The top ten bantamweights of all time: no. 5: Eder Jofre
With the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament under way, Boxing Monthly will be bringing you Kyle McLachlan's list of the top ten bantams of all time. The countdown continues today with Eder Jofre aka 'The Golden Bantam'...
5. Eder Jofre 72-2-4 (50 KOs)
Eder Jofre was unlucky.
Yes, you heard that right. The greatest South American fighter in history (arguably) and a two-weight world champion that was beaten by a single man in his whole pro career…unlucky.
Bantamweight champion for half a decade. Nine successful world title bouts at bantamweight, all of them ending before the final bell.
Yes, Eder Jofre was unlucky, because he was so good that he couldn’t find anyone to rival him, anyone to push him to the next level.
Sure, there were a few guys around that could’ve done it, a few wins of such quality that Jofre would find himself higher on this list.
Had Jose Becerra not suffered a shock loss to Mexican journeyman Eloy Sanchez, we may be looking back at Jofre taking his title from a great champion.
Had Ismael Laguna not have been a rather excellent bantamweight when still going through pugilistic puberty, he might have been able to make use of his ranking as number one contender to Jofre’s title. As it was, he had to move up, first to featherweight, then to 135lbs where he became one of the best lightweight champs of the era. If Jofre had beaten Laguna we would now have the benefit of hindsight in ranking it as his defining victory. Mexican knockout artist Jesus Pimentel was seen as the heir apparent, and a win over him would likely look great on Jofre’s resume. But the fight never happened.
Therefore, like the great Manuel Ortiz before him, Jofre had to be content with beating a bunch of merely excellent world-class fighters instead.
His route to a title fight was not be an easy one either.
South of the Border
Jofre was not bestowed the nickname ‘The Golden Bantam’ for nothing. He is defined by the savage beatings he dealt out to those who dared to try and take his belt from him, but his pre-title run alone shows an intimidating fighter.
Born to an Argentinian father and an Italian mother, Jofre was given the gloves early by his boxing-mad dad, who had a reputation as a boxer himself and who would guide and train Eder for the best part of his career.
Jofre was a natural. Marked out as a fighter of some skill and as a possible world champ even as an amateur, he lost a decision in the ‘56 Olympics, ending his unpaid career on a disappointing note. No one would come close to outpointing him for the best part of a decade after that.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. No, not the Japanese one, but those draws you see on his record. No one was Eder’s equal on his way up the ranks. Brazilian rules at the time dictated that if the officials did not judge you to have won by four clear points the decision would be rendered a draw. No one was winning five rounds off Eder Jofre at this point.
Esteemed international amateur he may have been but molly-coddled hometown fighter he was not: Jofre was fighting good fighters pre-title. He fought away from home regularly, traveling to Argentina and Uruguay to gain experience and gained plaudits from foreign crowds wherever he fought.
Not that he was flawless. Research of the Portuguese language press by Brazilian boxing historian Victor Violi unearthed criticisms of the young prospect, who received a lot of inches in the newspaper columns. Among issues noted with his style was that he had a lot to learn about inside fighting.
By the time he’d served his apprenticeship though he was a master of the ring.
He proved himself first the best of his continent, beating the very good Argentinian bantams Ernesto Miranda (punished for getting the shares of two early ten-rounders by being thoroughly beaten over 15 then blasted in three) and undefeated Jose Smecca, who rudely put Jofre on the deck before being destroyed in seven.
Bantamweights around the world might have wished that Jofre had suffered a few knocks to his confidence closer to home.
Italian bantam Gianni Zudas was brought over to Brazil to teach Jofre some lessons. Past his best, Zudas had won silver at the 1948 Olympics, and Jofre was handicapped by missing the weight by a single pound, allowing the Italian to wear lighter gloves to make up for his lack of discipline. Jofre still got the win, dropping and outboxing his much more experienced opponent over ten rounds.
There would be foreigners closer to their prime ready to take the fight with the undefeated prospect.
Filipino hardman Leo Espinosa was as battle-tested as they come. The featherweight champ of the Philippines and the bantamweight champion of the Orient, Espinosa had proven himself a tough out for the world’s best during the 1950s. He twice came up short in world title challenges at flyweight and once at bantam (to superb Mexican boxer-puncher Raul Macias) and held wins over reigning world fly champ Yoshio Shirai and future world champ Pone Kingpetch. He took his talents and rock-hard demeanour all around the world fighting all comers, and was a difficult man to beat.
Not for Jofre though. There is scant footage of this bout but it shows a one-sided pasting, Espinosa battered into and downed in the corner of the ring.
Espinosa’s compatriot Danny Kid had braved Jose Medel and Dwight Hawkins, two of the hardest lower weight punchers of any era. Against Medel he was cut but battled through it to win a split decision and the North American bantam title. Against Hawkins he was briefly rocked in the first round but kept his nerve, winning a decision described as ‘easy’ by one source.
Against Jofre? He was dropped four times. You can guess how close the decision was. No Brazilian draws this time.
Both Espinosa and Danny Kid were ranked among the top ten bantams in the world when the brilliant Brazilian spanked them. Yet, he was still a relative unknown outside of his homeland, a UPI report falsely labeling him an Argentinian boxer.
Though the international press did not yet know Jofre well, he had beaten the best of his own continent as well as the hardest men Asia could offer.
Next, the world.
North of the Border
Hollywood was the place to be not just for starlets, but for fighters.
Fitting then that Jofre’s North American bow would be at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. You’d find those Hollywood starlets in the front row, the great Charles Bukowski once wrote.
If they were in attendance the night Jofre first met Jose Medel they would have seen more drama than in the movies.
The first year of the decade that wasn’t quite yet the swingin’ sixties paid host to a bout where two deadening punchers swung at each other until one fell. Not that there wasn’t science involved; the jabs and movement of both men show they both had culture, but in a stylistic clash like this it was only ever going one way.
It went that way. In one of the all-time great bantamweight shootouts (nay, 'any-weight shootouts') both men looked for and created openings designed solely to hit the other as hard as they could as frequently as they could. The battle of jabs and feints is interesting enough to watch. The trading of leather is as violent as it gets.
See, the ninth round; after an attack from Medel on Jofre which is sustained enough to be from one side of the ring to another, the Mexican came as close as anyone has to decapitating a man in the ring, punctuating a sustained barrage with an uppercut that snapped Jofre’s head back. The Brazilian’s gum shield went flying, his nose was wrecked. Many others have tasted these punches and been told about them later on after a nap, yet at the end of the round it was Medel on rubbery legs as Jofre stepped in and aggressively countered him with a wide left hook that went through his jaw like a knife through the tenderest slab of Mexican beef.
Medel didn’t go down - the bell likely saving him from a follow-up barrage - but it was the Mexican who got the worst of it in the end. Face down, barely stirring. Brazil had prevailed this time, in ten rounds. A Jofre straight right did the trick. Jofre was "sensational" and "electrifying" according to separate sources, and the fight was a "terrific battle", something which rings true on film.
Medel would return to try and knock off Jofre’s block again, but that comes later; this was Eder Jofre’s moment.
In the summer of 1960, Jofre was the coming man. He was undefeated and mandatory challenger to the world bantamweight title.
Medel was tough, and it would be another dangerous Mexican in the opposite corner, only this one wore gold: a southpaw with skill and strength who traded on the inside and on film looks much like the great Manuel Ortiz in a mirror.
Promoter George Parnassus had wired a $75,000 guarantee to Jose Becerra (adjusted for inflation around $640,000 at time of writing which is good money for those below featherweight) and the fight was all but on.
Half a Champion
'The king is dead, long live the king!'*
*The king was not dead, but his career was. Jose Becerra, the world’s bantam champ was knocked spark out by his fellow Mexican Eloy Sanchez in a non-title bout just a fortnight after Jofre had put himself in the frame as his next challenger.
It was only meant to be a warm-up. Becerra started in his usual fashion, driving hooks into Sanchez, before the underdog came forward himself, scoring knockdowns in the fifth and sixth rounds before dropping the champ for the full ten in the eighth. The fight was slightly over the bantam limit, but Sanchez said afterwards that he wanted part of a tournament to determine the next champion. Becerra said he would never fight again.
Sanchez and his team had seen the prize even before the win. It wasn’t some fluke knockout.
Before the fight Sanchez said: "I realise I can get a world ranking with a victory tomorrow so I plan to go all out. My manager has been studying Becerra films and we have our strategy planned.”
He and his team were rewarded for their due diligence with a fight against Jofre to determine the new champ.
Jofre was favoured in the bout but Sanchez was a live dog. Generally, his record was a spotty one, but his recent form showed he was at least a world-class fighter if not one of the very best bantams. A month before his sensational victory over the reigning world champ he had been competitive against none other than Jose Medel. That might have settled the argument over who was the very best bantam in Mexico, but then Sanchez had beaten the best fighter in Mexico, so he was undeniably dangerous if not on Medel’s level. Then again, Medel had failed to beat Becerra on more than one occasion.
There would not be another upset. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Jofre, though less arduous than the last time he’d traded punches with a Mexican. Sanchez must have taken a leaf out of his old foe’s Model’s playbook: he too sent Jofre’s mouthpiece flying with a big right hand, but he had been thoroughly outclassed beforehand. Maybe Jofre just needed a gum shield that fit him better.
The end came in the sixth. It was a right hand again. Medel had felt it before, but while Jofre had flattened him face down after a war of attrition, Sanchez "almost took a back flip before he hit the canvas". Thus, the right hand was now "as famous as Samba and coffee" in Brazil according to the Associated Press report.
After the fight, the same A.P. report wrote of Jofre in glittering terms reserved for only the best fighters around, remarking that "he boxes like Sugar Ray Robinson and punches like Joe Louis".
With the win, Jofre won the National Boxing Association version of the world title, and was recognised as the true champ in South and North America.
Immediately after, Jofre stated his intentions; he wanted to fight Alphonse Halimi, a rugged Algerian who was fighting for a version of the world title after Becerra’s loss and retirement. He had been the champ before Becerra fought him and after beating Freddie Gilroy in 15 rounds the Europeans generally recognised him as world champ. Jofre wanted to prove himself the best bantam in the world, and not hide behind his strap.
It was the same old story for Jofre. He would fight Halimi as much as he’d fought Becerra. Only this time he would fight a superior foe to Eloy Sanchez.
The Golden Bantam
Halimi didn’t fancy his chances with the undefeated Brazilian, so Jofre instead had a homecoming bout, dispatching solid but unspectacular Italian Piero Rollo in nine.
Jofre would defend his title in hostile environments as much as he would at home. Light-punching Venezuelan Ramon Arias had already fought an all-time great in Pascual Perez for the flyweight title, and was in the best form of his career. Jofre went over to Caracas and smashed him in seven.
He went to Japan and overcame a few shaky moments early against southpaw swarmer Katsutoshi Aoki to waste him with a devastating left hook to the body in three. Jofre found time a month later to fight outmatched but game Johnny Jamito in the Philippines, felling him in 11.
Bernardo Caraballo was a tall, lithe and tricky Colombian who after 40 fights didn’t know what it felt like to lose. He’d been matched tough too, beating all-time great Pascual Perez, future world champ Chartchai Chionoi and tough European champ Mimoun Ben Ali. A slippery fighter who glided all around the ring and possessed an awkward, slippery style, Jofre gave him the benefit of hometown advantage, grinding out his rangier opponent in seven.
Despite being a fearless traveling champion, Jofre’s two best wins came at home and there would be nothing controversial about them. As champion, Jofre never got the rub of the judges. He made sure he didn’t need it.
Olympic bronze medalist Johnny Caldwell had rid the world of Alphone Halimi in two hard-fought contests. Like Caraballo, he was undefeated, 25 men - including the best Europe had to offer - were unable to get the better of him, and he brought a solid blend of stand-up amateur boxing skills and tough-nosed aggression.
In his first fight with Halimi the clash of styles resulted in a great bout. Caldwell had come within a whisker of knocking Halimi out in the 15th and final round, but Halimi just about squeaked through. In their return bout Halimi fought a wretched, negative fight, but Caldwell persevered to take the decision.
With these excellent victories Caldwell was recognised by the New York State Athletic Commission, the British Boxing Board and the European Boxing Union as the world’s best bantam.
A meeting between the Belfast man and the Brazilian would decide who the true bantamweight champion of the world really was.
The British papers were in awe of Jofre, but had heard rumblings that he was struggling with the weight. That was a common occurrence in contemporary reports you read during Jofre’s title reign, but one well-reasoned preview in the Liverpool Echo only gave Caldwell a cautiously optimistic chance of getting the job done, stating:
"The usual rumours have been circulating that Jofre is having difficulty making the weight but as there have been no indication of this in previous successful title defences, Caldwell should not put too much store on them. The little Irishman is certainly a top class fighter. He has speed, skill, good punching power and stamina. He has mastered the art of conserving energy and his movements are economical and purposeful. He makes an opponent miss by the merest movement of head or body and is therefore always in a good position to counter-punch. His coolness is legendary and his temperament is fitted to the big occasion."
Jofre’s father had studied film of Caldwell and agreed that the Irishman was not a fighter to be taken lightly: “He’s as fast as lightning and places his punches with great decision”, he said.
Clearly Jofre Sr. had a good eye.
Caldwell was a good, well-rounded fighter. He seemed to have the attributes to match Jofre, who himself was a master of economy and versatility.
“It’s going to be a great fight - the greatest. Both these boys are so good,” said the third man in the ring, no less a figure than the legendary featherweight champ Willie Pep.
Pep knew a thing or two about great bantams; he’d beaten Manuel Ortiz in his prime.
Jofre proved Pep and the British press wrong when his skill made it no contest. He felt Caldwell out in the first round, the only round some reports gave the title claimant. For the rest of the fight it wasn’t Caldwell’s vaunted skills that kept him in the fight but his grit, as Jofre battered him round the ring non-stop. Caldwell briefly saw the canvas in the fifth, but kept his wits about him, firing back when he could despite being overwhelmed. His corner finally saw enough in the tenth, waving the white flag and rescuing their outmatched - but extremely brave - young charge.
Once Jofre was undisputed his old friend Medel came back for another go.
The first fight had been in Medel’s spiritual backyard but the return would be in Jofre’s Sao Paulo hometown. Not that it mattered; Medel’s power knew no borders.
In the two years between their first and second meetings, Medel had been on a tear. He hadn’t tasted defeat, and had impressively punched the names of Mitsunori Seki and Toluco Lopez on to the list of solid pros he’d annihilated. He had added the Mexican bantam title to his collection and continued to defend his North American bantam strap. He was unequivocally the best possible challenger to Jofre’s crown.
Promoter Parnassus might not have just been trying to sell the fight when he claimed Medel had improved, the form line showed so too. Parnassus claimed that Medel was as sure of himself as he’d ever been and - although conceding that Jofre had improved since their first violent encounter - a Medel victory should not be seen as a surprise.
What is surprising considering Medel’s recent run of wins and the tightly contested nature of their first go is how badly Jofre beat him when the world title was on the line.
The ebb and flow was markedly different to their fight fight: Jofre slipped Medel’s punches, anticipated his counters, and put it on him regularly in the early going. The footage readily available of the last few rounds shows Medel trying to get his shots off to no avail. The stoppage in the sixth rounds shows him beaten down with precision, timing and ruthless efficiency.
Had Medel never fought at the top level again you could be forgiven for assuming this was a final hurrah for him. Still only 24 years old, he had somewhat predictably turned pro while still a boy in Mexico, and at the time of his title tilt at Jofre was a veteran of over 70 fights.
But Medel went on about his business; the business of fighting every bantamweight around and knocking the majority of them out. A calender year after his devastating loss to Jofre he proved too potent for Fighting Harada. A few years after that he became the man to break Jesus Pimentel’s long undefeated streak. That was the quality he possessed, and as for his durability, it would be six years before he was stopped again, and then it would take Ruben Olivares - the greatest puncher in bantamweight history - to turn the trick. This should demonstrate the class of Jofre at this time. He was seemingly unbeatable.
But he wasn’t. No one is.
When Jofre eventually lost his title it was to the aforementioned Harada, who beat Jofre tight in another of his overseas excursions in one of the great title fights of all time. Before that, he was 47-0, not including the draws that this piece has hopefully dispelled as being significant in any way when evaluating Jofre’s class.
So why number five?
At the height of his title reign, Jofre was classed as the very best fighter pound-for-pound. In the October 1963 issue of The Ring magazine they wrote of Jofre thus:
"Ever so seldom the ring produces a fighter about whom it is said that he is the greatest in decades for his 'poundage'. Such a standout was Ray Robinson. Now, with Sugar Ray on the wane, there is another spectacular scrapper on whom that 'pound for pound' label of superiority and domination looks good."
On film, Jofre stands out brilliantly to modern eyes. Perhaps a little bit uncomfortable under pressure, he was nonetheless equipped to deal with foes of the swarming kind with a versatile defence that incorporated a high-guard, dipping at the waist and even a shoulder roll to create space for himself and set up his devastating counter punches.
And, oh, those punches! It is no surprise that Jofre regularly gains notice as one of the all-time power punchers. His jab was excellent, his left hook hurtful and his right hand deadly. Despite his reputation as a gentleman outside the ring he was a spiteful fighter inside it, an efficient finisher who was as capable of leading with an uppercut as he was a jab.
While Jofre was likely one of the best pound-for-pound fighters at the time of that article (which is telling when you see who else held titles at the time - Sonny Liston, Emile Griffith and Carlos Ortiz, all in their prime and undeniably great fighters) there is something holding him back from Ray Robinson status.
And that is because although he beat a wide range of world-class fighters he beat no other all-time greats himself. Ray Robinson - in contrast - had Kid Gavilan to push him towards the mantle of ‘greatest’ welterweight.
My inkling is that if this were a top 25 - rather than a top 10 - the great Mexican Medel would feature. Outside of that, Caraballo would likely crack the lower end of the top 50. Had Jofre beaten Becerra, Laguna and Pimentel as well? He would be insurmountable at the top of this list.
Perhaps Fighting Harada was that man. Would we look back on him as that legendary scalp? The footage shows he was Jofre’s superior in their first fight. Coming back to beat the Japanese swarmer - in Japan no less - would likely be seen as a major coup for Jofre among historians. Harada was a two-weight world champ, a rarity in those days. Jofre’s inability to reclaim his title hurts him here. Harada had won three more fights since his title winning win, including an excellent defence against Britain’s Alan Rudkin. But Jofre failed in his quest to regain his title and promptly retired.
He came back, as most fighters do. Finally moving up to featherweight proper, he won 25 more fights over the next decade, taking the WBC featherweight title in a very close decision against the slippery Cuban Jose Legra, and battering legendary Mexican featherweight Vicente Saldivar in four rounds in a fight that was nine years in the making and five years too late. He never lost again. It is this second career that makes Jofre not just a great bantamweight, but one of boxing’s true immortals.
But it is his run as bantamweight king that was his greatest achievement. So great that it would take a kamikaze madman with one of the best jabs of all time to beat him.
Join us next time as we travel to the land of the rising sun... No prizes for guessing who we will encounter on our visit...