Kid Gavilan and Ralph Jones gave the attendees at Madison Square Garden a fight for the ages on Aug. 26, 1953, and for the judges at ringside, a challenge like none other.
Gavilan was in the prime of his career and in the midst of a four-year reign as undisputed champion at 147 lbs, though this was non-title, with the boxers weighing in at 154 and 152 for Gavilan and Jones, respectively.
The fight gave Jones an opportunity to take down a legendary opponent while extending his win streak to five fights, and the resulting clash had every element to it and left nothing to be desired.
“The World’s Most Famous Arena” demands world class boxing every time out. Gavilan and Jones were not about to besmirch their own names and put on a bore of a fight.
Jones took the inside early, and both orthodox fighters displayed a healthy dosage of jabs and hooks to begin. They looked like mirror images at a few stages of the initial rounds, matching each others’ hand speed and making sure not to neglect the body or the face.
Jones almost walked away with round two before Gavilan formidably began matching his intensity, forcing Jones to get low and reduce his punch count. Light on his feet, Gavilan was patient enough to know when to throw, and timed all his punches with precision.
The crowd erupted in a frenzy as Gavilan dodged a few shots to the body in exaggerated fashion, with both hands elevated like an action star in a movie dodging the swings of a sword. And then, both fighters just let it go. It was one of those exchanges you take time to bask in more than score.
Two short left hands in the third visibly shook Jones, but he took that damage and let Gavilan feel six pinpoint crosses that had him indecisive on whether to stay low or prop himself back up.
Sometimes you can score a round with some seconds to spare. Not in this one. Every round went down to the wire. Gavilan maneuvered through the feel-out rounds with a narrow lead, and the story of the fourth was increased movement by Gavilan, and whiffed or blocked punches from both fighters.
Though Gavilan was fighting his tail off, Jones just did enough to earn round five with great work to the body. There was one moment when he dialed in a right and a left cross to each side of Gavilan’s abdomen, throwing off his equilibrium. Halfway through, he was up 3-2 on my card.
Gavilan slowed the fight down, dictating pace and making it a one-punch-at-a-time affair. He profited off of it and tied things up. An extremely close seventh round saw much toe-to-toe action, as did the eighth, both of which Jones managed to outscore Gavilan. While Gavilan may have looked more ferocious and coordinated with his throws from him, in actuality, Jones was landing more. He mixed it up with uppercuts and left crosses that landed. Add that to a slightly higher punch count, and Jones was leading 5-3 heading into the final six minutes.
Gavilan put on a clinic in round nine. Overhand rights, wild uppercuts and very low head movement to close the round put him within three minutes of a draw. Only God knows how Jones survived 10, yes 10 hooks to the head. Gavilan was that good when it mattered most. Jones almost fell apart in that last round, and gave Gavilan the leeway he needed to even it up.
A thoroughly enjoyable fight from start to finish, and could’ve gone either way. One would have no grounds to murmur at a draw, or the decision going to either fighter. Their styles were nearly identical with the exception of Gavilan’s superior footwork and flare.
Gavilan was recognized for his years of brilliance with induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Competing in 143 professional fights and winning 108 all by the age of 32, Gavilan put in the work and left it all on the canvas.
Jones would see Gavilan twice more in his career, getting a coveted win in the third installment of their trilogy. He also was able to take down Sugar Ray Robinson in a unanimous decision in the winter of 1955, hanging up the gloves at 52-32-5.
A personal favourite, this is a fight that goes well with some wings and a tall one.