They came out of exit 43 at Madison Square Garden after the fight last Friday night and marched along 49th Street, and as they passed a hot-dog stand on the corner the counterman recognized the guy at the front of the parade and started jumping up and down in the window and shaking his fists as if that was the only way he could let them know how happy he was. José Torres stopped for a moment and grinned, watching the counterman, and then he led his crowd on toward the garage where Cain Young's Cadillac-was waiting to take them to the party.
There were about 30 people scrambling along behind José Torres, and they were shouting that he was the champ and the king. There were women in leopard-skin coats and kids in leather jackets and a couple of men with dark glasses on. José was wearing his corduroy cap and his gray plaid overcoat and his green socks, and he felt line to be marching at the head of the parade again. "Oh, my, now he will never remember a girl named Ramona," said Ramona Torres, José's wife, who was having trouble keeping up. "I hate for him to light, but I think if I am with him nothing bad can happen." Finally seven of them got into Cain Young's Cadillac and drove over to Toots Shor's. When José Torres walked into the bar people stood up and clapped. Some of them came over and hung around as if they wanted to touch him. "The last time I was in here," José said. "nobody knew who I was."
An hour earlier, when he had ducked through the ropes and walked to his corner of the ring at Madison Square Garden, it was still very much in doubt whether José Torres would want to go to any parties after the light. Torres was a heavy favorite to beat Bobo Olson, but things had not gone well since Florentino Fernandez knocked out José last year, and people were saying he was no longer very interested in boxing.
In the beginning José was undefeated in his first 27 fights, winning 21 of them by knockouts. He was the life of Spanish Harlem, and he thought he would be the middleweight champion. "I want to represent all the Puerto Ricans," he had said. "I know what I can mean to them."' But his manager. Cus D'Amato, was involved with another lighter named Floyd Patterson and was feuding with the old International Boxing Club, which controlled Madison Square Garden. In the early days the Puerto Ricans would jam into the St. Nicholas Arena or Sunnyside Gardens when Torres fought, and they would dance in the aisles and shout "Matalo!" which means "Kill him," and "Pegalo (Inn)!" which means "Hit him hard."
The only light Torres did not win of those first 27 was one with the late Kid Paret in Puerto Rico in 1959. They drew. After that one there were stories that D'Amato thought Torres was not training properly. "José had rather be king of the stoops than champion of the world," one of his friends said. D'Amato got Torres lights in Buffalo and Utica but only one in New York. The championship light did not come. For three lights in a row, José's purse was less than $400.
Posing as a sportswriter for a Spanish-language New York newspaper, José phoned Middleweight Paul Pender and tried to drum up a Pender-Torres fight. Pender was agreeable, if the price was right, but Torres and D'Amato could not meet his price.
Then, in May 1963, Torres fought Fernandez. He tried to slug with him and went out in the fifth round, and they began saying José I was finished as a fighter.He was 27 years old, and there did not seem to be any room at the top for him in the middleweight division, and after all those years of boxing José was broke.
But Cain Young, a Brooklyn real-estate man, hired Torres to do public-relations work. Young offered to put up $75,000 last summer to get José a title light with Joey Giardello. Giardello declined. Then Young offered to invest $10,000 toward getting José a light with Bobo Olson, the No. 3 light-heavyweight contender. In the meantime he had disposed of six middleweights. Torres built himself up to 170 pounds. He and Cain proposed a $10,000 guarantee to Olson as independent contractors for the light. Torres was to get 50% of the gate, but he could not draw a nickel until there was $20,000 in the safe. Torres himself went out and sold $5,200 worth of tickets to the Olson light. When he got into the ring Friday night, wearing a purple-and-orange silk robe, he knew it was going to be the most important light of his life. The wild, adoring crowds that used to love him so openly were standing back a bit, waiting, and the expression on José's face when he looked at Olson was very grim.
Olson came into the ring wearing a white terry-cloth robe, as if to say this was merely another payday. At the bell Olson came out slowly, with his hands high and the light rippling off the tattoos on his arms. Torres, lighting in a modified peekaboo stance something like the style of Patterson, stepped out and hit Olson twice with strong jabs in the first exchange. They circled a bit, and Olson hit Torres with a hook above the right eyebrow as D'Amato yelled for Torres to keep jabbing. Then José moved in and the punches came almost too fast to count them. Torres hit Olson with a left hook to the kidney, a right cross to the jaw, a left hook to the jaw and a right uppercut to the jaw, and suddenly Olson looked as if the earth had shifted beneath his feet. Olson fell hard. He tried to get up, floundering on the floor of the ring with nothing in his eyes, and by the time the earth quit moving under him the fight was over. José Torres was leaping up and down with his arms in the air, much as the hot dog counterman did later, and Olson had been counted out at 2:51 of the first round.
"A professional fighter is not supposed to show the effect of a punch," José said in his dressing room while he waited to hear what the gate had been. (It was $24,000, and José earned only $2,000.) "But when I hit him in the kidney I saw in his eyes that it hurt him, and then I hit him bing bing bing bing without missing a punch. I almost missed the last one, the uppercut, because he was on his way down." D'Amato, who waited outside the dressing room and then hugged José when he came out, said Torres hit Olson six times in two-fifths of a second. "No, it was just three and a half times," José said laughing, and they all went out onto 49th Street and found Cain Young's car and drove over to Shor's, where Torres had an appointment with Norman Mailer, the author who likes to spar at parties. "Did you hear what Olson said?" asked José. "I told him I had caught him cold, so soon in the first round like that, and he said, 'You got fast hands. I never saw such fast hands.' "
Torres stayed in Shor's for a while, sitting at a long table in the back room, and then he got up to go to a party in Spanish Harlem, and he saw Olson sitting across the room. "What should I say to him?" José asked. "He was my idol. I feel like I ought to say something to him, but I wouldn't be telling the truth if I told him I was sorry I beat him." Somebody suggested that José wait until his friends were outside and then go back alone and tell Olson good luck and that he is a good man. José did it and then came out of Shor's and got into Cain Young's Cadillac again. "I told him," said José. "And he told me I have fast hands."
At the Club Caborrojeno, at 145th Street and Broadway, it was like any other Friday night. The big dance floor upstairs was packed, and there were violet lights on the pillars and the band was loud. They grabbed José and took him up to the stage, and the master of ceremonies demanded silence. A few years ago he would have got it. But Friday night only 50 or so people came over in front of the bandstand to applaud José Torres. Hundreds of others stayed at their tables or stood back on the dance floor in the murky, smoky ballroom and talked and waited impatiently for the music to commence again.
"My son," said Andres Torres, José's father, who had come from Ponce, P.R. for the fight, "he should be the champion already. The people should be listening to him like they did in the old days. They will. You will see. He will be the light heavyweight champion. Cus D'Amato, he is a man with a good heart. But he did not let my son fight enough, and it has taken us a very long time to get this far, and we still do not have the championship yet."
José's chance may be at hand, however. Last week Light Heavyweight Champion Willie Pastrano promised a title bout for the winner of the Torres-Olson fight.
"José has class," Cain Young said. "You could see he has class. I think maybe I wish José could have fought Olson a little longer so everybody could see how much class José has."
"No, no," said José. "One round is long enough to fight."