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15 July 2012

On this day in history: First Cuban world boxing champion, 1931

On July 15th 1931, Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo - better known as Kid Chocolate or the Cuban Bon Bon - knocked out Benny Bass in the seventh round of their Junior Lightweight title bout at the Baker Bowl, Philadelphia to become the first Cuban world champion boxer. The victory gave him celebrity status and he became a regular guest at society parties.

Born in Havana on 6th January 1910, the young Eligio watched films of boxing matches from which he learned the art. Having fought as an amateur and sparred with many great boxers of the day, in 1927 he went professional. The next year he relocated to New York City to fight the quality of opponent necessary for his shot at the championship.

In November 1931, Eligio went up a weight division to face Lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri, at Madison Square Garden, New York. He failed in this second title bid, and in 1933 he lost his Junior Lightweight belt to Frankie Klick. Following his unsuccessful attempts to regain the title he retired, revealing that he was suffering from syphilis.

The very next year, Kid Chocolate returned to the ring winning 47 out of 50 fights, but not against the sort of opposition that would provide another championship bid. In 1938 he retired again, never to return to the ring. Instead he returned to a quiet life in Cuba and increasing obscurity, particularly after the 1959 revolution. Nevertheless, his boxing career was recognised by the Cuban authorities in the 1970s; he was provided with a state-funded house, in which he died in 1988.

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