Saturday, October 7, 2017

On This Day: Kid Charol Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Kid Charol, which translates as Patent Leather Kid, is a legendary figure in Cuban boxing history, and regarded as Cuba’s first boxing star. Born, Esteban Gallard, on January 11, 1901, in Sagua La Grande, Cuba.

The popularity of boxing exploded in Cuba after Jack Johnson’s ill-fated defence of his World heavyweight championship against ‘white hope’ Jess Williard in Havana, on April 5th, 1915. While the fight with Willard ended in a disastrous (and controversial) defeat for Johnson, along with the loss of his world title, the event itself caused a feverish breakout in popularity for boxing amongst the Cubans, especially amongst the young men who suddenly saw a way to escape from the poverty in which most of them lived.

Little is known about Kid Charol’s early years, but he would have been 14 years old when Johnson fought Willard in Havana, and it's not hard to imagine that, like many other Cuban men, he was inspired to take up the sport after seeing all the publicity that surrounded the build up and aftermath of the Johnson vs Willard match, especially when seeing how a coloured man like Johnson could lift himself up to riches and fame through boxing.

It is not known precisely when Charol had his first fight, and it is likely that he took part in at least some of the ‘semi-professional’ contests which became so popular in Cuba at that time. His first appearance as a professional in a verified contest was in 1922, and his talent was clear from the beginning. Charol was soon generating rave reviews from anyone who saw him fight. Fighting as a welterweight, and later a middleweight, Charol had the kind of talent that allowed him to do anything in the ring. He was an all-round boxer, with strong technique, speed and punching power. In many ways, the kind of prototype that would be used as a model for so many of the Cuban greats in the years to come.

Charol’s actual professional career was relatively short, lasting just seven years, due to his tragically early death. Yet he fitted in a lot of fighting in those seven years, although despite many invitations, Charol never fought in America. Instead he stayed in Cuba and South America, becoming a huge draw wherever he fought. On March 15, 1924, Charol won the Cuban middleweight title, by knocking out Rafael Fello Rodriguez in the 5th round. Charol would never lose this title in the ring, and was soon regarded as untouchable amongst his fellow Cuban middleweights.

Charol's ability was such that he soon had to take on light-heavyweights in order to stay active, as many fighters were not inclined to meet him in the ring.

Kid Charol pictured with Kid Tunero (right)
The names on Charol’s record included Enrique Ponce De Leon, Kid Campilo, Clemente Sanchez, Rafael Fello Rodriguez, Jimmy Finley, Homer Robertson, Bearcat Reid, Alex Rely, Peter Sung, Larry Estridge, Ricardo Alis, Panama Joe Gans, Alberto Icochea, Luis Galtieri, Mario Bosisio, Michele Bonaglia, Ko Brissett, and Dave Shade.

Despite his ability, Charol never got to fight for a world title. This is undoubtedly at least partly due to the racial atmosphere of the times, when coloured fighters were often avoided by the world's top contenders and champions (who were often white.) The fact that Charol was so good was also a reason why many of the world's best never faced him. At the same time, Charol didn’t help his cause by refusing to travel to America to fight. Yet perhaps his disinclination to go to America was down to the racial atmosphere that he would certainly be aware existed there at the time.

Indeed why would Charol want to go to America when he was already a hero in Cuba and all around South America. Eventually Charol moved to Argentina to live, where he became an adopted hero with the Argentine fight fans.

Unfortunately, Charol's health started to fail by 1926, when he was still barely at his athletic peak. Possibly exacerbated by his love of the nightlife, and burning the candle of life at both ends, Charol had contracted tuberculosis.

With the brave stubbornness of a fighter, Charol continued to fight even as his condition worsened. Before his last fight, against the brilliant Dave Shade on April 30, 1929, Charol had to drag himself up from a hospital bed. Yet he still managed to secure a 12-round draw with a man whom many at the time regarded as being the uncrowned middleweight champion of the world.

Kid Charol II at the grave of Kid Charol
This was Charol’s final appearance in the ring. He died less than 5 months later, on October 7, 1929, three months before his 29th birthday.

Despite his early death, and abbreviated career, Charol would inspire a generation of future Cuban boxers, including Black Bill, Kid Chocolate and Charol’s own protégé, Ramon Castillo ‘The Cuban Baron’.

Charol’s final verified record was (53-3-10, 34koes) he was only beaten three times during his professional career, and was never stopped. 

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