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Sixto Escobar


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Known as "El Gallito", meaning "little horse", Sixto Escobar was the first Puerto Rican world boxing champion. He won the undisputed world bantam title in 1935 and defended it three times before losing it to Harry Jeffra, but he avenged that loss and recaptured the title in the rematch. His second reign would be shorter as he vacated the title after one defence. He is described as a "rugged fighter with a hard punch" by IBHOF, which inducted him posthumously in 2002.

Sixto Escobar Vargas was born 23 March 1913 in Barceloneta, a small town on the north side of the island. Early on in his life, his family moved to Santurce, a subsection of San Juan, the capital. He attended school up until the seventh grade, when he decided to devote himself fully to boxing. He was trained by a former boxer named Angel Soto who had moved back from New York where he was a pro. Boxing was illegal in Puerto Rico when Sixto was born, but was made legal in 1927. He turned pro in 1930, fighting on 17 July in San Juan and winning by a TKO2 against more experienced Luis Emilio Perez. He also beat Perez in his second fight, this time on points, before losing to him in the third on points. From 1931 to 1933, he fought in Caracas, Venezuela, but his early career was a mixed bag and he suffered 6 losses fighting there. Upon returning home and fighting there again, it got better. On 7 May 1934, he had his first fight in the States and beat Bobby Leitham by TKO7. Only one month later, on 6 June, they fought again, in what was regarded as an eliminator for the Montreal Athletic Commission title and Sixto won by a TKO5 after knocking Leitham down four times and his manager entering the ring. 

Only TWENTY days later, he fought for the Montreal Athletic Commission World bantam title against 29-3 Rodolfo Casanova and won by KO9 after connecting with a left hook and a right uppercut to the head. He defended the title against the excellent Eugene Huat of France, a tough and rugged fighter, and had to go 15 rounds for the first time in his career but won by UD in Montreal, 8 August same year. He was supposed to fight on 20 December that year against Lou Salica, but he got struck by an automobile and fractured his ankle, so the fight had to be cancelled. On 7 August next year, he fought Pete Sanstol in a fight where his title was at stake and also the National Boxing Association version of the world title, in Montreal. Sanstol was reportedly saved by the bell from being knocked out twice and Escobar won on points in the end. Only 19 days later, he fought Lou Salica in a fight for the NABA and NYSAC (New York City) titles, which was recognized as the undisputed world title bout. The fight was in Manhattan and it was by all reports a close one, but two judges had Salica ahead after the 15 rounds were completed and one, the scoring referee, had it even. 

He was given a rematch against Salica because of the closeness of the bout, which took place on 15 November, at Madison Square Garden. This time, the 22-yearold Puerto Rican left no doubts who the winner was, as he put Salica down for a 9-count in round 3 and pounded out a unanimous decision win. He thus became the first universally recognized Puerto Rican world champion and naturally a hero in his country, which he already was before. He made his first defence against Tony Marino 31 August 1936 and won by TKO13 after putting Marino down five times in the second round. On 5 October that year, he lost his first bout, which was a non-title one, to Harry Jeffra, by SD10. He then made an impressive second defence by knocking out Indian Quintana in 1 round, 13 November. He again dropped a decision, a majority one, to Jeffra in December, but in another fight above bantamweight limit. On 21 February next year, he faced Salica for the third time in San Juan and beat him by UD again to cement his recognition as the best bantamweight in the world. After having four fights at 122 pounds, he then fought Jeffra with his world title at stake, 23 September '37 at Polo Grounds in New York. Jeffra surprised by outclassing Escobar and won by UD after 15 rounds. 

It was obvious Sixto was having problems making the weight and it affected his performance in this fight, most likely. However, he managed to recapture the title and finally defeat Jeffra on 20 February 1938 in San Juan, knocking him down three times and winning by UD. After again having several fights above bantamweight and losing four of them, he defended his title against KO Morgan, who was one of the fighters to defeat him in one of those fights. Sixto avenged that loss to when he won by UD, 2 April 1939 at home in San Juan. For that, he was awarded The Ring belt. That would be his final world title bout as he abandoned the title in October that year. He would only win one more fight and lost five and drew one before retiring in 1941, after losing his final bout on 2 December 1940, once again to Harry Jeffra. His record is 39 wins, 17 by ko, 23 losses and 4 draws. He has never been stopped. 

After his retirement at the age of almost 28, he entered the US Army and served in the World War 2. He became a spokesman for a liquor brand while living in New York and then moved back to San Juan where he continued working for the brand, selling liquor in bars. Unfortunately, he also started sampling his own product too much and that led to him developing alcohol problems, which then led to diabetes. He eventually died due to these problems at the age of 66, on 17 November 1979. In 2005, a statue of him was erected by the stadium named after him in 1938, Estadio Sixto Escobar. There is also an auditorium named after him in his birthplace of Barceloneta. Sixto Escobar was an outstanding fighter, pure blood and guts, who could punch and take a good punch. He stood 5'3 (some sources say 5'4) and boxed from orthodox stance. There would go a long time before the coming of another great Puerto Rican boxer that would emulate his success. He defeated all the best boxers he faced and avenged several of his losses. His high number of losses might be attributed to the fact that he was a rugged fighter, which wasn't something that the judges really appreciated back then. As a foreigner, he wasn't favoured by the establishment either, but he managed to win the hearts of the American boxing crowd as well. 


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