Miami — Joe Miceli was outraged. Bill Tate was upset. Ray Mancini was saddened. And even Mike Tyson was appalled.
When the great welterweight champion Kid Gavilan died two years ago, he was buried in an unmarked grave at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in West Miami. As the news of such a disgrace traveled through the boxing community, the wheels were set into motion to purchase Gavilan a headstone befitting a champion.
The first to step up was Tate, the Chicago-based middleweight from the 1950s who is a member of New York's Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8. Tate donated the first $1,000 and the membership at Ring 8 worked dilligently at seeing the project to fruition.
Mike Tyson stepped in with a $5,000 donation and other ring legends such as former lightweight champions Ray Mancini and Roberto Duran lent their name and time to the project. Ring 8 had raised $10,000 to purchase a new burial plot and have the body exhumed. On April 2nd, a new headstone, one befitting a champion, was unveiled at Our Lady of Mercy.
“We couldn't sit back and watch this happen to a fighter like Gavilan,” said Ring 8 president Henny Wallitsch, a former heavyweight. “This was a great, great fighter. He deserved better.”
Gavilan, born Gerardo Gonzalez in Camaguey, Cuba, won the welterweight title in 1951 and made seven successful defenses. Among the Hall-of-Famers he fought were Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio, Billy Graham, Beau Jack and Ike Williams. Gavilan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Joe Miceli, the tough New York welter, lost a split decision to Gavilan in 1950. He flew down to the ceremony to pay his respects to his old rival. “We became good friends after the fight and we would see each other at boxing functions over the years,” said Miceli. “He was a very, very classy fighter. A showman.”
Three of Gavilan's children — Gerardo Gonzalez Jr., Demi Gonzalez and Helen Gonzalez — attended the ceremony. Among the fighters who attended were Mancini, Miceli, former NABF junior lightweight champion Frankie Otero, former flyweight champion Prudencio Cardona, Tate, Wallitsch and Bobby Bartels. Ring 8 arrived from New York with a delegation of 15 members, among them were promoters Tony Mazzarella and Bob Duffy, cornerman Charlie Capone, author Ron Ross, historian Hank Kaplan and Butch Mazzarella.
Wallitsch was responsible for the most emotional part of the ceremony. He paused during his remarks, fighting back tears for Gavilan. “The Hawk has risen and we know he's looking down on us, never to be forgotten” he said, a quiver in his voice cracking. “We didn't forget you Kid.”