Referring to Cuba’s boxing history as “rich” would be a weak cliché that doesn’t quite do the concept justice.
Cuba’s boxing history is wealthy.
Even in outlawing professional boxing in 1961, men like Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon became absolute legends without ever stepping foot in a ring for money. And thanks to Stevenson and Savon, Cuba is the only country with two three-time Olympic gold medalists.
That’s without mentioning the numerous prolific amateurs and post-ban defectors that have played significant roles in world class boxing over the years, notably “Sugar” Ramos, Joel Casamayor and Jose Napoles, though there are many others.
The birth of professional boxing in Cuba, perhaps unsurprisingly, was just about as political as its end immediately following the Revolution. But in the beginning, Cuba needed a world champion to be legitimized on an elite level.
That’s where Kid Chocolate came in.
To suggest the island’s boxing tradition is a result of imperialistic American ideals may sound absurd, but it could very well be the truth.
The U.S. involvement in (and winning of) the Spanish-American War in 1898 led to occupation by armed forces stationed to protect American interests around Cuba. And according to the research of Melchor Rodriguez Garcia, the country’s first official boxing card took place in 1899 at the Teatro Sauto in Matanzas, involving U.S. servicemen. Again, in 1907, during the second U.S. occupation, more troops put on a show at the Park Glorieta America in Santiago de Cuba.
Liberal General Jose Miguel Gomez was appointed president of Cuba following a U.S. intervention of an ongoing violent rebellion in 1909. His era brought forth many political scandals and cries of corruption, but also paved the way for boxing in Cuba to become organized. The following year, the first few verifiable professional fight cards took place at the Molino Rojo Theater in Havana.
Two other very important things happened in 1910: Members of Cuba’s Partido Independiente de Color (a political party composed mostly of former slaves and Spanish-American War veterans) were arrested under suspicion of conspiracy against the government, in part leading to the Race War of 1912; and Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo was born.
The violent instability gave a number of opportunists wiggle room to cash in on the free-for-all in one way or another, including Chilean boxer (and self-proclaimed budding fight promoter) John Budinich. Budinich, officially the first Chilean fighter in boxing history, also opened the first boxing school in Cuba, the Academia de Boxeo, and indeed became the first person to promote boxing on the island. And if that weren’t pioneer enough, Budinich himself participated in a number of the cards he promoted that were among the first sanctioned in Cuba.
Boxing became too dangerous to allow, however; it was a sport too quickly embraced by those with little to live on, most of whom happened to be of African descent. Professional boxing meant a potential means of succeeding for those who were to remain without hope, and so boxing was suspended by the government in 1912.
In a one-off promotion in 1915, Jack Johnson lost the heavyweight title to Jess Willard in Havana, which only served to stoke Cuban interest in the sport. But as pugilism lumbered through its garage band days on the island, it was forced underground.
Eligio Sardiñas, better recognized as Kid Chocolate now, spent his formative years just outside the Havana suburb of Cerro, where he was born.
He caught on to boxing fairly young, as many youth on the island did. At the age of 12, he won an amateur tournament sponsored by the publication La Noche, and his amateur career continued, albeit at a slow rate, until hitting 21-0. Kid would later be advertised as 160-0 as an amateur, but that number is considered a ledger grossly inflated by Kid’s manager, according to boxing historians.
While working as a vociferous newsboy in Havana and supposedly clobbering other kids up and down the street every so often as a teenager, he caught the attention of Luis “Pincho” Gutierrez, who had managed almost every Cuban national champion to that point, namely the flyweight who would go on to become very good friends with Kid Chocolate, Eladio Valdes — better known as Black Bill. Both were particularly inspired by Kid Charol, a middleweight from Sagua La Grande who came slightly before their time.
Gutierrez would later say that he wasn’t particularly impressed by the Kid, until he trounced another fighter under the Gutierrez banner in the gym.
Not long after his 18th birthday in January of 1928, Kid Chocolate fought as a professional for the first time, stopping Kid Sotolongo in one round and weighing in at 120 lbs.
Five more bouts in Havana took his record to 6-0 and five early victories, but the lower tier opposition wasn’t enough. As Black Bill had done a few years earlier, Kid headed to New York for bigger fights, taking his mobile, ambidextrous in-ring mannerisms with him.
Years later, while being interviewed for a short film about his travels called “Kid Chocolate” (1987), he would say, “My fixation from the time I was a boy, had always been to get to Madison Square Garden.”
Kid’s U.S. debut in July of 1928 was held at the Mitchell Field Arena in Mineola, New York, fighting in the support bout for unknowns Joe Curry and Mike Malinsky, earning a 3rd round stoppage of Eddie Enos. In his second bout at the same venue two weeks later, Kid Chocolate’s name saw print in the New York Times, albeit again mentioned as support for one of the fighting Silvers brothers from Brooklyn, Marty, against Midwestern pug Joe Trabone. This time the “Keed,” as he was called in semi-jest, earned $45 for boxing 80+ fight veteran Nick DeSalvo.
By August, only a few fights in on his American expedition, Kid was being heralded in publications all over the U.S. His 3rd round stoppage of National Guardsman Mike “Mickey” Castle at the end of the month brought him to 5-0 (4 KO) in New York. And in September, he fought in one of the first boxing cards held at St. Nicholas Arena in NYC, winning a 10 round decision over Sammy Tisch, the National Guard bantamweight champion. The win helped him moved forward to a planned showdown with Ohio-born tough guy Eddie O’Dowd, who he also out-pointed, but sandwiched between those two fights was another points win over Johnny Erickson, who was in the same stable as Tony Canzoneri, in front of 4,500 fans.
Following a 1st round KO of Joey Ross in October of 1928, again in New York, United Press sports editor Frank Getty wrote, “New York fight fans are enthused, for the moment, about the performances of a newcomer from Cuba nicknamed Kid Chocolate, a dusky bantam who has been toppling over his opponents with disconcerting regularity.” Once again Kid drew 4,000 fans, and interest in the newest sensation was obviously growing.
In mid-November, Kid returned to the St. Nicholas Arena to face fellow undefeated prospect Jackie Schweitzer, and knocked him out with body shots in front of a sold-out crowd. The impressive victory made Kid Chocolate the clear favorite entering a bout with 23-3-3 Joey Scalfaro in late November, but Scalfaro leveled Kid with the first punch of the fight: a blistering right hand. Kid righted the ship and salvaged a draw though, marking his first non-win. It was apparently competitive enough for Scalfaro to petition the New York State Athletic Commision for a title shot a few days later, though.
By halfway through 1929, Kid had rattled off 15 more victories. Among them, a victory over Chick Suggs in February to claim the “Colored” featherweight title in front of about 12,000 fellow Cubans in Havana; a sensational non-title win over NYSAC and National Boxing Association bantamweight titlist Bushy Graham by disqualification in April, when Graham insisted on straying low; and a close majority decision over former flyweight champ Fidel LaBarba in front of 18,000 in May.
Also significant was the fact that Kid Chocolate had fought a few times outside of either Cuba or New York, and still drew very well, despite how his smooth style wasn’t always well received. Attendees booed his decision over LaBarba, in fact, and his next bout, a 10 round split decision win in Philadelphia over Spaniard contender Gregorio Vidal in early June, was also hooted until 20,000 fans and press learned Kid broke both thumbs early in the contest.
Not unlike the close one with Scalfaro, Vidal’s effort even in losing earned him respect, and in this case a title shot as well, with the NYSAC ordaining his match with Panama Al Brown two weeks later. In that fight, Brown lasered his way to becoming the first Latin American champion when he won the NYSAC’s vacant bantamweight crown.
In July, editor and boxing writer Tom Andrews pondered the pay gap between larger fighters and the little men of the sport, saying, “Mickey Walker, middleweight champion, copped off $100,000 or more for a 10 round bout with Tommy Loughran in Chicago, but a great little battler like Tony Canzoneri, former featherweight champion, or Kid Chocolate, another wonderful boxer, could gather no more than about $15,000 for near title matches.”
That month, Kid swept through three mediocre opponents in Ignacio Fernandez, Milton Cohen and Steve Smith, then stopped tune-up Tommy Lorenzo in five rounds in early August. He would move forward to face a popular man referred to in the lead up as “the Jewish pride of the Bronx,” Al Singer, who had fought to a draw with Canzoneri the previous December.
A crowd of just under 50,000 looked on as, according to the Associated Press report, Kid and Singer fought a “furious” battle. Singer was a 2-1 favorite, per the AP, but Kid “seemed to have punched out a clear margin on points with his masterly boxing and counter punching” in winning a 12 round points decision.
Less than a week later, Kid was back in Cuba, soaking in his new found celebrity status on the same streets he scampered about as a youngster.
November saw Kid win walkover decisions against Johnny Erickson and Jim El Zaird, then take on Phil O’Dowd’s brother Eddie at St. Nick Arena. According to an AP report, via the Plain Dealer, “After a tame first round in which Chocolate landed a few solid blows, the Kid cut loose in the second. He started off by slamming a right to O’Dowd’s jaw. Then after boxing the Ohioan into position, he swung a quick right for the finishing blow,” stopping him in two.
About two weeks later, Kid ran through Herman Silverberg in less than a round, leading to a face off with Dominick Petrone. The Ottowa Citizen reported on Kid’s 10 round points decision over Petrone: “During the first two rounds they fought toe to toe in a series of furious mixups, but the Cuban weathered the storm better and piled up a margin in the later rounds.” The bout drew 10,000 spectators. He earned a 2nd round KO of Johnny Lawson three days later, and after Christmas traveled back to Cuba to distribute $2,000 in his home neighborhood of Cerro before taking a two-month break.
In late February of 1930, Kid Chocolate fought in Cuba for the first time in about a year, sending Vic Burrone to the canvas six times in a 10 round points victory. But in training for his next bout against journeyman Benny Hall in Tampa, Kid reportedly injured his right hand, then hurt his left fighting Hall in early March — recurring injuries throughout his career. Regardless, Hall was out-classed as Kid won easily in 10 rounds, reportedly “little more than a workout,” per the AP.
Later in March, Kid sent Al Ridgeway to the canvas four times en route to a TKO victory in two rounds, and his next three bouts would be against familiar foes.
Kid took a month off before coming back in late April, but his hand injuries were evident in his return bout with Erickson, where ref Lou Marsh repeatedly warned the Keed to step up the action. According to a ringside physician following the bout, a severely injured left hand was confirmed; despite that Kid won an easy decision in 10.
An unfortunate car accident in May left Kid with “severe bruises to his left leg and numerous cuts and abrasions,” according to an AP report, and a scheduled rematch with Fidel LaBarba had to be canceled . But three months of letting his mittens rest did the trick apparently, as Kid came back in July, 1930 to stop Petrone and Burrone, neither of whom he was able to halt in their previous meetings.
On more than one occasion, Pincho Gutierrez said that Kid picked up his slick and relatively sophisticated moves by watching Benny Leonard vs. Lew Tendler, Joe Gans vs. Battling Nelson and Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries fights over and over again, until he was able to emulate the sequences perfectly. According to the Kid, studying the masters made him the fighter he’d become. And by this time, press had begun regularly referring to Kid as “the Cuban Bon Bon” — a moniker that probably wouldn’t fly today.
Former Italian and European featherweight champion Luigi Quadrini was next up on the menu in mid-July. The International News Service reported, “Kid Chocolate today may claim the featherweight title of Italy, although he spent a very uncomfortable evening battling Luigi Quadrini. The black pearl of the Antilles won by a comfortable margin but the Italian champion afforded him more trouble than fans and the pearl expected and the fans booed because the Keed failed to knock out his opponent. Luigi wasn’t great guns himself but he had a puzzling defense.” The 10 rounds points win wasn’t exactly a slugfest, but forward he marched.
Early in August, 37,000 fans showed up at the Polo Grounds in NYC to see Kid Chocolate battle Jack “Kid” Berg, then NBA 140 lb. champion who out-weighed Kid by almost 10 lbs.
Said writer Davis J. Walsh of the fight, “[Kid Chocolate] rakes Berg’s jaw and body with sharp, stinging punches that had the bite and snap of a cracking whip. But he couldn’t keep the gallant Englishman away and before each round was two minutes old, Berg was all over the Kid like a strawberry rash.”
Walsh attributed Kid’s half-sluggish performance and first loss, professional or amateur, to the weight disparity, but Kid clearly thought he’d deserved to win. “Chocolate himself was so sure he won that he went out to take the winner’s bow and then, almost hysterical with shock, he flung himself fretfully back into his corner and refused to be comforted,” reported Walsh.
Whatever the actual worth of Berg’s win, press generally opined that it qualified him for a shot against lightweight champion Al Singer, who Kid had previously gotten the better of.
Two 1st round KOs and three months later, and Kid stepped back in with LaBarba at Madison Square Garden. The Cuban technician barely had time to get used to no longer being undefeated when LaBarba delivered him his second loss via a steady stream of body shots, and highly effective aggression in front of 22,000. An extended AP write up from the Dallas Morning News said, “The aggressive, belligerent Italian boy from the West Coast showed little respect for the famed boxing ability of the slender negro with the wide ivory smile. He lowered his head and never stopped charging, pounding through Chocolate’s snappy jabs, jarring left hooks, flailing right crosses and uppercuts to whang eternally at the negro’s slim waist.”
LaBarba scheduled a bout with Eddie Shea, a fighter handled by Jack Dempsey, which left featherweight champ Battling Battalino without a dance partner. So despite the loss to Fidel LaBarba, Kid was given the title shot. Battalino’s recent record matched the strangeness of the situation though, as he’d gone 1-4 since stopping Ignacio Fernandez for the belt the previous summer.
New York Times writer James P. Dawson reported, “In the vast throng which witnessed a truly exciting, bitterly fought encounter were a considerable number who disagreed with the decision. Chocolate floored the champion in the 1st round and had Battalino on the verge of a knockout. He carried nine of the 15 rounds in the opinion of this writer.” In other words, it seemed as though Kid’s close, and perhaps undeserved decision wins had caught up with him, and he lost a unanimous decision in 15 rounds.
Retiring again to Cuba, Kid took off about five months off before returning in May of 1931 with a TKO win in seven, then three more decision victories over the next month. The comeback bouts set up another title shot, this time against junior lightweight champion Benny Bass.
Kid hammered Bass through six rounds of their Philadelphia match up in front of about 16,000 fans, reportedly swelling his left eye shut, gashing his lip and busting his nose. In the 7th round, Kid smashed Bass to the ropes and opened up his left eye, prompting referee Leo Houck to step in and stop it with seconds to go in the round.
The spirited effort from Kid Chocolate made him the first Cuban world champion. And Cuba knew it, because Kid became a veritable national hero upon his return.
In his October of 1931 inaugural title defense against Joey Scalfaro, who had decked him hard with the first punch of the fight not long into his U.S. expedition, a controversial ending caused a near riot among the 4,000 in Queensboro Stadium in Queens. Tearing into Scalfaro and looking for get back, Kid knocked Scalfaro to his knees about halfway through the 1st. Up at the count of nine, ref Young Otto called the bout when Scalfaro appeared to wobble. When Kid came over to offer a showing of respect, Joey smacked him with a right hand, causing many ringside to flick cigarette butts at the challenger, who was being held back in his corner.
Three wins against lower tier opposition over the rest of October kept Kid fresh for his early November bang-up against tough New York vet Lew Feldman, which itself was described as a tuneup for an upcoming scrum with lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri, at the old hangout, the St. Nicholas Arena.
The Kid won a comfortable decision over Feldman amid boos from the crowd of 4,000, likely because Kid was unable to stop Feldman despite cutting his nose and rendering him a bleeding target. Nonetheless, it was enough to propel him towards the Canzoneri match up.
Canzoneri, already a highly experienced battler on the world class level, was popular in New York, and Madison Square Garden was a natural. The former featherweight and current lightweight and junior welterweight champion Canzoneri entered the bout as a 7-5 favorite.
An AP report on the fight, via the San Diego Union, said, “Unlimited stamina and a heart such as only great champions possess carried Tony Canzoneri, king of the lightweights, to victory tonight over Kid Chocolate, masterful little negro, in one of the greatest duels among little men in the modern history of the ring. For 15 rounds, before 19,000 thrill-exhausted spectators, the largest crowd to gather in the big battle pit in two years, Canzoneri threw himself recklessly into the slim bit of polished ebony from Havana and savagely battered his way to a decision that was so close one judge voted against him at the close and the crowd stormed the ringside to boo for fully 10 minutes after the verdict was announced.”
Kid was knocked down for a no-count in the 4th, and continuously taunted by Canzoneri, who took everything the Cuban could dish out, and often mocked and taunted him by sticking his chin out to eat shots. Canzoneri’s eyebrows were lashed open by Kid’s jabs, though, and the style clash and many furious exchanges provided entertaining fireworks.
Ten days later, Kid stopped Maxie Leiner in the 1st round, fighting on a charity card benefiting Black Bill, Kid and Pincho Gutierrez’ old friend, whose health had deteriorated badly. Immediately following the fight though, Kid was taken into custody and awaited extradition to Cuba on abduction charges. But the “abduction” in question was actually a girl named Rosario Mora reporting to authorities that Kid had seduced her with a promise of marriage and never paid up.
To remedy the situation, Kid married the girl once in Havana and promptly left her behind with manager Gutierrez in tow.
In the meantime, the NBA demanded that Kid was still recognized as its 130 pound champion and must defend the title post haste. The Keed in turn chose to defend his title in March of 1932 against old foe Dominick Petrone in Havana, fighting for the first time in the city for over two years.
The title plans were dashed when Petrone weighed in a half-pound over 130, and the two tussled to a points win for Kid Chocolate. In an AP report, the headline read, “Chocolate Shades Petrone at Havana.”
As The Ring had not yet recognized a junior lightweight division champion, the title picture at the time was unsurprisingly muddy. Following a more difficult than expected official title defense of Davey Abad in April that saw the Panamanian tumble through the ropes in the 12th of 15 rounds, the AP called his title “somewhat synthetic.” Fans in the Havana arena booed Kid’s decision over Abad, as the challenger had taken the fight to the Cuban and scored consistently with hard body shots. To make matters worse, the gate was a paltry $4,000 or so, as the locals had little money to spend on tickets for boxing.
In May, Kid won a 10 round decision from Steve Smith and Mike Sarko once each. And in June he fought four times, including another decision over Lew Feldman, setting up a rematch with “Kid” Berg in a non-title setting at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Queens.
This time, surprisingly, Berg was the one booed by the crowd of 20,000 after taking a 15 round split decision. An AP report on the fight from the San Diego Union reported, “Chocolate scored the heavier punches and although there were no knockdowns, he had the tireless Briton in distress in the early rounds and again in the 13th. Berg never stopped his forwards charging, however, and beat an endless tattoo on the slender negro’s body.” The AP scorecard tallied the rounds at 7-6-2 for Kid Chocolate, who was outweighed by almost seven pounds and had Berg cut over both eyes.
In August, about three weeks later, Kid moved back down a tad to defend his NBA belt in Chicago against local guy Eddie Shea. Kid reportedly won eight of the 10 rounds in front of about 5,500 fans, putting Shea down once in the 3rd with a left hook that strayed low, but Shea got an eight count anyways. In the 10th, Shea rocked Chocolate with a right hand that wobbled his legs, but Kid hung in to win a decision, and was presented with his official belt following the fight.
From later in August to early October, Kid rattled of five wins, two being points wins over seasoned contender Johnny Farr.
About 7,000 spectators piled into Kid’s childhood dream venue of Madison Square Garden in mid-October to watch him deliver a proper bludgeoning to Lew Feldman, who he’d beaten twice already but failed to stop. This time Feldman was sent down twice in the 9th, then cut so badly over the bridge of his nose that the crowd called for a stoppage in the 12th despite reportedly paying more attention to a solid set-to between a couple of fans in the stands. Ref Patsy Haley granted them their chanting wish, calling an end towards the end of that round.
At this point the Keed had become known for collecting pictures of himself and press clippings about his career, posting them up all over his house in Marianao, just south of Havana. He’d also been known as a free spender, as well as supporting numerous relatives financially — including the few dozen who lived in his villa. And he wasn’t exactly averse to a bottle of rum and a handful of cigarettes.
A month later, Kid took on Philly-based Pete “Kid Indian” Nebo, and the two gave fans at the St. Nick Arena what the New York Times called “One of the greatest 10 round battles seen here in recent years.” According to the report, Kid withstood the early attack to seize momentum in later rounds with superior boxing ability. And following two more decision wins over relatively nondescript opponents before the month of November was out, a rubbermatch between Kid Chocolate and Fidel LaBarba was set, and for the NYSAC featherweight belt in addition to Kid’s 130 pound claim as both scaled in under 126 lbs.
Following 15 stanzas of intense action, fans once again crowed their displeasure with Kid being granted a close decision. The 14,000 outside the ropes cheered for LaBarba, who brutalized Kid’s body in many of the rounds, though the challenger appeared to be a slower, older version of his old, swarming self.
Kid again went back to Cuba for a spell, but upon attempting to return to the States for a scheduled bout against Seaman Tommy Watson at the Garden, immigration officials in Key West detained him and ordered him deported on the charge that he had no permit from the Secretary of Labor to enter the U.S. An AP report read, “[Pincho Gutierrez] said it was the Kid’s twenty-fifth trip to this country and on no previous trips had he been required to present a Secretary of Labor permit.”
Madison Square Garden promoters, who were fairly happy with the attention Kid garnered, fought to secure his return, and were eventually successful.
In May, after five months off, Kid went to Philadelphia to again defend his junior lightweight title. Johnny Farr was again beaten in 10 rounds as he’d been twice before, only this time he was sent to the canvas four times before bout’s end. Later in the month, Kid made good on his earlier engagement with former British featherweight champ Seaman Watson, meeting him at the Garden. After near flipping the Brit backwards with a left hand in the 10th, Kid took a solid 15 round decision before about 12,000 in the crowd.
Relatively inactive over the next few months, for him, but delightfully soaking in his quasi-celebrity status with plenty of drink and women, The Kid fought four times over the next six months: twice in Spain, and once apiece in France and Canada.
Then, in late November of 1933, Kid was granted a rematch against Canzoneri and brutally stopped in the 2nd with a series of booming right hands. The Keed’s first stoppage loss was reportedly a terrific encounter for as long as it lasted, with Canzoneri badly hurting him in the 1st and Chocolate gamely fighting back through a meteor shower of cracking shots. Canzoneri immediately jumped on Kid at the bell for round 2, and knocked him almost clean out with rights.
The loss also appeared to signal a sharp downward turn in his career, though he was able to successfully defend his junior lightweight title against Frankie Wallace in Ohio less than two weeks later.
On Christmas night of 1933, just a few years after he’d paid tribute to his old neighborhood with a few wads of cash to distribute, a single right hand snatched Kid’s 130 pound title from him, courtesy of solid (but not particularly popular) contender Frankie Klick. Chocolate’s tactics and the early result seemed typical of him, but the right in question sent him face-first to the canvas, struggling to get up before crashing into the ropes and being stopped by referee “Spud” Murphy. There was a bit of controversy, though, as Moe Fleisher, Kid’s trainer, climbed through the ropes to grab Chocolate, thinking the round had ended, when in fact there were a few seconds left on the clock.
He took about four months off, then a downtrodden Kid Chocolate set off for the West Coast of the U.S., then to Venezuela, then back to Cuba and eventually New York again, winning fights — even looking very good at times. But rarely was he facing worthwhile or ranked opponents.
Highlights of the last four years of his career are two more decision wins over Pete Nebo; a draw with solid contender Tommy Paul (that happened to be officiated by former 140 lb. champ Mushy Callahan); and another win over Lew Feldman.
In July of 1934, Kid had petitioned the NSYAC to restore his featherweight championship status ahead of his meeting with Petey Hayes in Brooklyn, but Hayes failed to make the 126 pound limit, and on top of that decked Kid four times en route to a 10 round win anyway.
Fighting his last five bouts in Cuba, Kid Chocolate retired immediately after a draw against the not particularly good Nicky Jerome, in which Jerome had him reeling about the ring in the last two rounds.
Pincho Gutierrez and co-manager Jesse Losado had planned a South American tour for Chocolate, but those plans were swiftly canceled when his retirement was officially announced to U.S. media on December 20th, 1938.
In the early 1940s, rumors circulated that the Keed would be coming back to face this up-and-comer, or that budding contender, but it never happened. Still, it was a sign that the Cuban battler was still on the minds of the folks in the sport he’d left behind. In fact, in 1940, “Dick Tracy” creator Chester Gould inked a short entitled “Kid Chocolate,” presumably as a tribute to the man himself.
Additionally, a few different fighters who called themselves “Baby Kid Chocolate” arose over the years, paying homage in a way that boxing rarely does anymore.
The one and only Keed did make headlines himself in late 1940, though, getting sent to the hospital with significant head injuries and a razor slash wound to the chest after attempting to break up a quarrel between his lady friend and two other men.
A few years later, he was hired on by the Cuban commission to act as a boxing instructor at the Cristobol Boxing Academy for $12 a week. And according to Gutierrez and Chocolate, he’d raked in over $500,000 over the course of his career. It was gone. The only gold left on his person was that of his entire upper row of front teeth. He was described by the United Press as “…old now, for a man of 35 — skinny and withered.”
Kid Gavilan’s rise to fame sparked more Kid Chocolate discussion in the mid-1940s too, with many calling him the best Cuban fighter since the island’s first champ. But the Keed faded into the background, rarely heard from.
In 1954, Pincho Gonzalez was arrested along with a few others and charged with plotting to kill Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. And still, Kid was mostly a memory.
And Kid Chocolate didn’t defect during or after the Revolution either. Many boxing fans, pundits and personalities simply assumed he’d died. Whispers floated about until 1988, when boxing scribe Jonathan Rendall was tipped off by then-editor of The Ring, Nigel Collins, that the Keed may still be alive and living in Havana.
In an excellent article titled “Kid Chocolate Went The Distance,” Rendall gave a detailed description of his encounter with the badly ailing Kid Chocolate. The following perhaps sums up the somber ordeal:
“As Kid Chocolate sat slumped in his chair, a pool of saliva forming on the cover of Kid Berg’s biography and a huddle of cigarette butts collecting in the folds of his shirt, the son led the way to other rooms: to Kid Chocolate’s bedroom with its urine-stained mattress, half covered by a dirty sheet, and a pile of human feces on the floor; to the kitchen, for an old fridge stood open and empty, by a table strewn with bones and rusting tins of sardines being picked over by cockroaches; to further rooms, shrouded in cobwebs, which had not been used, perhaps even entered, for years.”
He would pass away a few months later, on Aug. 8, 1988, of undisclosed causes.
Eligio Sardiñas’ existence, be it in-ring or otherwise, was influential and revolutionary, his path seemingly linked to the fate of Cuba itself. As Cuba withdrew and shut the world out, so did the Kid. It wasn’t always that way, though.
Kid’s influence stretched far beyond New York City, as popular as he was in The City That Never Sleeps, and seeped closer to the geographical heart of the U.S. Arch Ward, editor of The Chicago Tribune, said of future heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles’ fascination with and introduction to Kid, “Ezzard Charles’ hero worship of featherweight Kid Chocolate strongly influenced him in making the ring his career. But it wasn’t so much the Kid’s dazzling KO wallop that attracted Charles as it was his wardrobe of 350 suits.”
The specific incident that supposedly turned a young Ezzard toward boxing was when Kid Chocolate drove his car through Charles’ West End neighborhood in Cincinnati ahead of Kid’s second bout with diminutive local Johnny Farr in 1932. Reportedly one of the local children that had been inadvertently lured towards Kid’s showy car asked him how many suits he owned, to which Kid replied he had one for every day of the year.
St. Louis also tasted the Kid Chocolate buzz, even if in a more roundabout way. In “Pound for Pound,” a biography of “Sugar” Ray Robinson, author Herb Boyd retells that, as a young man in 1929, Henry Jackson read a news article stating Kid made $75,000 for about a half-hour’s worth of warfare. It would inspire Jackson to drop the idea of becoming a day laborer and deploy himself to the gym. Henry Jackson would later be called “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, simultaneous featherweight, lightweight and welterweight champion.
When Ray Robinson himself began seeing serious headlines, he was often referred to as “the new Kid Chocolate” by scribes.
But through the years and waves of great Cuban pugilists, there has never been another Kid Chocolate. And there never will be.
Originally featured on Queensberry-Rules.com