Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eladio Valdes: The Story of "Black Bill"

By Peter Silkov

Eladio Valdes was a highly talented fighter, who combined tremendous hand and foot speed with a furious and seemingly inexhaustible whirlwind attack. “Black Bill” (as Valdes became known) was not a big puncher, but he threw punches with both fists, from all angles, and was constantly moving on his feet, keeping his opponents off balance. Wherever he fought, Valdes’s aggressive style delighted the crowds. Eladio also picked up the name “The Man of Rubber” due to his quirky trick of throwing himself into the ropes during contests and bouncing of from them towards his often perplexed and alarmed opponents. 

Valdes was born in May 1905, in Havana, Cuba.  Born into great poverty in Havana, Valdes was soon fighting in the many clubs dotted around Havana, turning professional while still a mere 15-year-old. Standing around 5’ feet 3” inches, Valdes weighed only about 100 pounds when he began his professional fighting career in 1920. He would become one of the top flyweights in the world at a time when the division was overflowing with talented boxers of all descriptions. During his career, Black Bill would face such top men as Genaro Pino, Angel Kid White, Izzy Schwartz, Ernie Jarvis, Willie Davis, Happy Atherton, Pinky Silverberg, Eugene Huat, Marty Gold, and Midget Wolgast.

For the first four years of his career Valdes fought exclusively in his native Cuba, with Havana being a hot bed of boxing activity during the 1920s. On May 7, 1923, Valdes out-pointed Genaro Pino over 12 rounds to win the Cuban light-flyweight championship, and by 1924 Black Bill was running out of opposition in Havana, and he and his manager Luis “Pincho” Gutierrez began looking towards conquering America. 

In 1925, Black Bill invaded New York and proved to be a sensation with the American fight fans. Valdes fought some of the top contenders in the Flyweight division, losing just 3 out of 18 contests, and proving himself a genuine contender for the world flyweight title. Amongst Valdes’ best scalps were his two victories over Izzy Schwartz, whom he beat twice in three fights during 1925.

Over the next five years, Valdes alternated his time between America and return trips to his homeland Cuba. On his trips back to Havana Valdes was feted wherever he went, like the star he had become, he was living like a star, and enjoying his money with the reckless abandon like so many fighters both before and after him also displayed. Black Bill grew to like the nightlife, the fine clothes, and the glamorous women who always seemed to be around him. He also liked to gamble and this was a habit in which he was almost always the loser. 

Fast living usually catches up with even the best fighters and in 1927, Valdes had a dip in form and defeats, which delayed any hopes he had held about fighting for the world flyweight title. However, over the next 2 years, Valdes put together a string of 25 victories in 26 contests, including victories over some of the most talented fighters in the division, such as Marty Gold, Happy Atherton, and Willie Davis. These victories took Valdes back into top contention for a world title shot himself.  Remarkably, by this time Valdes was already experiencing problems with his eyesight. It was a condition that worsened with every fight he had.

When he finally gained his shot at the world flyweight championship, on March 21, 1930, against Midget Wolgast, it was already too late for Black Bill; he was now totally blind in his right eye, and his left eye was damaged too.

The two men fought for the vacant New York State version of the world flyweight championship, and Wolgast, a whiz kid of just 20, had an easy time out-boxing the struggling Black Bill, who spent most of the fight chasing shadows.

Following this heartbreaking defeat, Valdes only fought eight more times, going 3-5, until at the end of 1930 he was finally forced to retire from boxing, having now been rendered almost completely blind in both eyes.

At the age of just 25 Valdes saw his world crumble and all his dreams of continued fame and fortune quite literally disappear.  He stayed in America, living in Harlem, New York, with his wife, but his money had gone and was isolated in a world of darkness. Valdes fell into a deep depression, and on April 8, 1933, the fighter who had thrilled so many crowds, and enjoyed fame throughout Cuba and America, shot himself in the stomach. Five days later, Eladio Valdes was dead, at the age of just 27.

Eladio Valdes’s final boxing record was 125(22koes)-24-13. He was never stopped or knocked out during his career. 

Valdes was also a stablemate and mentor to the great Kid Chocolate, whom he took with him to America in the late 1920s. Both men were managed by Felipe Gutierrez and trained by Moe Fleischer. Kid Chocolate would himself go on to enjoy the kind of success, which Valdes may have achieved had his career not been so cruelly cut short, when he should really have been in his prime.  
Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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