By Michael LeCompte
This is part of an ongoing series in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15) celebrating some of the Hispanic and Hispanic-American athletes and coaches who have contributed to the games we love.
Alfonso Teofilo Brown was born in Panama in 1902 and fell in love with the sport of boxing when he saw two American soldiers fighting. He turned pro in 1922 and adopted the nickname “Panama” Al Brown while on a fighting tour across the United States.
At just under six feet Brown was tall for a bantamweight and used his long reach to successfully jab away at his opponents while keeping them at bay. In 1926 he fought the first of his many bouts in Paris. 1920’s France was more welcoming to a fighter of color than America and Brown made his home there for years. While living in Paris he became an accomplished tap dancer.
On June 18, 1929 Brown defeated Gregorio Vidal in a 15 round decision to become boxing’s first Hispanic World Champion.
Throughout the 1930’s Brown successfully defended his title eleven times. When WWII broke out in Europe he moved to Harlem. His professional career long since over by the mid 1940’s he nonetheless remained in the ring, earning $1 a round as a sparring partner for up-and-coming fighters.
After contracting tuberculosis Brown died broke, physically and financially, at the age of forty-nine in 1951.
“Panama” Al Brown compiled a 123-18-10 career record in the ring, but his legacy reaches beyond the ropes and has spanned several generations to inspire other Hispanic boxers, such as Oscar De La Hoya and John Ruiz, the first Latino Heavyweight Champion.