May 5, 1973: Jofre vs Legra

Boxing comebacks are usually a bad idea. Boxing comebacks involving former world champions over the age of 35 are, George Foreman notwithstanding, almost always a terrible idea. But in fact, one of the exceptions to this was not only a good idea, but also firmly enshrined the greatness of pugilistic legend Eder Jofre.

By 1960, Brazil’s Jofre had established himself as an outstanding champion. He was a smooth, smart boxer who employed an aggressive bobbing and weaving style. With excellent power in either hand, an iron chin, terrific stamina and great body punching skills, Jofre was as complete a fighter as the sport has ever seen. He put together one of the longest unbeaten streaks in boxing history, from 1957 to 1965, in the process winning the world bantamweight championship and notching nine successful defenses. To this day, he is regarded by most as the best bantamweight of all time.

Jofre 0002 333
Jofre is regarded by most as the greatest of all bantamweights.

In 1965, Jofre traveled to Japan to face another great bantam, Fighting Harada. By this time it had become a difficult ordeal for Jofre to make the weight limit and Harada won a close, 15 round decision, ending Jofre’s unbeaten streak. A rematch one year later yielded an identical result. Crestfallen, Jofre retired.

Three years later, to the delight of his Brazilian fans, “The Golden Bantam” returned to the ring, now as a featherweight.  The boxing experts, citing the long layoff and the fact that Eder Jofre was now 33-years-old, waved a collective finger and clucked their disapproval. Boxing is a young man’s game, they said. Too many great champions return only to diminish their legacies, they said. But Jofre knew he could still compete. Over the next two and a half years he reeled off 14 straight wins, putting himself in title contention.

Jose Legra of Cuba had just won the vacant featherweight title by defeating Clemente Sánchez and most viewed him as a dangerous opponent for the aging veteran. A sharp punching slickster, Legrá was known as the “Pocket Cassius Clay” because of his quickness and flashy style. He journeyed to Brazil to take on Jofre, gamely defending on the challenger’s turf.

Jofre vs Legra was a close, hard-fought affair, pitting the younger champion’s speed and sharp punches against Jofre’s constant aggression, power and boxing smarts. In the early rounds Legrá had the edge, his sharp jab with the hard right behind it forcing the challenger to give ground.

But Legra’s willingness to trade gave Jofre the opportunities he needed to connect with his heavier, more compact shots. As the rounds flew by and the sell-out crowd grew more fervent, the challenger gradually gained the advantage while the champion tired from the fast pace. Jofre’s greater accuracy and better timing proved the difference. While all agreed it was a close match, the title changed hands by a split decision for the Brazilian legend, who added yet another milestone to his Hall of Fame career. And demonstrated that sometimes a boxing comeback can be a great idea.             — Robert Portis

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