Chico Vejar: Quintessential 1950s
There is more to Chico Vejar than toughness; there always was nobility and great sense of dignity…
“Boxing survives—and always will—because its values are as old school as black-‘n’-white trunks: character and pain—as heroic as a man taking care of his family—just not too sexy.”—Joe Rein
“Chico Vejar was served up as much on Friday nights as fish was.”—Bert Randolph Sugar
Francis “Chico” Vejar fought through the decade of 1950 ending his great career with a win over Wilf Greaves on March 27, 1961. But it was during the mid-‘50s that he did his best work.
Chico, out of Stamford, CT, was point/counterpoint to another ‘50s fighter by the name of Chuck Davey, a good-looking college kid who competed in the 1948 Olympics for Team USA and who had a successful pro career finishing at 42-5-1. Just as Chico was pure blue-collar, Davey was a white-collar favorite if ever there was one. Both were on the cover of the 1952 Ring Magazine (along with Johnny Saxton, Coley Wallace, George Araujo, and Gil Turner). When they met twice in 1952, the interest was sky high. This fight was reflective of the social stratification that existed back then. In this case, white-collar prevailed over lunch bucket as the slick fancy-Dan from Michigan State University won both encounters.
Davey vs. Gavilan
After beating both Carmen Basilio and Rocky Graziano, Davey met the great Kid Gavilan in 1953 and all hell broke loose for the Spartan. The “Kid “decked Davey once in the first and three times in the ninth before the slaughter was stopped in the 10th stanza. The Kid was ahead at the time, 49-41, 52-38, and 51-39. For all practical purposes, Davey’s great run had come to an end. He finished his career in 1955 with a win over Alan Kennedy in Lansing, Michigan (where Michigan State University is located), and looked impressive in the process.
Tragically, in 1998, while swimming in the ocean, Chuck was picked up by a giant wave, slammed onto the shoreline, and broke a vertebra in his neck. He was left paralyzed from the neck down. Four years later, he died of complications resulting from his paralysis. He was 77. Besides his wife, he left nine children,
Chico, who some sportswriters called “Stamford’s Socking Schoolboy,” was 41-1 when he first lost to Davey, but he would fight 73 more times running up a final tally of 92-20-4, having been stopped only three times. The following sampling of his opposition gives some idea as to this man’s incredible toughness:
Art Suffoletta (23-0-1), Al Guido (48-34-16), Sonny Luciano (43-2-2), Jimmy Hatcher (76-21-5), Hermie Freeman (63-18-8), Eddie Compo (65-3-4), Enrique Bolanos (67-15-4), Fitzie Pruden (50-15), Chuck Davey (twice) (32-0-2), Vince Martinez (twice) (30-3), Billy Graham (twice) (102-14-9), Johnny Cesario (87-13-4), Vic Cardell (65-26-7), Tony DeMarco (46-6-1), Arthur King (60-11), Kid Gavilan (104-22-5), Steve Marcello (33-3), Ralph Tiger Jones (43-17-3), Joey Giambra (49-4-1), Gene Fullmer (41-4), Pat Lowry (44-13), Art Aragon (79-16-5), Armando Muniz (21-6-3), Joe DeNucci (twice) (19-1), Joey Giardello (82-16-5), Miguel Diaz (49-17-3), Vince Martinez (61-7), Luis Manuel Rodriguez (27-0), and Andres Antonio Selpa (80-22-15). As a testament to just how tough Vejar was, he beat ultra-rugged Jose Monon Gonzalez in his next to last fight in 1960. Now that’s some competition.
Americans started watching television in the late 1940s and the Monday and Friday Night fights were broadcast weekly by Gillette and Pabst Blue Ribbon from the late ‘40s into the early 1960s. Back when Don Dunphy was commentator, fights like Hairston vs. Keogh, Satterfield vs. Brothers, Rosi vs. Compo, and Castellani vs. Durando thrilled TV audiences everywhere, but no one seemed to fight more often or was more popular than Chico Vejar. If the ‘50s were a wonderful stew of boxing, Chico was clearly part of the meat.
Here is how Jack Cavanaugh described him in a Nov. 16, 1997 piece entitled, “Out of the Ring, Still Fighting:”
“As a personable, articulate and skillful young fighter who was studying dramatic arts at New York University, Chico Vejar became a huge favorite, a crowd-pleaser with an aggressive style that relied more on skill than punching power. And as he went on winning, he became a main event during boxing’s Golden Age, when fights were televised every Wednesday and Friday night.”
But there is more to Chico than toughness; there always was nobility and great sense of dignity as the following from Stamford High School Wall of Fame affirms:
“Chico Vejar, Class of 1951. Inducted in 1999—Sports: Chico Vejar started his professional boxing career when he was a junior at SHS in 1950. Known during the early part of his career as “Stamford’s Socking Schoolboy,” he won 93 of 117 pro bouts, losing 20 and fighting four draws. Chico was the world’s fifth-ranked middleweight in 1958. He fought 11 times at Madison Square Garden and appeared frequently in nationally televised fights. Chico studied drama at New York University and appeared in two movies in the 1950’s that starred Tony Curtis and Audie Murphy. From 1953 to 1955, Chico was in the U.S. Army, where he taught boxing and self-defense and helped train Army Rangers. He returned to Stamford in 1961 at the age of 29 to spend time with his son, Jimmy, who died the following year at age 3 from complications resulting from cerebral palsy. Chico served as executive director of both the Fairfield and Westchester county chapters of the United Cerebral Palsy Association and as a member of the Connecticut State Athletic Commission. He helped establish the Jimmy Vejar Day Camp in Rye Brook, N.Y. for children with cerebral palsy. A portrait of Chico, painted by Stamford native George Dugan, hangs in the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.”
In 2006, he was one of six men inducted into the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame on Dec. 1 at the Foxwoods Resort Casino. The Hall, founded in 2005, recognizes accomplishments of the state’s greatest boxers such as the late Willie Pep, Marlon Starling, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Bat Battalino and others.
The late Ralph Dupas had 135 fights and many were against top level fighters. The same with Dick Tiger and Willie Pastrano whose opponents had astounding combined won-loss records. There were (or are) others who would fight anyone put in front of them. There were guys like Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Holly Mims, Yama Bahama, Kenny Lane, Tony LiCata, Vito Antuofermo, Tommy Tibbs (who participated in 139 bouts), and Johnny Cesario. And still more like Guts Ishimatsu, Frank Minton, Ray “Sucre” Oliveira, Ben Tackie and Julio Cesar Gonzalez. But in any discussion of warriors who thrilled fans back in the day, none who made his living from boxing was more gallant than Chico Vejar.
(As an aside, our own poster Irish John Coiley [johnwriter] fought a trilogy with the great LiCata.)