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R.I.P. Former World Bantamweight Champion Jose Becerra – Jose Becerra, the former world bantamweight champion who walked away from boxing at the age of 24 with a record of 67-4-3, died on Saturday, August 6, at the age of 80 at his home in Guadalajara, Mexico. Best remembered for his two fights with Alphonse Halimi, Becerra came to the fore at a time when a handful of elite Mexican fighters in the lower weight classes burst through the glass ceiling and became crossover stars in Los Angeles.

Becerra, who quit school in the fifth grade to help support his family, launched his pro career in his hometown of Guadalajara at the age of 17. He had 44 fights in Mexican rings before making his U.S. debut in a 6-round match at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. After three more fights in Mexico, he was pitted against Dwight Hawkins at LA’s Wrigley Field (yes, baseball fans, once there were two ballparks named for the chewing gum magnate). Becerra vs. Hawkins was hitched to the world bantamweight title fight between Raul “Raton” Macias and Alphonse Halimi. Promoter George Parnassus intended to match Becerra against Macias in an all-Mexican showdown after they won their respective fights.

Parnassus’s plans went awry. An Algerian Jew from the slums of Constantine, Halimi upset Macias, taking his title away with a 15-round decision. Jose Becerra came a cropper too. In a shocker, he was stopped in the fourth round by Dwight Hawkins, an LA lad whose ledger was 9-4-1.

For TV scheduling purposes, the Becerra-Hawkins match went on after the main event. Becerra would recall that he and his handlers were all in tears when their countryman, Macias, lost his title, and that he did not enter the ring against Hawkins in the proper mindset.

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R.I.P. Former World Bantamweight Champion Jose Becerra

Becerra repaired his reputation by winning his next 12 fights, avenging his loss to Dwight Hawkins in the process. That boosted him into a match with Alphonse Halimi who stayed active after upsetting Macias but would be making his first title defense. Their bout, on July 8, 1959, was the first sporting event at the new LA Sports Arena, the original home of the Los Angeles Lakers.

A 9/5 underdog, Becerra fought Halimi on even terms through seven action-packed rounds and then knocked him out cold as the crowd went delirious.

They were destined to fight again. The rematch was staged on February 2, 1960, at the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum. This would be another entertaining fight. After eight rounds Becerra was trailing on all three scorecards, but then he found another gear. In the ninth, he wobbled the cagey little Algerian and then took him out with a short left hook that LA Times reporter John de La Vega likened to a thunderbolt.

The attendance, 31,830, set a new high for a boxing match in Los Angeles. An estimated 15,000 in attendance were tourists from south of the border, many taking advantage of new charter airlines serving Mexico, but the audience was studded with Hollywood celebrities. This promotion knocked the socks off the conventional wisdom that little fighters from Mexico had limited appeal outside their own ethnic pod.

Between his two fights with Alphonse Halimi, Becerra was involved in a tragedy. On October 24, 1959, in Guadalajara, he stopped Walter Ingram in the ninth round. A 24-year-old campaigner from West Virginia, Ingram collapsed after the match and never regained consciousness. Becerra was a deeply religious man and the fatality left him badly shaken. He continued fighting, but his heart wasn’t in it.

Seven months after his sensational knockout over Alphonse Halimi, Becerra was stopped in the eighth round of a non-title bout by journeyman Eloy Sanchez in Juarez. A lucrative match with fast-rising Brazilian Eder Jofre was on the drawing board, but Becerra turned his back on it, choosing to call it quits. Jofre, who went on to claim the title that Becerra vacated, would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. The call never came for Jose Becerra.

Becerra, who fathered seven children, invested his money in restaurants and apartment buildings, but lost them to mismanagement. In his dotage, he kept his mental faculties but suffered from an assortment of physical maladies. His travails were eased by a grant from the Telmex-Tercel Foundation, Mexico’s leading philanthropic organization. On August 4, the World Boxing Council reported that Becerra was in a coma and that his situation was “delicate.” He died two days later.

R.I.P. champ.

R.I.P. Former World Bantamweight Champion Jose Becerra

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