The first Colombian boxing idol is fired in Cartagena.


Bernard Caraballo, a pioneer idol and in contesting a world boxing title for Colombia, died this Thursday and is buried today (2:00 pm) in Cartagena. He was an extroverted character, in and out of the ring, who even won a drunken fight, as his wife Zunilda Contreras recounts in this chronicle which, entitled ‘This fight was won by my beautiful black wife’, is part of the book ‘Relatos más beyond the ring’, which Intermedio will publish in the first days of next February:

-Oh, holy God! Where did that man fuck?

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With those desperate words, Zunilda Contreras, a beautiful young woman from Chambacú, Cartagena’s black neighborhood, confirmed what she’d thought three years earlier: that she couldn’t leave her husband alone in this world for a moment.

It was nothing to wake up to and he disappeared from the Victoria Hotel, in El Centro de Barranquilla, where they were staying on the afternoon of that Saturday, August 13, 1966. every corner of the hotel, in nearby places and different streets around. There was no trace of him.

Until, after three hours of terror, someone told her that her husband had been taken by ‘Chepe’, a friend from Barranquilla.

she took her husband’s work clothes and hails a taxi in the middle of the night, accompanied by Sócrates Cruz. After several turns, through different streets, she found ‘Chepe’s’ house.

And there, in the middle of a party, raising her elbow to take a sip of rum, was her husband, Bernardo Caraballo, contesting the South American professional bantamweight boxing title that night, which was held by Brazilian Waldemiro Pinto.

He said nothing to him when he saw him drunk. He asked Cruz, the Cuban coach, to keep the secret, and in the same vehicle took him to the Humberto Perea Coliseum.

She asked if no one was allowed into the locker room, ordered to buy a soda and an Alka-Seltzer, and gave them to her husband to drink. She immediately showered him and then put him in bed to sleep. So she dressed him as a boxer and woke him up when they called him to fight.

(Also read: Former boxer Bernardo Caraballo passed away in Cartagena)

‘I hardly remember anything’

“The truth is I forgot I was fighting that night and I went to ‘Chepe’ (he doesn’t know the name) birthday party. I hardly remember anything about the fight…

“Pinto’s corner (then unbeaten in 55 fights and third world challenger) congratulated me on the win. I replied that I won on points because I was drunk or else I’ll kill him,” says Caraballo, sitting in the living room of his house, number 13-103 in La Paz street, in the Torices neighborhood, in Cartagena.

Zunilda smiles, sits down and listens to her husband.

She didn’t sit still, constantly going to the kitchen to pack into a disposable jar or plate the yam, mango and plum sweets she had prepared herself this Good Friday day for her five children, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, in next to the neighbors and visitors to the house.

“It’s tradition,” she says.

I summarize what was published by the newspaper El Heraldo two days after the battle:

That Caraballo (fifth challenger) dominated until the eighth round, that he was ineffective with the punches, that he looked exhausted in the last two, that he abused grabs and that the fight was so bad that the municipal boxing commission dismissed the boxers. imposed a fine of 2,000 pesos.

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“He got drunk too much,” Zunilda confirms and laughs.

“That fight was won by my beautiful black wife,” admits Caraballo, today a retiree from the Cartagena Terminal, the first idol of Colombian boxing and who was called the ‘Venao’ for the speed of his legs.

Zunilda met Bernardo before becoming a Colombian sports star. They were neighbors of Chambacú, in 1958.

He arrived there, aged 8, after being born on January 1, 1942 in Bocachica district.

She was the only woman to be invited anywhere by the group of boxers and shoe punchers, which included Caraballo, Orlando Pineda, Rodrigo Valdés, Pedro Vanegas, ‘Baba’ Jiménez and ‘Kid Pambelé’.

Soon they were dating and then they moved into the house of Santos Rodríguez, his mother and later famous for dedicating his fights to him.

They were married on April 30, 1961 at 6 am in the church of San José de Torices. Zunilda taught him to read, write and defend himself in life.

Married, a womanizer and as awake as in the ring, but life had to learn more.

“Married, he was a womanizer and as awake as in the ring, but he needed to learn more about life. When he returned from the first fight in Bogotá (he won the national flyweight title against Jaime Caro on September 1, 1962), he was stunned by the city and the hotel elevators,” says Zunilda.

“That day I said I would accompany him to all his fights because I couldn’t leave him alone for the world. So it was. That’s why I was sad when he disappeared that day of the fight with Pinto, in Barranquilla,” he adds.

“Stop, Bernardo!”

The first idol of Colombian boxing will be;  fired in Cartagena.

By walking as much as a young man with boxers, Zunilda understood the secrets of boxing. So when Cuban Cruz left Cartagena, she practiced in Torice’s backyard, where he built a gym.

“I devoted myself to analyzing the rivals and before starting each attack, well positioned on the side of the ring, Bernardo looked at me. We understood each other with signs. He told him to hit on the chin , had to keep his guard up, had to move… He told him the best before and that’s how he won’, he says.

Zunilda’s cries of ‘get up, Bernardo, get up!’, in the defeat to the Brazilian Eder Jofre (on 27 November 1964 in Bogotá, in the first World Cup chance for a Colombian), were covered in the press reporting that fight.

“He looked at me and made a sign that he had no legs. They forced him to downgrade. Jofre didn’t knock him down, he fell,” she says, now her.

Caraballo was the idol (El Heraldo published that 860 people flew in two days from Barranquilla through Avianca, to see the fight with Jofre), the extrovert who came with three robes, predicting results and filling the squares of Colombia and the world.

He was a good boxer and a controversial figure (he fought in 14 Colombian cities, visited 8 countries and faced 70 foreign rivals, according to historian Raúl Porto Cabrales).

“A year before Jofre – says Caraballo, to confirm what kind of character he was – I fought in Bogotá with (the Spanish-Moroccan) Mimoun Ben Ali and they told me that the President of Colombia was a special guest, to whom they introduced me before I started the fight.

“Later, in the ring, the journalists asked with their microphones who I was dedicating the victory to.

“And I replied in the usual way: ‘To my mother Santos Rodríguez and that man who is there’, pointing to Guillermo León Valencia, who was sitting in the front row. I forgot the president’s name! Then he invited me to the presidential palace.”

The first Colombian boxing idol is fired in Cartagena.

Zunilda bursts out laughing again, sitting in the room where, on a pink wall, rests part of the boxer’s career, as well as a photo of her, young.

She tells Bernardo to look for the famous tiger rug that she made herself with a cloth that a friend brought her from Los Angeles (United States).

“It was long and I even had fabric left over to make a skirt. Just that I trimmed it, because it’s damaged,” she says. And she invites us to the terrace.

Bernardo wouldn’t go to the back of the house, where a gym operated for nearly 15 years, because of debris and weeds, as well as trapped two roosters, five chickens and a rabid dog.

“Look what was left, that was the best gym in Cartagena,” he repeated over and over.

“And in that room (points to one next to the patio), before I went to Venezuela and famously returned as a world champion, lived my compadre ‘Pambelé’”.

There, on the patio, Zunilda orders again, pointing with her handcuffs where to strike.

(Also read: Osvaldo Zubeldía: 40 years after the death of a football legend (opinion))

In the courtyard the idol speaks again:

“I have won more than one fight for Zunilda… She is the champion of my life…”.

(Published in EL TIEMPO, July 19, 2011. Cartagena).

Estewil Quesada Fernandez
Caribbean Regional Editor of EL TIEMPO

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