HOMENAJE: Carlos Ortiz

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Puerto Rico has an extensive history with the sport of boxing from the underground matches secretly organized during Spanish colonial times to the popular but clandestine rooftop matches that involved even US military personnel and the local Puerto Rican police during the early 1900s. In Puerto Rico, boxing is the major sport—it has produced more amateur and professional world champions for the island than all other sports combined. Puerto Rico is third worldwide in countries in total number of boxing world champions, but easily leads the world in champions per capita.

Many great boxers have come from the island of Puerto Rico and many have come from the Puerto Rican population on the US mainland. Perhaps the greatest of these is Carlos Ortiz, ranked by most boxing federations, councils and experts as Puerto Rico’s greatest champion.

Born in 1936, Carlos learned to fight on the streets of New York after his family migrated from the island when he was a young man. After getting beat up for being an “immigrant” and after running into legal problems as a young man, Carlos was introduced to boxing as a way to get him focused and off the streets. He began training at the Madison Square Boys Club. From that moment on, he trained every day, and in 1955, at the age of 18 (and at the height of the Great Migration when hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated from Puerto Rico to New York and the US mainland), Carlos turned pro winning his first twenty fights.

In 1959, Carlos became only the third world champion from Puerto Rico, but he would soon become the first three-time world champion, starting a trend of boxers’ crossing weight classes to win multiple belts that continues to this day.

Carlos solidified his reputation as a true world champion because he would go anywhere to fight anyone at any time including sanctioned bouts in Japan, England, Italy, the Dominican Republic, New York, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Carlos retired with a record of 61 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw and 1 no-decision. You can still find Carlos on the streets of the Bronx today. He always has a smile and he loves to pose for his fans. 

“Boxing gave me everything. It taught me how to be a man: that I must always practice; that I must train the right way; that if I’m going to succeed in life, I got to learn how to live it first.”

Carlos is a former world boxing champion who has become a world-class, first-class, Puerto Rican gentleman and hero.


© Ricardo Muñiz. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 4 December 2015.

You can catch Homenaje next at El Museo del Barrio starting on December 8th, 2015. 

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.