Tonight we caught up with the lightweight division and I was fortunate enough to catch one of the last recorded matches of Ike Williams before we moved onto a new era under Jimmy Carter.
Ike Williams versus Jose Maria Gatica 05.01.1951
By this stage in his career, Ike Williams had a record of 115–15–4. He had defended the title three times since beating Beau Jack in 1948 and a total of five times since he took it from Bob Montgomery in 1947. One of those defences was against Enrique Bolanos, whose first bout we covered last year. This time there was no controversy. Bolanos (who Williams claimed he carried the first match) was knocked out in the fourth round. Most of Williams’s fights were non-title bouts and they were still very regular, often monthly. As before, he sometimes fought twice a month and continued to suffer from mob pressure. He only lost five times out of the 26 bouts between Jack and Gatica. Two of those losses were his rematches against Kid Gavilan who he had previously beaten.
Williams’s opponent for tonight was José María Gatica (nicknamed “El Mono” and “The Tiger”). Born on 25th March 1925 in Villa Mercedes, San Luis before moving to Buenos Aires seven years later, he became one of the most famous and infamous Argentinian sports idols of the 20th century. His childhood was described as “savage” as he grew up in extreme poverty. He never attended school and remained illiterate throughout his short life. At age 10 he was shining shoes on the streets of Constitución Station in the Federal Capital. His skills with his fists were soon discovered during his teens when he became involved in unsanctioned prize-fights at the Sailor’s Home. Manager Lázaro Koczil picked him up after Gatica won the Argentinian Golden Gloves and Nicholas Preziosa trained him. The Argentinian public fell in love with his exciting slugger style where he would rush out of his corner from the beginning throwing looping punches. Amongst his admirers were President Juan Domingo Peron and his wife, Eva. The respect was mutual and Gatica even named his daughter by his first wife, Eva.
His fight with Williams in this non-title bout was intended to be part of his campaign for the World Lightweight Championship. By now he was living the life of a celebrity in his native country, mixing with the Argentinian elite and enjoying the wealth his status brought. He was known for his flashy silk shirts and walking the streets with a lion cub.
Round 1 – Gatica came out in his usual style, throwing bombs relentlessly at Williams. He swung wildly and rabbit-punched in the clinch, clearly chasing the knockout early on. It didn’t take long for Williams to start controlling matters at long and mid-range. Gatica began missing and then Williams timed a perfect left hook that sent him down. He got to his feet but looked unsteady. Within seconds Williams sent him down again and this time Gatica didn’t get up so fast. It didn’t help as he attempted another exchange Williams threw a combination of a right uppercut/left hook/right hook to his head that knocked him down for the last time and the referee wisely waved off the match.
Gatica’s swift defeat might have stunted his championship aspirations but his boxing career was far from over. He engaged in a feud with fellow Argentinian, Alfredo Prada, and the two fought several well-received bouts. They were compared with the Graziano/Zale fights. Gatica’s career was cut short when Peron fell. After he publically dedicated one of his victories to the now exiled president, Gatica was arrested and was forced into retirement. His record stood at a total of 96 fights with 86 wins, 72 by knockout, seven losses and two draws. Due to his political sympathies he lost support from his beloved public and quickly became a social pariah amongst the elite. He had squandered his fortune whilst he had been at the top and ended up destitute, returning to the streets where he had come. His wife left him as he tried to eke out a living, selling newspapers on the street.
Eventually old friends came to his aid. His old rival, Prada, got him a job as a host in his restaurant. He began to make appearances at sports halls in his local community selling knick-knacks. He remarried and had two children. Gatica’s life was cut short at just 38 on 12th November 1963. Upon leaving the Club Atlético Independiente in the District of Avellaneda, on Herrera Street, he was knocked down and killed by bus. A sports biopic was made on his life in 1993 and his hometown named their sports auditorium after him.
Ike Williams fought five more times, including a split-decision victory over old rival Beau Jack and a non-title loss to Joe Miceli, before he put his lightweight title on the line. His opponent was Jimmy Carter, a counter-punching underdog. Carter surprised everyone with his upset defeat of Williams by 14th round TKO. He was ahead on the scorecards up to this point having knocked Williams down twice in the fifth and totally dominated him from then on, sending him down again in the tenth before totally destroying him in round 14. Williams career was never the same. He claimed he had struggled to make the weight for the lightweight fight against Carter and this had weakened him. He fought 16 times over the next four years, never challenging for any sort of title.
His opponent was the subject for our next fight and main fight of the lesson. Born James Walter Carter on 15th December 1923 in Aiken, South Carolina, Carter began his boxing training at a Catholic Boys Club after his family moved to New York when he was nine. He took up boxing when he was picked on in the streets of Harlem. Carter first fought as an amateur when he was 14. He turned professional in 1946 and won 22 of his first 26 fights. Carter was known for his counter-punching style and his defensive lead hand.
Art “The Golden Boy” Aragon was born on 13th November 1927 in Beleen New Mexico. His family was of Mexican decent but he aligned himself more with USA fans than Mexicans. Aragon had 40 matches before he beat ranked fighter Enrique Bolanos twice, stopping him the first time and soundly dominating the second time. His all-action style of fighting and good looks ensured he received a lot of admirers at his matches. He also quickly became popular amongst the Hollywood clique, hanging out with both Marylyn Monroe and Mamie Van Doren, the latter being a particular admirer.
Carter and Aragon were first paired on 28th August 1951 in a 10-round fight when the latter surprisingly won a split-decision over the former. Carter was noted as being sluggish and, due to the mob connections to Frankie Carbo, it was rumoured he had thrown the fight to generate interest in this bout.
Jimmy Carter versus Art Aragon Undisputed World Lightweight Title 14.11.1951
Carter stood at 5’6” with a reach of 68”. He was a counter-punching out-boxer who would win 85 of his total 125 fights, losing 31 and drawing nine times. His record was 57–12–7 when he took on Aragon in his first title defence. Aragon stood at 5’9” with a 72” reach. He was style was that of an aggressive slugger, eventually knocking out a total of 62 of his opponents, winning 90 in all, losing 20 and drawing six.
The fight began on Aragon’s terms, coming in with aggression that he maintained for the first five rounds. In round six Carter avoided Aragon’s left hook and landed one of his own that sent the challenger down. Aragon beat the count but now sported a cut over his left eye.
Carter now took charge of the fight and it remained that way. Aragon would later say the worst punch he suffered was in round 12 when another left hook hit him in the jaw. Aragon won the public support by showing courage to the end, enduring severe beatings in rounds 12, 13 and 14. However, with Carter clearly miles ahead and in complete control, he noticeably eased off his opponent in round 15. Carter had defended his title for the first time, but there would be a rocky road ahead.