe that these early years of the 21 st century have brought about a decline in boxing and that boxers have lost their shine and spirit of past decades. The fans' unlimited support, the big shows and the remarkable boxing figures have been left behind to give way to the extreme apathy shown in many organized boxing fights.
Nevertheless, it seems that the spirit of boxing reappears in Panama to please its countless fans. In April 2005, two new world champions born in Panama were crowned in less than 24 hours.
The first one was Roberto Vásquez, “the Spider”, who won the Junior Flyweight title in Panama City on April 29. Twenty four hours later, Vicente Mosquera, “the Madman”, won the International Boxing Association's super featherweight championship at Madison Square Garden in New York , after he beat Yodsanan Nanthachai, from Thailand , by unanimous decision. Apparently, a new takeoff was beginning to occur, but only time will tell whether we were right or wrong.