Defiant until the very end: Panama loses a great one in Eusebio Pedroza

By Christian Giudice on March 2, 2019
Defiant until the very end: Panama loses a great one in Eusebio Pedroza
He ended his glorious reign when he lost a decision to Barry McGuigan on June 8, 1985.

When Eusebio “El Alacran” Pedroza passed away on Friday at the age of 62, the tremors of such a tremendous loss shook the entire country…

“Pedroza was like a professor.”—Jorge Lujan

When a Panamanian boxer passes, the entire boxing community comes together to mourn as a family. To them, there is no other way. Old fighters and trainers, young fighters making their way up the ranks—all of them come to say goodbye. When they heard the tragic news that one of their own, Eusebio “El Alacran” Pedroza passed away on Friday at the age of 62, the tremors of such a tremendous loss shook the entire country.

Defiant and proud, Pedroza helped stitch the fabric of the growing Panamanian boxing fraternity in the late 1970s. In fact, Pedroza won the WBA Featherweight crown in 1978 and defended his title 19 times over a seven-year span. At 5-foot-8-inches tall, the intimidating Pedroza appeared menacing to much smaller opponents at 126 pounds. If Ismael Laguna glided, Roberto Duran attacked, then Pedroza bombarded opponents with a fierce style that belied the polished style lauded by fighters coming to Panama to learn the ropes.

“In my opinion, Eusebio Pedroza was the great champion who did not become the idol of Panamanian boxing for having coincided at the same time as Roberto Duran,” said Lo Mejor del Boxeo commentator and boxing historian, Daniel Alonso. “An example of discipline, perseverance and dedication.”

Residing in Panama, boxer Héctor Camacho Jr. added: “A boxing great. It is such a sad day in Panama.”

Decades prior to Pedroza’s featherweight reign, boxing had gained popularity in the early 1900s after the Panama Canal was finished. Laborers from Barbados, Jamaica, and other islands fought each other and challenged U.S. seamen for small purses. Much later legendary gyms like El Maranon, which was built in the gallery of an old train station, sprang up in Panama City and the cramped Box of Matches Gym in Colon, which many considered the cradle of boxing champions. (Note: El Maranon later changed to Pascual Cielo Gonzalez.) Additionally, many boxers turned to Neco de la Guardia, another fine gym located in Chorrillo, to develop.

But late trainer, Nestor “Plomo” Quinones recalled that prior to the opening of the gyms, the development of the sport occurred elsewhere.

“There were many places that in Maranon, not boxing gyms, but places where people were starting to box. In the yards of houses, people would set up rings and hold boxing matches,” said Plomo. “They would set up rings outside these wooden houses and would set down wooden planks where the canvas would be, and then wrap around the ropes. Then, people would come and would stage boxing matches. It wasn’t a very big ring with many dimensions, but it was big enough to hold matches.”

Boxers such as Nicaragua’s Alexis Arguello and Puerto Rico’s Wilfredo Gomez flocked to Panama in the 1970s to not only obtain top-notch training, but to also learn and adopt the techniques that defined the talented Panamanian fighters. Arguello relied on his manager’s military influence to connect him with Panamanian trainer, Ramon “Curro” Dossman, whereas Gomez signed with a contract to fight for Panamanian landowner, Carlos Eleta.

“Panama is where I learned everything,” said Gomez. “I graduated from the school of boxing there. It was the best boxing school in the world. That is where I perfected my lateral movement, where I learned to move from side to side. I learned to do a move where I would come in with my lead left hook and then follow up with my straight right hand.

“The Panamanians claimed to have invented that technical style of boxing. They were very technical and very polished.”

Although Arguello and Gomez experienced early setbacks, Pedroza, a high school graduate, lost three of his first eighteen bouts. To get out of one of his funks, Pedroza used to chew tar during workouts. His biggest wakeup call came in a second-round knockout loss to then bantamweight champ, Alfonso Zamora (24-0).

After only sixteen bouts, Pedroza (15-1) traveled to Mexicali, Mexico to fight for the WBA title on April 3, 1976 for the WBA Bantamweight crown. While Pedroza (15-1) had brief success, he wasn’t ready for the undefeated Mexican. Still an awkward fighter, Pedroza employed a wide stance that gave him little leverage to land punches. Each time Zamora hit him, he had to reset himself and then counter. It was not the same fighter who would emerge against Cecilio Lastra in 1978.

When he went down in the second round, Pedroza’s feet were still moving as if he were on a bicycle. Up by the eight-count, the fight was called off and a dream deterred for the moment. Although Pedroza fiercely challenged the referee’s decision, there was little indication that he could have handled Zamora at that stage in his career.

“I think it was a set-up because it was so early in my career,” Pedroza recalled. “My problem was that I barely made the weight because I was too tall. As soon as I got up from the knockdown, the referee had already passed his hands in front of me. I said, ‘Why are you stopping this fight?’ He said, ‘Because you are knocked out.’ And I was like, ‘Knocked out from what?’”

Having gone 3-1 in the following bouts, Pedroza lined up a WBA featherweight title showdown with Cecilio Lastra (26-2) on April 15, 1978.

After succumbing to Zamora in his first title shot, Pedroza knew that Lastra might represent his last title opportunity. Knocking the stout Lastra down in the second round with a short left, Pedroza was facing a guy with a build that was perfect for his assault. Standing up and using the ropes for leverage in between rounds, Pedroza conserved his energy for the late rounds. Often in future fights the late rounds were essential to also conserving his record title defenses.

Lastra went down to one knee in the 13th from an uppercut. In between the ninth and tenth rounds there was a scuffle, but nothing came of it. Opponents would soon learn that scuffling was not the best way to approach Pedroza, who could have easily carried 160 pounds on his frame.

“From the third round on I dominated him,” Pedroza told me. “He was a southpaw with a tough punch, but I never put myself in his reach, so he couldn’t penetrate inside. I knew I would soften him with my speed and technique, and not to permit him to meet me halfway. I had a hunger and thirst to become world champion.

“When you are fighting for the world championship, you should be confident and anxious. You know what you have to do and be prepared to win.”

Arriving after a golden period—four Panamanian boxers simultaneously held titles in 1972—Pedroza, through his consistency and ring brilliance, solidified the country’s boxing legacy over the next seven years. To understand how respected Pedroza was, one incident stood out. By June 1981, Pedroza had already defended his featherweight title eleven times, and a historic matchup with Wilfredo Gomez loomed on the horizon; but even the great Puerto Rican, who was then at his peak, preferred Salvador Sanchez.

“The bout with Pedroza would be more difficult than the one with Sanchez, and this is my explanation,” Gomez said. “Pedroza is more elusive than Sanchez. The Panamanian is much taller—measures 5-feet- 8-inches—and boxes much more. As for the potency of the punches, I think Sanchez hits harder, however, I believe that the speed in the fists of Pedroza and the quantity of the punches that he can throw per minute, makes him more dangerous in that respect.”

As he closed out his championship tenure, Pedroza engaged in a polarizing matchup with Jorge Lujan, his fellow countryman on February 2, 1985. Pedroza eventually pulled away late in the fight, and when I spoke with Lujan years later, he had one thing to say: “Pedroza was like a professor.” After making 19 defenses (one fewer than Abe Attell who made 20 featherweight defenses from 1906-1912), Pedroza ended his glorious reign when he lost a decision to Barry McGuigan on June 8, 1985. Unfortunately, because Pedroza was champion during a time that reflected such a rich boxing landscape, he may have never gotten the credit he deserved.

Where did it all begin for Pedroza? He decided to break into the sport at age 10 in 1963, a time when the boxing scene was brimming with hope. In two years Laguna would bring the sport to its zenith. “Duran was a boxer who was always in front of his opponent,” said Pedroza. “My love for boxing came from my youth when I visualized figures such as Ismael Laguna,” which was a common sentiment for both Pedroza and Duran, as they both fell in love with “Tigre” before they became established fighters.

“Pedroza was a great fighter, one of Panama’s best ever,” said Lo Mejor del Boxeo commentator, Juan Carlos Tapia Jr. “Though he was hugely overshadowed by Duran, he was still very popular. One of the best featherweights of all time.”

As a fighter, Pedroza could box and brawl, forging full steam ahead and releasing punches in a machine-like fashion; as a man, he was bold, sometimes brash, and brutally honest. When the fighters and everyone in the boxing community comes to say goodbye to Pedroza, it will not be easy. But they never leave each other’s side. Legions of fans and members of the Panamanian boxing community will line up, and harken back to the reel of wonderful memories that he left them—all etched in Panamanian boxing lore. And they will continue to remember the man—defiant until the end.

Christian Giudice
Author: A Fire Burns Within: The Miraculous Journey of Wilfredo Gomez
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Website: christiangiudice.com
Email: christiangiudice@hotmail.com

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  1. don from prov 06:01am, 03/04/2019

    Excellent article about a hell of a fighter—rest in peace.

  2. Juan 04:07am, 03/04/2019

    Good story, thanks Mr. Giudice. Only 350 reads, don’t understand…Rest in peace.

  3. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 08:01am, 03/03/2019

    Central and South America certainly gave us some great boxers back in the Seventies and Eighties. Antonio Cervantes and Rodrigo Valdez from Colombia, Victor Galindez, Monzon, Bonavena from Argentina, the slew of Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters that are too numerous to mention and of course Panama with Duran and Company. It is a shame that Pedroza was somewhat overshadowed by the legendary Hands Of Stone. It is also a shame that no one has commented on this article and the death of an exceptional fighter. RIP Mr. Pedroza. Btw, I had no idea that Pedroza had fought Zamora. I do remember that the Zarate and Zamora fight was somewhat of a big deal when it happened back in the day for two little guys going at it, especially among Mexican fans.

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