Somewhat inspired by an article published in “Fight City”, I decided to revisit 1953 boxing and analyse a forgotten non-title classic from the career of Gerardo Gonzalez, better known as Kid (aka “The Keed” and “The Cuban Hawk”) Gavilán. The last time we saw him he had made a successful, albeit split-decision, defence of his world welterweight title against Carmen Basilo. However, back in 1951 Gavilán had fought Johnny Bratton twice. The first time they met, Gavilán had taken the welterweight title from Bratton by unanimous decision and also broken his jaw. This was a match we covered in the first “Learn from the Fight” lesson of this year. Their rematch, a 10-round non-title affair down to issues with weight, which took place just six months later, is an overlooked gem that we should revisit sometime. The all-action fight resulted in a draw.
Johnny “Honey Boy” Bratton was last seen in the aforementioned first match. Since the rematch, he had fought 18 times from 17th December 1951 to 7th October 1953 and had only lost three times. Two of these losses were to the highly ranked middleweight contender Rocky Castellani and one to Ralph “Tiger” Jones. Both these fighters will feature soon as the middleweight division heats up. Bratton’s wins included a third round knockout of the great Laurent Dauthuille as well as Danny “Bang Bang” Womber, the only man to hand Gavilán a loss in the past two years.
Kid Gavilán versus Johnny Bratton Undisputed World Welterweight Championship 13.11.1953
Both fighters came in at 146lbs and the fight was held at the Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois. Despite their impressive previous match-up resulting in a draw, both fighters were at different stages in their career. Gavilán was seen to be at his peak, having defeated all top contenders in his weight division and now setting his sights on the middleweight division as had his old and currently retired rival, Sugar Ray Robinson. His record was 95-13-4. Bratton was nearing the end of his career. His record was 60-20-3.
In the first round Bratton displayed his distinctive light-footed style, bouncing on his toes and Gavilán began throwing single shots. Bratton came in with his own choppy jabs and combinations and Gavilán progressed from blocking or slipping them to firing back hard. For the most part, Bratton did the most of the work although it was a slow start as was the norm with these two.
Round two saw Gavilán open the round with a change of his normal strategy with Bratton. He took the fight to the challenger with aggressive jabs and double jabs. Bratton returned in kind, landing a good slip jab but the champion kept his foot on the gas. He came forward with tight combinations, including a short rear uppercut. There was a reasonable amount of to and fro with Gavilán feinting to the body and unleashing jab/uppercut combinations whilst Bratton stuck to a sharp one-two. Gavilán began bringing out right hooks before dropping levels against Bratton’s retaliation and ended up in a clinch that needed separating. More clinches followed and were a result of Gavilán’s new strategy of pressing the fight onto Bratton. He began to pursue him around the ring in a total role reversal for the two. Just prior to the end of the round a powerful overhand right from Gavilán prompted a heavy exchange with the champion getting the best of it.
Round three opened up with Bratton cautiously boxing moving around the outside whilst Gavilán adopted a more swarmer style approach, uncharacteristically crouching low and edging forward. Early on this resulting in fast exchange and clinch that had to be separated. However, the second time turned into a furious exchange with both fighters going at it toe-to-toe. Again, Gavilán won through although Bratton gave a good account of himself. The momentum continued into the next round for the first minute or so after which both fighters quietened down. Bratton seemed to try to push things his way by going on the offensive. He tentatively moved in and out of range picking with his jab until Gavilán fired back with heavier punches. The pace changed again as Gavilán went back to the crouching stance again and pushed forward, rolling under Bratton’s defensive punches. Bratton decided to take the initiative and began scoring more with sharp angled shots, speaking of which Gavilán’s trademark bolo made the briefest of appearances for the first time in this round. There were quick flourishes and this time Bratton came out on top, winning the round.
Round six saw Gavilán wrest control back. He remained the most active in some short exchanges with the challenger. Round seven saw Gavilán move to the outside in an attempt to draw Bratton forward. Bratton was, again, cautious. Gavilán began picking shots instead. When Bratton continued not to move forward, the Cuban Hawk resumed taking the fight to his opponent resulting in a few brief exchanges and a lot of clinching. Of the exchanges, Bratton got in is few short hooks but Gavilán won overall. In round eight Bratton seemed to change momentum again and came out with increased vigour. However, he soon became tentative again. Gavilán quickly became the aggressor again, his jabs finding their mark far more frequently than Bratton’s. Besides a couple of occasions when Bratton moved in with a combination it was all Gavilán. In fact, as the round neared its end the Cuban Hawk pressed the fight so hard that Bratton ended up on the ropes eating an array of non-stop punches. He did well to roll and shell from the punches that flew in from all different angles and it was surprising that the referee did not step in at this point. Indeed. Bratton’s stool was beginning to make an appearance, possibly signalling his corner about to throw in the towel. However, after Gavilán decided to move out on his own volition Bratton appeared to be very keen to continue. He even threw punch as the bell went and Gavilán turned his back.
Gavilán came in like a swarmer in round nine, pressing Bratton from the insides. Bratton fired back with a sharp jab here and there, but the champion’s short uppercuts kept finding their mark. As Gavilán moved out of range Bratton again seemed unable to reach him with his jab whereas Gavilán’s stepping in lead hook did not have the same problem. Round 10 saw some to and fro movement with Bratton becoming much more engaged. It was probably one of his best rounds. After some early aggression from Gavilán he began pushing the fight with vigour.
We missed round 11 and came back in at round 12 where matters were looking quite even at first until Gavilán got the right momentum and began punching Bratton around the ring and onto the ropes. Bratton came back again for a short time before matters evened out again and Gavilán took matters aggressively onto the front foot again. The round ended with Bratton on the ropes absorbing and deflecting a lot of punishment.
Early on Gavilán resumed his initiative and pushed the challenger to the ropes, unloading punches from various angles. It became a familiar pattern that was repeated several times until the bell rht rang. Round 14 began with Bratton again trying to regain the familiar forward pressure he was used to exerting on Gavilán, which the champion was comfortable with but would eventually change back. I felt Bratton landed more power punches than he had done in a while although he still wasn’t matching Gavilán in quantity or quality.
By round 15 Bratton must have known he was behind on points and Gavilán still had plenty left in the tank. However, his style still seemed tentative and had trouble adapting. He needed a stoppage but it appeared that Cuban Hawk had the same idea and continue to drop hard angled shots. Finally Gavilán began unleashing the signature bolo punch with all its flair as he forced Bratton to the ropes. After a clinch separation he began pendulum shifting and throwing a type of lead bolo punch too. The bell rang and no one was under any illusion who had won the match. Kid Gavilán retained his World Welterweight title.
Kid Gavilán versus Bobo Olson Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 02.04.1954
When last we saw Carl “Bobo” Olson, he won the vacant undisputed World Middleweight title by unanimous decision over Randy Turpin in 1953. Since then Olson knocked out Joe Rindone in the fifth round of a non-title bout fought in California.
After Gavilán’s seventh successful defence of his welterweight title, he decided to set his sights on the middleweight division. He won two unanimous decisions over the USA’s Johnny Cunningham and Italy’s Livio Minelli, and was given a shot at the middleweight title. During his fight with Cunningham, Gavilán would report he injured his right hand.
Both Gavilán and Olson had lost twice to Sugar Ray Robinson but had also famously given him trouble. Gavilán had won his first ever title shot when Robinson was World Welterweight champion. The two had first met in a non-title bout that Sugar Ray had won via unanimous decision that had upset the audience who had been impressed by Gavilán’s late aggressive push. Robinson had proven the judges right in the title match and thoroughly out-boxed Gavilán. When Robinson moved up to middleweight he had taken Olson’s Pennsylvania title with a twelfth round knockout. However, in 1952 Olson had reportedly been a difficult opponent for Robinson when the latter defended his world title.
Gavilán entered the fight with a record of 98-13-4. Olson’s was 60-6. Gavilán weighed in at 155lbs and Olson was 159lbs. According to Fight City, Olson was the bookie’s favourite. However, Gavilán appeared the more confident and never seemed to stop smiling, relishing the media attention:
“I feel better for this fight than ever before. In the past I have been troubled by weight. Now I can eat and drink anything I want. People believe Olson’s weight advantage will be too much. It won’t mean a thing. I will beat Olson on speed and ability. ”
By contrast, Olson was reported to be irritable and didn’t talk much to the press. His handlers said this was a good thing and his manager went on record to say, “When he gets crabby, I know he’s in the mood to do some real tough fighting.”
Chicago Stadium was packed with over 20,000 attendees for the fight between two reigning champions. Olson took $122,866 and Gavilán took $87,762 from the gate and TV monies combined.
We watched highlights of this hotly contested and close battle. Both men stuck to a fast-paced bout.
The first eight rounds were very close and competitive. Then in round nine Olson opened up a gash above the challenger’s right eye. Perhaps concerned that it might result in a stoppage Gavilán took the same aggressive flurry he had with the earlier Bratton bout but Olson, a natural slugger and brawler, happily obliged. This continued in round 10. Unfortunately for the Cuban Hawk, Bobo was just too strong. Sapped of energy, Gavilán reportedly coasted through rounds 11 to 13. Here Olson picked up the tempo and scored shots upstairs and downstairs. The challenger regrouped in round 14 and took a valiant final stand in round 15 throwing powerful two-fisted attacks with his hooks. However, it was not enough to win the day.
Olson won by majority decision. Judge Hintz had scored it a draw against Referee Bernie Weismann’s 141-147 and Judge William O’Connell’s 139-147 in favour of Olson. The consensus of press opinion was that Olson barely backed off throughout the fight and steadily piled on the pressure, his greater weight and strength becoming quite evident. Gavilán’s injured right hand was noticeable as he boxed on one-handed for most of the fight, however, Olson would point out that the challenger passed the medical no problem. Gavilán’s gushing right eye in round nine clearly made an impression too.
Both Olson and Gavilán would face controversy with their next fights. Gavilán would defend his welterweight title against one of Blinky Palermo’s boxers, immediately creating strong rumours of a fix, and Olson’s scheduled opponent, Joey Giardello, wouldn’t show at all. He had been convicted for beating up a gas station attendant after an argument over the price of fuel. He would fight two other non-title matches before facing the aforementioned rising star, Rocky Castellani, in his next title defence.