Born in a boxing gym with the blood of Brazil’s two famous fighting families coursing through his veins, you could very well consider it his destiny for Eder Jofre to one day become a national hero and pound-for-pound fistic legend. The Golden Bantam’s life story is chronicled in astoundingly meticulous detail by Christopher Smith, whose biography Eder Jofre: Brazil’s First Boxing World Champion was made available through Win By KO Publications on March 26 to coincide with Jofre’s 85th birthday.
A labor of love more than two and a half years in the making, Smith’s mammoth 605-page tome is a most welcome addition to the library of every self-respecting boxing aficionado the world over, especially since his is the first English-language biography of Jofre. Two previous books, Henrique Matteucci’s O Galo de Ouro (first published in 1962, followed by a second revised edition in 1978) and a 2002 longform narrative relating Eder’s personal and professional history through a chronological compilation of interviews with Luis Carlos Lisboa and entitled Gente, are both written in Portuguese and long since out of print.
Because his storied boxing career bridged generational gaps between the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali, for example, or Willie Pep and Roberto Duran, Jofre often unfairly suffers by comparison, if not glaring omission, when held to the standards of his more well-known contemporaries, whether they were in the spring or the autumn of their prizefighting days while Eder was in the midst of proving to be a man for all seasons. The fact that only three of his 78 fights were contested on U.S. soil, even if his first world title victory occurred at the Olympic Auditorium, also might account for Jofre’s not being a household name.
By making Eder’s story available to a hopefully grateful general public, not to mention telling it as thoroughly and lovingly as he has in his book, Chris Smith has succeeded in restoring Brazil’s Golden Bantam to his rightful place among the upper echelon of boxing’s immortals.
“Honestly, I had no idea I was researching for a book when I started,” Smith told me recently. “I collected and found what I could and then when people started telling me I should write a book, I wanted to make sure I could obtain a lot of primary sources from his fights. I wanted to get the feel of the press, the fans, and the people around his fights.”
It seems Chris and I have more in common than just our first names. I had been a young professional wrestling enthusiast in the early and mid-1980s who developed a love for boxing by way of regularly featured network broadcasts like Wide World of Sports. A decade later, Smith was a fan of the WWF as a 10-year-old when the first Holyfield/Tyson rumble served as the catalyst for a casual interest in the fight game to blossom into a full-blown obsession. Smith cultivated a lifelong affinity for Latino boxers by way of the Puerto Rico vs. Mexico rivalry being played out between Oscar De La Hoya and Chris’ favorite boyhood fighter, Felix Trinidad. With a keen eye for history even then, he devoured every book, magazine, and periodical he could get his hands on to satisfy a gnawing hunger for knowledge, little by little, day after day.
“I first saw Eder’s name in The International Boxing Hall of Fame Record Book which had profiles on all IBHOF members, and I was surprised to see a Brazilian fighter,” Chris recollects. “I didn’t see too many Brazilians in boxing and his profile grabbed my attention, so my curious nature made me follow up on him and I just loved what I saw and read about him.” Drawn to the bantamweight division specifically, Smith says, “I think it’s a division that has a lot of diversity. Fighters from Mexico, Europe, USA, South America, Central America, Asia, so you see all kinds of different styles and personalities.” Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate, and Fighting Harada were just a few of the 118-pounders who Chris gravitated towards, but Eder Jofre has understandably always topped his list.
Not only do we get an intimate look into Jofre’s complex family history and fascinating personal life in Brazil’s First Boxing World Champion but, for the price of admission ($39.95, a bargain for such a massive book), Christopher Smith has given readers a ringside seat for each one of Eder’s bouts, achieved by way of his thoughtful analysis of existing fight tapes as well as employing the use of extensive quotations from contemporaneous blow by blow reports that appeared in Brazilian papers such as O Globo and Estadão.
“I had a couple of fantastic translators who got all of these reports back to me, and that was an excellent addition to the books and documentaries I previously had translated,” Chris said. “The 1962 Galo de Ouro book by Henrique Matteucci was invaluable for me. The interactions with his family was essential and I had great support from within the boxing world like Rick Farris, President of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame who is an expert on that era and many of the opponents, or like Akihide I-Ishi, a close friend of Harada who opened me up to Japan where Jofre is revered and had three major fights. So it was sort of a perfect storm of many factors coming together over time.”
Besides his book being lavishly illustrated with dozens of photos from archival sources as well as the Jofre family’s private albums, Smith weaves a colorful tapestry of contextualization for Eder’s esteemed place in the bantamweight division of the 1950s and 60s through his intricate profiles of Eder’s peers and opponents. You will be introduced to, or become more well acquainted with, the likes of Ernesto Miranda, Eloy Sanchez, Jose Medel, Johnny Caldwell, Herman Marques, Katsutoshi Aoki, and Fighting Harada to name just a few.
And, lest we forget Jofre’s successful featherweight campaign, Chris gives equal consideration to his 1969 comeback. This followed a three-year hiatus from the ring for Eder after losing his bantamweight title to Harada, as well as their rematch one year removed from their first encounter, accounting for the only two defeats of his two-decade-long Hall of Fame career. Jofre would work his way through the 119-pound weight class before once again ascending to the top of the mountain in a second division by beating Jose Legra for the featherweight championship in 1973.
It goes without saying that the most valuable resource Smith was able to tap into was the Jofre family itself. “I had heard there was a movie in the works on Eder’s life, 10 Segundos para Vencer (10 Seconds to Victory, released in 2018) and kept track of it for years, and then when it was finally made I asked around if it was available with English subtitles, would there be a DVD, etc.,” Chris explained. “His son, Marcel, messaged me. From there we sort of clicked.”
Conversations with Jofre’s daughter and caretaker, Andrea, as well as Eder himself followed. “I already had years and years of research, background information on Eder, his family and opponents, to the point where many would ask me to write a book. I floated the idea with Marcel and Andrea and they loved the idea and said they’d help me however they could,” Chris recalls. “This resulted in speaking with other family members, Brazilian boxing journalists and historians, so I was able to further expand my research. I think they, along with Eder, were just so happy to see him getting this type of focus outside of Brazil. They understand the importance of the USA to his own career and the history of the sport, and the enthusiasm of English speaking boxing fans around the world, particularly England, Australia, etc. so they loved the idea that his story would be even more known and would have sort of a reference in another language.”
Smith, who makes a living in the real estate industry, had to wear multiple hats to keep the engines of progress running at full steam ahead. “I made sure to discipline myself with a schedule and organized my days accordingly,” he remarked to me. “I work long hours at my job sometimes and get burned out, but I just made sure to not use that as an excuse and was essentially working two full-time jobs with this project too. It sounds like a lot, but I think because I enjoyed it so much, I never felt it was a chore even for one minute.”
Inspired by the works of highly-regarded biographers such as Adam Pollack (In the Ring with Jack Johnson) and Clay Moyle (Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion), Chris reserves special praise for Springs Toledo, author of The Gods of War and Murderers’ Row among others, who he rightfully refers to as “the most talented and entertaining writer that boxing has been lucky enough to have had since the days of A.J. Liebling.”
Colleen Aycock (Joe Gans, and The Magnificent Max Baer) served not only as a muse for Smith, but a mentor as well. “To be honest, when she read my manuscript and said how much she liked it, that was really a humbling moment for me,” Chris pointed out enthusiastically. “I felt very proud of the product at that moment and confident that people would enjoy this book.”