By Jim Amato

If ever a boxer was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it
was Puerto Rico’s Esteban De Jesus.
This former one time claimant of the W.B.C. lightweight title may have been the
best Puerto Rican 135 pounder since Carlos Ortiz. Unfortunately he boxed during
the era of possibly the greatest of all lightweights, Roberto Duran. This
occurred on November 17, 1972 at Madison Square Garden. Esteban floored Duran in
the first round and then boxed his way to a decision win in a non-title bout.
Then he twice whipped the respected Ray Lampkin in bouts for the American
Lightweight title thus establishing himself as the top contender.
2793803410103242731S600x600Q85On his way to his first meeting with Duran, Esteban had
lost just once and that was to W.B.A. featherweight champion Antonio Gomez in a
non-title fight. He defeated Josque Marquez twice, Victor Ortiz, Lionel
Hernandez, Percy Hayles, Angel Robinson, and Cleveland’s Chuck Wilburn. After
his victory over Duran, Estsban defeated the classy Johnny Gant and former
junior welterweight titleholder, Alfonso Frazier. These victories finally set up
a title shot against Duran. On March 16, 1974 in Panama City, Esteban again
decked Duran in the first round. this time though Roberto was in much better
condition and he gradually wore down his formidable foe stopping Esteban in
round eleven.
One year later De Jesus moved up in weight and challenged Antonio Cervantes for the junior
welterweight championship. Once again Esteban faded down the stretch as he
dropped a fifteen round decision. Again one year later De Jesus received yet
another title opportunity. He was matched with W.B.C. lightweight champion Guts
Suzuki. Showing his true class Esteban Dominated Suzuki to win an easy decision
and the crown. De Jesus would defend his title successfully three times thus
setting up the rubber match with Duran for the undisputed title.
Duran v De
Jesus III was held in Las Vegas and this much anticipated Superfight would
determine once and for all who was the world’s best lightweight. In possibly the
best performance of his career Duran proved his superiority halting Estsban in
round twelve. De Jesus would come back and put together another win streak that
included a victory over Edwin Viruet. Once more De Jesus was granted a title
shot. This time he would meet W.B.C. junior welterweight champion Saoul Mamby.
The bout took place on July 7, 1980 and the signs of Esteban’s obviously eroding
skills were there for all to see. Mamby finally halted an exhausted and
outclassed De Jesus in round thirteen. The final chapter in this fine but yet
tragic career Esteban would never gain full acceptance as lightweight champion
although only the great Duran could master him. Esteban’s final ledger is as
follows; 62 bouts, 57 victories, and only 5 defeats. He scored 32 knockouts and
he was stopped 3 times. All of his setbacks were to world champions, Gomez,
Duran twice, Cervantes, and Mamby.
The bad luck that dogged Esteban’s career
was only an omen of things to come. Not long after his retirement Esteban was
involved in a traffic dispute during which he shot and killed a
seventeen-year-old youth. For this crime De Jesus was sentenced to life in
prison. While in prison De Jesus was infected with AIDS bedridden and dying
Esteban received a surprise visit from none other then his old adversary, Roberto Duran. In a
moment of compassion completely out of character for the mean and macho Duran,
he had come to pay his respects. He had come to show his admiration for his
toughest foe. He also knew in his heart that Esteban was a true champion.

Jim Amato

Filed under: Boxing

Readers Comments (4)

  1. EZ E

    Esteban ‘Vita” De Jesus was better a better fighter than what his record indicates. He didn’t have a “gimmie” career nor wined, dinned and pampered into promenence. He fought his way to the top and defeated many top fighters. Throughout his career he battled his one main opponent. No, I’m not talking about Roberto Duran. Unfortunately it was an opponent of a different nature. It was amazing what often accomplished while… you know, living rather undisciplined. I’m sure most now understand what they wouldn’t have believed back then and that all things considered… Esteban was even a better fighter than what his great accomplihments and career indicate. “Vita” was my friend and I was his.. til the end.

    • Jim Amato

      Well said Gino. Hope you are well old friend.

  2. Rick Farris

    I agree, he was a brilliant fighter who came along at the worst possible time. Very good story, Jim! He was one of my favorites.

  3. Jim Amato

    Thanks Rick !


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