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Florentino Fernandez: Cuban Ox


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FF is widely regarded as one of THE hardest hitting boxers ever. This Cuban middleweight contender had a magnificent left hook, but hit equally hard with both hands. Standing 5'10 (178 cm) and with a reach of 71 inches (180 cm), he was also rather large for a middleweight of that era. Fernandez never achieved too much as a pro, but once fought for a version of the world title and stopped Jose Torres and beat Ralph Dupas and Gaspar Ortega on points. Like with most other punchers, his chin was not so great and he was knocked out several times. He ended his career with a record of 50 wins, 43 ko, 16 losses (10 by ko) and 1 draw.

Florentino was born in Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city, March 7 1936. He is one of very few famous or noted Cuban boxers not of Afro-Cuban heritage, but had Spanish and Indigenous blood, mostly. He moved to Havana where he started training boxing, turning pro in November 1956. He won 21 fights there, before the ban on pro boxing forced him to relocate to Miami, Florida. He had his first fight in US on June 19 1959 and stopped the Hungarian-born Stefan Redl by TKO 7. On September 11, he fought Gaspar Ortega, a rather highly-rated boxer back then, and put him down twice, but failed to put him away and had to settle for a UD10-victory. He again beat Ortega in the rematch on October 30, this time by SD10. His first loss or christening by fire came against Rocky Kalingo of Philippines, fighting in Caracas, Venezuela on November 23 that same year; Fernandez was stopped by TKO1 against the unranked Kalingo, however Florentino got his revenge on December 23 when he knocked him out in 2 rounds in his hometown of Havana. 

Fernandez was still a welterweight back then, it is worth noting. He then faced the future super welter world champion Ralph Dupas on March 23 1960 and beat him by MD10 after scoring one knockdown in round 7. After stopping Gerald Gray by TKO 4 in Havana, he was matched against one of the greatest boxers of that time: Emile Griffith. The fight happened August 25 at Madison  Square Garden and it was a tough fight for both men where FF got several cuts and injuries and was staggered more than once, but also buckled Griffith's knees in the 6th and nearly sent him down, and once again buckled them in the 9th. He however got two points taken away, one for a low blow and one for holding. In the end, Griffith was proclaimed as the victor by rather wide scores. Fernandez then stopped Phil Moyer by TKO5, Rory Calhoun by TKO8 and Marcel Pigou by KO2 before getting to fight for the NBA world title at middleweight, against Gene Fullmer. 

Fullmer, although shorter at 5'8, had been a middleweight from the start of his pro career and was a strong and very durable fighter, however not possessing FF's punching power. The fight took place in his hometown of Ogden, Utah, August 5 1961. Fullmer was in control of the fight until the last two rounds, when he was first staggered in the 14th with a left-right to the head and was also hit with several left hooks to the body in the head in that and the 15th, but hung in there, as he was known for his toughness and chin. In the end, bruised and battered Fullmer remained the champion with the scores of 145-142, 143-145 and 148-140-a split decision. In his next fight, on January 20 next year, Fernandez fought Dick Tiger and lost by TKO5 after suffering a badly broken nose from Tiger's merciless attacks. The fight was stopped following the 5th round. Also in his next fight, against Joey Giambra, FF was of bad luck as he lost because of a bad cut under his eye, in the 7th round. 

He rebounded by stopping Phil Moyer by TKO7, but then ran into Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, another hard hitter, and was knocked out in only 69 seconds! The fight was at MSG, October 27 '62 and Florentino was first dropped with a short right and then knocked out with a right-left-right. He went through the ropes and onto the ring apron. Still decisive not to let these setbacks force him to retire, he continued to fight and first scored two easier stoppage wins in Puerto Rico, before fighting their future hero, Jose Torres. Torres was 26-0-1 and would become the first Latin light heavy world champion. However, Fernandez defied all odds by knocking him down twice in front of 15 000 of his countrymen at Hiram Bithom Stadium, May 25 '63, and stopped him with a barrage in the corner in the 5th. It would remain his greatest achievement. After scoring two more knockout victories, he lost on points to Juan Carlos Rivero, November 1 same year, but avenged the loss by stopping Rivero on a cut eye in 7 rounds on December 13. FF fought the aggressive Argentinian for the third time February 22 and this time won on points in 10 rounds.

And then it was time to lose again. This time it was to Jose "Monon" Gonzalez, a very strong but also somewhat dirty fighter, who cut FF up so badly that the fight had to be stopped in the 8th. Gonzalez was penalized in the 7th for "heeling" and "lacing" (not sure what that means). This loss set Fernandez's career back, but still he kept on fighting. Unfortunately, he would lose all the rest of his important bouts and was knocked out by Luis Gutierrez (another Cuban) in 6 and stopped by Willie Tiger in 3 (after first stopping Tiger the same way), before he was finally stopped in 10 rounds by Vernon Macintosh, July 18 1972 and FINALLY called it quits. He had been fighting for almost 16 years, which for a fighter of that time and with so many stoppage losses, was a lot. He had actually retired in 1967, but came back in 1970, fighting as a light heavy. Although he managed to upset the somewhat highly regarded Jerry Evans, that was pretty much it. 

Florentino Fernandez was a puncher, a slugger, but also did rather well for a guy who was not very technically polished. He blamed some of his losses on his concern for the political situation in Cuba. In the early 80's, he briefly worked as amateur coach at the Elizabeth Virrick Gym in Coconut Grove, Florida. After his first retirement, he worked as a dishwasher and a busboy. In 2003, he was included in The Ring's 100 greatest punchers of all time. Fernandez died January 28 2013, after a heart attack, in Miami Florida. He was 76. He was the personification of pure punching power and strength and his nickname was "The Ox". I hope you enjoyed this presentation.


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