Esteban De Jesús, brightness and misfortune
Puerto Rico is undoubtedly at the top of the nations with most legendary boxers. You know it, I know it, let’s not fool ourselves here. With that being said, we cannot talk about legendary Puerto Rican boxers without stopping and acknowledging, the one and only, Esteban De Jesús. His story is one filled with the highest peaks and unfortunately the lowest valleys. Gather ’round kids, class is in session. (I can’t believe I wrote that intro without mentioning he beat Roberto Durán in his prime. IN HIS PRIME. PRIME DURAN. ESTEBAN BEAT HIM.)
Brief Bio and beginnings
Esteban De Jesús was born on August 2, 1951 and was raised in Carolina, a city in the northeast of Puerto Rico. There’s little known about his childhood, except that he came from a humble household and at 17, he made his professional boxing debut. His first 19 fights were all in Puerto Rico, he won them all, 15 by KO or TKO. His 20th fight was the first outside of Puerto Rico, he traveled to Venezuela to face the local Armando Mendoza. Both were young prospects with bright futures, but De Jesús imposed his will and dispatched Mendoza in 7 rounds. From this moment, his career started picking up steam and the future looked very bright.
Progress, even in defeat
His next 3 fights were in Puerto Rico, all victories, 2 by decision and 1 by KO. After that, he went back to Venezuela. De Jesús was victorious in three straight fights in Venezuela. He looked polished, quick, and projected the confidence in his abilities of a battle tested veteran. His 4th straight bout in Venezuela was against the local Antonio Gomez. Gomez’s previous fight was a loss against Raul Martínez Mora, but 2 fights before that Gomez destroyed Shozo Saijo, cementing himself as a dangerous figure in the lightweight division.
De Jesús lost against Gómez by decision, marking the 1st loss of his career.
Esteban De Jesús in his prime
De Jesús went on a 16 fight winning streak that saw him defeat fighters from USA, Dominican republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, Puerto Rico and, well , Panama. This was the highlight of Esteban’s career. The 8th fight of that 16 fight winning streak was against the dangerous, explosive, and undefeated Roberto “Mano de Piedra” Durán.
The date was November 17, 1972, the stage was Madison Square garden and the excitement was palpable. The boxing world was anxious about the outcome of this fight because both fighters were in their prime with similar records and aspirations. No one expected this fight to go the distance. De Jesús came out patient, looking for the opportunity to connect that left hook that carried so much force and velocity. Durán threw a lazy right hand that dragged to recover and De Jesús found a home for his left hook, Durán was knocked down. Seconds into the fight De Jesus knocked down the seemingly untouchable Roberto Durán. During the course of the fight, De Jesús looked great, picking his spots, placing that straight right perfectly followed by his left hook. De Jesús was wobbled in the 8th round by hard combinations from Durán, who was the hardest hitter by far. Overall, it was a fight that was mostly battled in close quarters, as that was the style of their era. It was also a style that favored Durán, which shows how great De Jesús was. When the bout was over, De Jesús was victorious by Unanimous decision.
His next fight was against Ray Lampkin for the vacant NABF lightweight title, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This bout went to a decision and De Jesús was victorious after 12 hard rounds. He defended his title against Lampkin several fights after capturing it, besting his opponent by UD again.
Notable defeats for Esteban De Jesús
In march of 1974 De Jesús and Durán faced each other for a second time. This fight started exactly like their first encounter, Durán throws a lazy right and De Jesús counters with a left hook hammer, down goes Durán. In this fight however, Durán’s power was too much for De Jesús and he succumbed in the 11th round.
After losing to Duran, De Jesús went up to JR welterweight and lost in May of 1975 to Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes by a clear UD in a grueling fight. Cervantes was too long for De Jesús, who had his moments early in the fight but could not sustain any stable offense for extended periods of time.
Closing chapters of Esteban De Jesús’ career
De Jesús went undefeated for 2 years before going back down to lightweight and facing Durán a third time. This time Durán seemed like the superior fighter from the opening bell, pressuring De Jesús and breaking him down with precision. The bout ended with Durán landing a nasty flurry that floored De Jesús and forced his corner to stop the fight.
After this contest, De Jesús won 6 straight fights against good competition before losing his last contest in July of 1980 against Saoul Mamby. It was a hard fight , and De Jesús was defeated in 13 rounds.
Sad ending for Esteban De Jesús
It is not clear when De Jesús started abusing drugs, but it is rumored to have been before his first fight against Roberto Durán. Little by little his addiction chipped away at his talent, his mind, and his life. Then came the incident of November 1980. While under the influence of narcotics, Esteban De Jesús got into a traffic altercation with another driver and ended up shooting him. That incident landed him in jail, where his life deteriorated. In 1985, after his brother died because of complications brought on by AIDS, he also was diagnosed as HIV positive. Time passed and the man that once was a prideful warrior, looked very frail and weak, almost a shell of the man they nicknamed “Vita”. In 1989, the governor of Puerto Rico pardoned him and Esteban lived his last days in a treatment facility. Many celebrities visited him on his last days, but the most well remembered visit was that of Roberto Durán himself. That legendary moment was caught in a picture that speaks so much louder than words. Durán sat next to a bed ridden De Jesús and hugged him tightly. There was so much prejudice and judgement against HIV patients in that time and Duran’s embrace was impressive, noble, and is engraved in history. A month after his sentence was commuted, Esteban De Jesús passed away, surrounded by family.
In conclusion, Esteban De Jesús has to be in everybody’s top 10 Puerto Rican boxers list. He was impeccable in his prime and polished far beyond his years. He was one of the most technical boxers from Puerto Rico, and those who appreciate boxing history, will always remember his name. Unfortunately his life took a sad turn and destroyed what could have been a fruitful career and fulfilling life. I want to finish with the following: We know that “What if’s” are useless, but in this case, just imagine. What if Esteban De Jesús never got involved with substance abuse? What if he stayed healthy and focused his whole career ? Even though we will never know how great he could have become, he is still a top 10 Puerto Rican boxer in my book and in many others.