Ferocious and flawed – Cuba’s Angel Robinson Garcia never refused a fight

He was a globetrotting stylist, more skilful than a journeyman, who loved getting in the ring and letting hands fly. Here, Eric Armit looks at a charismatic and controversial boxer who idolised Sugar Ray Robinson, led a turbulent personal life and boxed a who’s who of fighting royalty.

Born: 9 May 1937 in Havana, Cuba

Died: 1 June 2000 in Cuba

Turned Pro: 23 July 1955

Division(s): super-featherweight to super-welterweight

Record: 239 fights, 138 wins (55 by KO/TKO), 80 losses, 21 draws.

Defeated: Bobby Bell, Alfredo Urbina, Tommy Tibbs (twice), Jose Stable*, Rolando Morales, Pastor Marrero, Mario Vecchiatto, Valerio Nunez, Fernand Nollet, Giordano Campari, Ray Adigun, Francois Pavilla, Rafiu King*, Joe Tetteh (twice), Andres Navarro, Kid Tano, LC Morgan, Paul Armstead, Bobby Arthur, Jonathan Dele, Bunny Grant*, Marcos Geraldo, Perry Abner.

Lost to: Frankie Ryff, Doug Vaillant (twice)*, Vicente Rivas*, Jose Stable*, Jose Napoles (twice)**, Carlos Hernandez (twice)**, Alfredo Urbina, Bunny Grant*, Rafiu King, Jean Josselin*, Eddie Perkins** (three times), Antonio Ortiz*,  Ismael Laguna **, Conny Rudhof, Olli Maki*, Andres Navarro (twice), Maurice Cullen, Bruno Acari **, Antonio Ortiz*, Carmelo Bossi**, Borge Krogh, Paul Armstead, Ken Buchanan **, Pedro Carrasco **, Chris Fernandez, Silvano Bertini*, Jose Hernandez* (twice), Jonathan Dele (twice),  Jose Duran **, Roger Menetrey*, Roberto Duran **, Esteban De Jesus**, Saoul Mamby **, Sugar Ray Seales, Johnny Gant*, Wilfredo Benitez **, Larry Bonds*, Adriano Marrero*, Josue Marquez *, Billy Backus**, Clyde Gray*, Willie Monroe, Ralph Palladin.

Scottish legend Ken Buchanan defeated Robinson Garcia

Drew with: Carlos Hernandez **, Doug Vaillant*, Carmelo Bossi **, Andres Navarro (twice), Francois Pavilla*, LC Morgan, Paul Armstead, Miguel Velazquez **, Jose Hernandez*, Antonio Ortiz *

** Denotes past or future holder of a version of a world title

* Denotes world title challenger

The Story of Angel Robinson Garcia

Unlike many boxers, Angel Garcia did not come from a disadvantaged early life. He was one of six children, and as his father was an officer in the Cuban Army, they had a good standard of living as he grew up.

Garcia started boxing in his early teens and turned pro after winning all of his amateur fights and collecting several trophies. A huge fan of Sugar Ray Robinson, he took Robinson as part of his ring name.

Angel was an excellent technical boxer with great skills, and, as his 55 wins by KO/TKO indicate, he was a fair puncher. Despite those qualities, a fighter with eighty losses is no candidate for greatness in boxing, but Garcia has to be in with a shout for top travelling journeyman and for the toughest chin in boxing.

He had built a 29-2 record in Cuba before starting to take fights outside Cuba in 1958. Cuba banned professional boxing in 1962, forcing him to fight outside his homeland for the rest of his career. He fought everyone and anyone – and fought often.

He had twelve fights in one six-month period and seventeen and twenty in two other single years. Sometimes, the time periods between important fights were ridiculous. In the space of a single month, in October 1960, he fought a draw with Doug Vaillant and lost twice on points against future WBA/WBC light-welterweight title holder Carlos Hernandez.

On another occasion, he fought an eight-round fight in Italy on 9 July 1967, and nine days later, again in Italy, he faced future WBA/WBC super-welter champion Carmelo Bossi.

He lost on points to unbeaten Sugar Ray Seales on 13 February 1974 and fought and lost on points against Josue Marquez in San Juan just five days later. That was shortly after Marquez had lost a split decision against Antonio Cervantes for the WBA super-light(weight) title. So, in that case, two major fights in five days.

In his career, Garcia fought in nineteen different countries: Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdom, USA and Venezuela.

Within the USA, he fought in eight different States: Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New York and Texas. He faced fourteen fighters who had won or would go on to win versions of a world title and seventeen who had challenged or would go on to challenge, for a version of a title.

Jose Napoles

Jose Napoles: Robinson fought the legend twice

He faced Jose Napoles twice, Carlos Hernandez (who broke Davey Moore’s jaw), Eddie Perkins, Esteban De Jesus, Ken Buchanan, Ismael Laguna, Wilfredo Benitez and a young Roberto Duran, who was 26-0, 23 by KO/TKO; Robinson went the distance with them all. After his fight with Garcia, Duran was reported as saying, “This Cuban bastard knows a lot about boxing, and I want him to teach me a little of what he knows.”

In his 239 fights, he only failed to last the distance three times. His losses against Carmelo Bossi and Boots Monroe were due to cuts, and only Alfredo Urbina, whom Garcia had beaten previously, scored a genuine stoppage win over Garcia in March 1961. Later that year, Urbina drew with Sugar Ramos and outpointed Jose Napoles in 1963.

Garcia’s only title was the Latin American junior lightweight title, which went largely unnoticed as it came on a show in Havana on 26 February 1958. The show was staged as part of the Grand Prix. Previous Grand Prix winner Juan Fangio was kidnapped by Fidel Castro’s 26 July movement the day before the race.

The race went ahead, and a car skidded and ploughed into the crowd, killing seven people. The boxing show also went ahead, attended by a collection of celebrities from Joe Louis to cowboy star Gene Autry.

In the fights that night, two Cubans, Oscar Suarez and Jose Ramon Flores, suffered losses against Mexican opposition. Flores lost on points against Alvaro Gutierrez, but more seriously, he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. Thankfully, Flores survived and recovered.

The third Cuban, Orlando Echevarria, was knocked out in one round by Joe Brown. With all those incidents, Garcia’s ninth-round stoppage of Panamanian Isidro Martinez passed virtually unnoticed.

Garcia built huge followings in France and Spain during his stays there and was still fighting guys such as Benitez, Billy Backus, Clyde Gray, and Willie Monroe as he neared his 40s before retiring after beating 17-1 Belgian Pol Payen, in Belgium, in February 1978 at the age of 40.

Wilfred Benitez

In with a superstar: Robinson fought Benitez (above)

Away from the ring, Garcia was no carbon cut-out but a real person with serious flaws. He blew whatever money he earned. He was a serial womaniser, almost a sex addict who it was claimed sometimes had sex before the weigh-in, after the weigh-in, and after the fight.

Robinson also struggled with alcohol and drugs and was often in trouble with the law. Early in his career, the Cuban Commission suspended him for his “dissolute” life. His love affair with France ended after he deserted his pregnant wife and spent two months in prison on charges of pimping. The French Federation banned him for seven years.

He was jailed after a brawl with some Sudanese sailors in Genoa, and fight figure Ferdie Pacheco said that Garcia once told him that he spent six months in an Italian jail for beating up a woman.

Those 2005 rounds of boxing eventually caught up with Garcia. After retiring, he returned to Paris. He had liver and kidney problems and was nearly blind.

Sleeping rough, the road warrior was homeless, helpless and destitute. It’s said that French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo recognised him and appealed to Fidel Castro, who allowed Garcia to return to Cuba and end his life there.

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