By Gabriel F. Cordero
On March 23, 1913 in Palmas Altas Barrio Barceloneta, Sixto ¨El Gallito¨ Escobar the first Puerto Rican world boxing champion and the third in Latin America was born. Escobar was raised in San Juan and was still close to being a child when he started boxing, even though boxing was illegal in Puerto Rico at the time, and houses were used as a clandestine boxing gyms and arenas. Boxing in Puerto Rico was legalized February 16, 1927.
Escobar’s career alternated between Venezuela and Puerto Rico and he faced the best bantamweights of the time. Then by a twist of fate the National Boxing Association (today the World Boxing Association) withdrew its recognition of Panamanian champion Teofilo “Panama Al” Brown as world bantamweight champion and decided that Sixto Escobar and Mexican idol Rodolfo “El Chango” Casanova will meet to determine a new bantamweight world champion. On June 26, 1934 at the Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Escobar defeated Casanova by knockout in the ninth round kicking off a rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico that lasts to this day and that night known as ‘The Battle of Los Morenitos.’ Casanova was an idol in Mexico and the media expected him to be the first Mexican world champion.
The New York State Athletic Commission recognized Tony Marino as their champion and Sixto Escobar faced Marino and knocked him out in the thirteenth round in the Dyckman Oval in New York. Sixto Escobar was recognized as the undisputed bantamweight world champion.
In all, Escobar won the bantamweight world crown three times. He also holds the distinction of boxing in the first world title fight held in Puerto Rico on February 21, 1937 in the Escambron Baseball Park in San Juan facing Lou Salica with the bout refereed by heavyweight legend Jack Dempsey.
In April 1941 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to participate in the Second World War.
It took 25 years for Puerto Rico were to have another world champion and that was on June 12, 1959 when Carlos Ortiz beat Kenny Lane at Madison Square Garden for the WBA lightweight world crown.
On November 12, 1935 Sixto Escobar Park was opened and his name was been placed on various avenues, streets and places.
On November 17, 1979 Escobar died after a constant struggle between alcoholism and diabetes. Rodolfo Casanova considered the uncrowned champion and former Mexican boxing idol was another victim of alcoholism in his life and died a year after Escobar on November 24, 1980 in a homeless shelter.
On June 9, 2002 Escobar was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. Escobar never lost by knockout in his career and was recognized as a skilled and courageous fighter.