The Richard Torres Story
Not many people would insult Mike Tyson to his face for the obvious fear of violent reprisal. But Richard Torres wouldn’t be afraid. Torres, 44, works for Class Act Cleaning & Janitorial Services. He cleans the Student Union and Slee Hall five days a week. Although he now works a broom and mop, he used to tangle with the most pugnacious pugilists in the hemisphere. This Buffalo resident and proud father (his daughter is a college student in Puerto Rico) was Puerto Rico’s Light Heavy Weight Boxing Champion for 10 years.
Torres fought all over his native Puerto Rico and the Americas in the Golden Gloves, at the Pan-Am Games, the North American Games, the Central American Games, and the Olympics before retiring from he game while still on top. Torres has a large manila envelope stuffed with newspaper clippings and photos, documenting his 10-year reign as top dog from 1980-1990. They are mostly in Spanish, and, when pressed, Torres translated them into strikingly soft-spoken English. He recalls those years with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye, remembering what it was like to be on top.
There are pictures of him with his teammates, fighting, being interviewed, and just hanging out. One photo is of Torres standing under the famous bright fluorescent neon sign at Caesar’s Palace in 1990. An electric grin on his face reflects his attitude the day that he took the silver at the All North America Games.
Today you would probably just walk past Richard without realizing what a finely tuned fighting machine he once was. Torres is exceedingly polite and gentle, concealing his talent for the eloquently applied, yet robust whack.
The most incredible part of his story is that he started his boxing career at the late age of 29 in 1979. This is the age that most boxers get ready to hang up their gloves. Just one year later, Torres was Puerto Rico’s top Light Heavy Weight Boxer and the captain of the boxing team; he represented Puerto Rico to the world.
Richard met many well-known boxers, including Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mohammed Ali. (For what it’s worth, Torres thinks that Baby Joe is tough, but he won’t be a champion.) Torres laughs about the story of meeting the legendary Ali. His hometown of Loiza, just outside of San Juan, is known for its large community of people of African descent. According to Torres, Ali heard about the town while traveling through Puerto Rico. He decided to stop by for a visit, hoping to find black Muslims. When he arrived, however, Ali found that he loved the people of the village, despite the fact that they are all Catholic! Ali became very fond of the little town and visited frequently.
One important piece of this story is missing. Puerto Rico is an awfully long way from Buffalo, so how did Torres end up here? Finished with professional boxing, Torres traded in his golden gloves for work gloves and traveled north. Way north. He left Puerto Rico a few years back to seek work on a farm in upstate New York for a season. But after the work was done, Torres decided that he liked the area so much that he was going to stay, despite the fact that he knew no one and didn’t speak fluent English. He moved into the City of Good Neighbors, and started working at the University because it offered a steady source of income. Torres says that he loves Buffalo, and is glad he is here, but he still misses his friends and family back in Puerto Rico.
In addition to cleaning the University day in and day out, Richard Torres still finds time to give back to his adoptive Western New York community. On weekends, he travels to the Holy Cross Church in Niagara Falls to teach free boxing lessons to Latino kids aged 5 to 27, but Torres stresses that all are welcome. When pressed for advice for beginning boxers, Richard says, “Don’t hit the heavy bag until you know how to punch, because you can develop bad habits.” Sounds to me like a metaphor for life.