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Latino Daily News

Saturday March 5, 2011

Puerto Rican Boxing Champion Broke and Forgotten 35 Years Later

Puerto Rican Boxing Champion Broke and Forgotten 35 Years Later

Photo: Puerto Rican boxer Wilfredo Benitez

Click Here to Enlarge Photo

In the thirty-five years since the then 17-year-old Benitez dared to take on Colombia’s Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes for the WBA Light Welterweight title, former Puerto Rican boxer Wilfredo Benitez has become a shadow of the man he was.

Suffering chronic brain injuries and in a wheelchair, the champ has squandered the millions of dollars he earned during his career, which saw him as the youngest fighter ever to win a world title.

Benitez began boxing at the age of 7, today at only the age of 52 the damage his body sustained and the blows to his head in those early years have left him unable to speak.

Veteran boxing writer Mario Rivera Martino told Efe that the Benitez-Cervantes bout was one of the sport’s “greatest events.”

It was a fairly even fight, but Benitez, known as “El Radar,” used more savvy than strength to surprise the then champion and beat him by a split decision in 15 rounds.

After his historic victory, in which Benitez also became the first Latino boxer to win $1 million for a single fight, he continued his spectacular series of triumphs, including the WBC Welterweight Championship that he snatched from Mexico’s Carlos Palomino.

The money piled up by Benitez during his career quickly evaporated supporting the extravagant lifestyle of Benitez and his father. They lavished it all on cars, gifts, women and luxuries of every kind.

Benitez retired in 1990 with a 52-8-1 record and was inducted six years later into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. EFE

Today he survives living with his sister. The champion’s sister said that Benitez gets help with medicines from the Carolina municipality and a pension from the Puerto Rican government, which, however, is not enough to pay for his physical therapy.