Bernard Caraballo, a pioneer as an idol and in disputing a world boxing title for Colombia, died this Thursday and will be buried today (2:00 pm) in Cartagena. He was an outgoing character, inside and outside the ring, who even won a drunken fight, as his wife Zunilda Contreras recounts in this chronicle that, under the title ‘This fight was won by my beautiful black woman’, is part of the book ‘Relatos más beyond the ring’, which Intermedio will publish in the first days of next February:
– Oh, my God! Pa’ where will that man have taken?
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With those desperate words, Zunilda Contreras, a beautiful young woman from Chambacú, the black neighborhood in Cartagena, confirmed what she had thought three years before: that she could not leave her husband alone for a moment in this world.
Nothing else was to wake up, 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.
How an insane woman looked for him in every corner of the hotel, in nearby places and several streets around. There was no trace of him.
Until, after three hours of anguish, someone told her that her husband had been taken by ‘Chepe’, a friend from Barranquilla.
She took her husband’s work clothes and, in the dark of night, hailed a taxi, in the company of Sócrates Cruz. After several turns, through different streets, he found the house of ‘Chepe’.
And there, in the middle of a party, just raising her elbow to take a drink of rum, was her husband, Bernardo Caraballo, who was contesting the South American bantamweight professional boxing title that night, held by the Brazilian Waldemiro Pinto.
He didn’t say anything to him when he saw him drunk. He asked Cruz, the Cuban coach, to keep the secret, and in the same vehicle he took him to the Humberto Perea Coliseum.
She asked that no one enter the dressing room, ordered to buy a soda and an Alka-Seltzer and gave it to her husband to drink. He immediately put him in the shower and then put him to bed to sleep. So he dressed him as a boxer, and woke him up when he was called to fight.
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‘I hardly remember anything’
“The truth is that I forgot that I was fighting that night and I went to ‘Chepe’s’ (he doesn’t know the name) birthday party. I don’t remember much of the fight…
“Pinto’s corner (then undefeated in 55 fights and third world challenger) congratulated me on the victory. I answered that I won by points because I was drunk, or else I’ll kill him,” says Caraballo, sitting in the living room of his house, number 13-103 La Paz street, in the Torices neighborhood, in Cartagena.
Zunilda smiles, sitting down, listening to her husband.
She has not stood still, constantly going to the kitchen to pack in any disposable jar or plate the yam, mango and plum sweets that she herself prepared this day, Good Friday, for her five children, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, in addition to the neighbors and visitors to the house.
“It’s tradition,” he says.
I summarize what was published by the newspaper El Heraldo, two days after the fight:
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 grabbing and that the fight was so bad that the Municipal Boxing Commission fined the boxers 2,000 pesos.
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“He did too much drunk”, Zunilda manages to affirm and lets out a laugh.
“That fight was won by my beautiful black woman,” admits Caraballo, today a pensioner from the Cartagena Terminal, the first idol of Colombian boxing and who was called the ‘Venao’ because of his leg speed.
Zunilda met Bernardo before he became a Colombian sports star. They were residents of Chambacú, back in 1958.
He arrived there, aged 8, after being born on January 1, 1942 in the district of Bocachica.
She was the only woman invited everywhere by the group of boxers and shoe punchers, made up of, among others, Caraballo, Orlando Pineda, Rodrigo Valdés, Pedro Vanegas, ‘Baba’ Jiménez and ‘Kid Pambelé’.
Soon they were dating and then they went to live in the house of Santos Rodríguez, his mother and later famous because the boxer dedicated his fights to him.
They were married on April 30, 1961, in the San José de Torices church, at six in the morning. Zunilda taught him to read, to write and to defend himself in life.
Married, he was a womanizer and as awake as in the ring, but he had to learn more about life.
“Married, he was a womanizer and as awake as in the ring, but he had to learn more about life. When he returned from the first fight in Bogotá (he won the national flyweight belt against Jaime Caro on September 1, 1962), he was amazed by the city and the hotel elevators”, Zunilda maintains.
“That day I said that 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 regretted when he disappeared that day of the fight with Pinto, in Barranquilla, “he adds.
‘Stand up, Bernardo!’
From so much walking as a young man with boxers, Zunilda understood the secrets of boxing. So when Cuban Cruz traveled out of Cartagena, she conducted practice in Torice’s backyard, where he built a gym.
“I dedicated myself to analyzing the rivals and before starting each assault, well positioned on ring side, Bernardo looked at me. We understood each other with signs. I told him to hit his chin, to raise his guard, to move… Rather, I told him the best and that’s how he won,” he says.
Zunilda’s cries of ‘stand up, Bernardo, stand up!’, in the defeat against the Brazilian Eder Jofre (on November 27, 1964, in Bogotá, in the first World Cup opportunity for a Colombian), were recorded in the press that covered that fight.
“He looked at me and made a sign that he had no legs. They forced him to downgrade. Jofre did not knock him down, he fell”, she says now.
Caraballo was the idol (El Heraldo published that 860 people flew from Barranquilla in two days by Avianca, to see the fight with Jofre), the extrovert who came up with three robes, who predicted results and filled the squares of Colombia and the world.
He had fine boxing and was controversial (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 corroborate what a character he was – I fought in Bogotá with (the Spanish-Moroccan) Mimoun Ben Alí and they told me that the president of Colombia was as a special guest, to whom they introduced me before starting the fight.
“Later, in the ring, the journalists, with their microphones, asked me to whom I dedicated the victory.
“And I answered the usual: ‘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! Later, he invited me to the Presidential Palace.”
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 robe 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. Only that I have been cutting it, because it has been damaged, ”he says. And invites us to the patio.
Bernardo did not want to go to the back of the house, where a gym worked for almost 15 years, because there is rubble and weeds, as well as two roosters, five hens and a rabid dog locked up.
“Look what was left of this, which was the best gym in Cartagena,” he repeated over and over again.
“And in that room (he points to one next to the patio), before he went to Venezuela and came back famous as a world champion, my compadre ‘Pambelé’ lived”.
There, in the patio, Zunilda commands again, indicating with the handcuffs the place to hit.
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In the courtyard, the idol speaks again:
“Because of Zunilda I won more than one fight… She is the champion of my life…”.
(Published in EL TIEMPO, on July 19, 2011. Cartagena).
Estewil Quesada Fernandez
Caribbean Regional Editor of EL TIEMPO
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