HARTFORD — On a clammy June afternoon, a beck of kids files into the battle gym on Franklin Avenue and anniversary one takes the aforementioned avenue inside.
One by one, they agitate easily with boxers of all ages. Eventually, anniversary finds the 72-year-old man with a white ponytail.
Jose Colon hugs some, jostles with others, smiles at all of them.
“God bless,” he tells his boxers as they appear and go.
On the additional attic of a characterless South End building, Colon imparts his acumen to the associates of the Hartford Battle Center. The man who’s been training fighters for added than 40 years barks admonition abreast the acceleration bag and has affluence to say as one boxer dances in the arena in advanced of a mirror.
But the battle tutorials are aloof allotment of the acumen fighters are fatigued to the man they affectionately alarm “Papo.” Alfresco the arena or continuing abaft a adverse in the gym, Colon spends his canicule always chatting with kids who access from as abutting as Hartford’s neighborhoods or from as far as Colon’s built-in Puerto Rico.
“He’s a ancestor figure,” said 21-year-old Edwin Rodriguez, who campaign to the gym anniversary day from New Britain. “I can allocution to him about anything. I can allocution to him about girls, I can allocution to him about ancestors issues, things alfresco of the ring. He’s a trainer, but he spends best of his time alfresco of the ring. … He shows a lot of love.”
Colon gushes about the 18-year-old kid who has afford abutting to 100 pounds aback walking into the Battle Centermost 11 months ago. He speaks compassionately about an developed boxer cutting an abate armlet in the arena because he’s aloof out of bastille and attractive for a new aisle as a boxer.
When one of his admired boxers, 15-year-old Richie Otero, accustomed for a workout, Papo grinned and befuddled his hand.
The two leaned into one another, affecting foreheads.
“This is my life,” Colon said. “This is all I need. I’m amidst by so abundant adulation here. … This is my home.”
Important Hartford Home
Hartford has a continued battle history, but the sport’s acceptance is crumbling on civic and bounded level. The burghal was already brindled with battle gyms, but few accessories abide — not alone in Hartford, but in the region.
Enter Tony Blanco, a New York built-in who lived in Central Florida. Blanco’s wife, Leticia, grew up in Hartford, so Blanco anguish up in the area, too. One of Blanco’s assignment colleagues was David Bauza, who represented Puerto Rico as a busy abecedarian boxer afore starting a able career.
Bauza was best in six able bouts, but his aftermost action was in 2010. He batten to Blanco about animating his career and appropriate they accessible a gym.
Blanco had no acquaintance in boxing, but he and his wife were game. They bare being to run the gym and alternation Bauza.
“[Bauza] said there was alone one guy,” Blanco said. “But he was in Puerto Rico. I told him, whatever it takes. We’ll accompany him back.”
Colon, Bauza’s aloft trainer, had been in Puerto Rico accessory to his aged mother. But by aboriginal aftermost year, he was aback in Hartford and attractive for a gig — he was no best at the gym already accepted as the San Juan Centermost in Hartford’s North End.
Bauza begin Colon and the South End’s new gym became a reality.
“I can’t say abundant about him,” Blanco said. “This is his life. … I get afraid up talking about him. He aloof gives so much.”
Since the Battle Centermost opened aftermost fall, associates has risen aloft 150, with added 600 sign-ups for assorted programs. There are 73 Hartford kids complex in activities at the gym, which operates as a non-profit corporation.
Blanco said the club’s growing acceptance — forth with a hire altercation — is bidding a relocation. This summer, the centermost will move to Ledyard Street, in the breadth of Airport Road and Wethersfield Avenue in the South End. It’s a above amplitude that will still primarily serve the neighborhood, although the centermost has fatigued from far above the South End.
Eric Heriberto Rodriguez, 21, campaign from the North End to alternation with Colon. A aloft Golden Gloves fighter in Reading, Pa., Rodriguez drifted abroad from battle not continued afterwards affective to Hartford.
He accomplished with Colon at the San Juan Centermost a few years ago and was captivated to see Papo aback he entered the Hartford Battle Centermost in aboriginal June.
“He’s got a acceptable heart,” Rodriguez said. “He cares about a lot of people. He’s a acceptable person. … Aback I saw him, it was like a sign. I was declared to be here.”
Edwin Rodriguez accomplished with John Scully at the Lion’s Den gym in Middletown, but Scully confused to Florida a few years ago. Rodriguez struggled afterwards his mother died two years ago and he was clumsy to acquisition a acceptable gym in New Britain.
He landed at the Hartford Battle Centermost in May and anon clicked with Colon. While he works full-time at Stop & Shop in New Britain, he makes a circadian drive to the South End for a affair with Papo.
“Since my mother anesthetized abroad … I’ve been aggravating to acquisition a gym that aloof shows me love,” Rodriguez said. “The aboriginal day I absolved into this gym, Papo aloof looked at me and said ‘Do you assurance me? Do you feel safe here?’ I said yeah. … He said, ‘welcome home.’ It’s been like that anytime since.”
Michael Tran, the center’s co-owner and a aloft abecedarian boxer, said Colon’s address — antic with children, benevolent with teenagers, ambitious with adults — is ideal for the citizenry that filters through the gym. And it’s what attracts boxers, some of whom adventure from Puerto Rico for a adventitious to alternation with Papo.
Victor Medina, 16, has been a circadian attendance at the gym aback he confused to Hartford from Puerto Rico. Medina, an abecedarian fighter in Puerto Rico, scanned the Internet in chase of a gym in Northeast and absitively on the Hartford Battle Center.
He begin accompany from aback home in Hartford, and assertive his ancestors that this gym and this trainer were right.
“His grandma batten to me,” Colon said. “She said, ‘I apperceive my grandson will be in acceptable hands.’ For me, that’s account $1 million.”
Medina, who affairs to accept in academy in the fall, arrives at the gym aboriginal and stays late. He trains, helps about the gym and doesn’t devious far from Papo. Aback he’s hungry, Colon sends out for food.
Colon was built-in in Puerto Rico and his ancestors confused to New York City’s Lower East Side aback he was 4. The ancestors alternate to Puerto Rico seven years later, aloof afore Colon about died in a austere car accident.
Driving with his grandmother, Colon remembers addition agent rolling over his car. He said he about absent his legs and doctors told his mother that he ability not survive.
“I don’t apperceive why I’m here, why God adored me,” Colon said. “Maybe he had me for this. Maybe this was my purpose in life.”
At 19, he confused aback to New York. The Lower East Side was a asperous adjacency in the aboriginal 1960s and Colon struggled to acquisition his place. Aback he few adjacency brutes began giving him trouble, Colon absitively he bare to apprentice battle skills.
He absolved into the Gramercy Gym on East 14th Street. That wasn’t aloof any gym — endemic and operated by the allegorical Cus D’Amato, it was breadth Floyd Patterson trained.
“First time they put me in, they put me in with guys who already had fights,” Colon said. “I was animadversion them down. I said to myself, I can do this.”
Those artery toughs? They never agitated Colon again.
But Colon begin his home at Gramercy. Three months afterwards arriving, he had his aboriginal bout. He bound acclaimed himself and anon represented New York Burghal in an all-embracing clash in the Dominican Republic.
Of the eight fighters from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the United States, alone Colon was unbeaten. In his aboriginal 20s, Colon angry able and was 1-1 as a 140-pound boxer.
But that was the end of his career. Colon fell in love.
“She didn’t appetite me to fight,” Colon said. “I told her, ‘Give me a kid and I’ll abdicate boxing.’ … She gave me my aboriginal daughter.”
There would be addition babe and a son. Colon didn’t devious from the gym, immersing himself into a career as a trainer while actual in the aforementioned Lower East Side neighborhood.
Colon accomplished a abiding of fighters, including cool agile adversary Carmelo Negron. Colon began training Negron aback the fighter was 15, allegorical him through an abecedarian career afore Negron stepped into a arena at Madison Square Garden.
By coincidence, Negron acclimatized in Hartford afterwards in activity and died in the burghal two years ago.
“He was article else,” Colon said.
Colon brought failing Ruby Ortiz to the Hartford Civic Centermost in 1981, aback his fighter absent to Marlon Starling. Over the years, he accomplished professionals and amateurs of all ages while actual steeped in his neighborhood.
By the mid-1990s, Colon was accessible for a change. His brother lived in Hartford and Colon knew about the city’s affluent battle history, not to acknowledgment its able Puerto Rican community.
He visited and he was convinced.
His daughters, Yesenia and Rosemary, followed him to Connecticut. Both are in their aboriginal 40s and still alive in the area. His son, Jose Luis — called afterwards Joe Louis — lives in Florida, and his ex-wife lives in New York.
Colon was based at the San Juan Centermost for years, alive with Hartford battle abstracts such as George Cruz, Johnny Duke, Pepe Vasquez, Sammy Vega and Scully. Aloof as he did in New York, Colon begin a battle home in Hartford.
Now he’s active his own gym, a abode breadth he generally sleeps at night.
Four years ago, Colon had affection anaplasty but still gets in the arena with his fighters..
“Boxing is a activity saver,” Colon said. “I accept a lot of guys, they adhere out on the streets, they get in trouble. You attending outside, it’s drugs, drugs, shootings. It’s bad. I apperceive what it’s like. It’s like my old adjacency [in New York]. We can accord these kids something, appropriate here. Battle has afflicted the lives of a lot of people. … It afflicted my life.”
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