Friday, August 11, 2017

‘Rock of New Mexico’ goes the distance, ascends in the ring and life

From humble beginnings to life as a lightweight contender, Larry Cisneros put Questa on the map

By Arcenio J. Trujillo, The Taos News

In this undated photo, Questa native Larry Cisneros (pictured at left) poses for a photo with legendary heavyweight fighter Joe Louis in Detroit, MI. Cisneros ascended the world lightweight boxing rankings to the number three spot and finished his 10 year career with a 73-15 record with 21 knockouts. 
In a fateful moment, in the sleepy village of Questa, a dreadful telegraph was delivered to the family of a U.S. Army soldier who was serving his country overseas during World War II. The soldier was Laureano “Larry” Cisneros, and he had been declared “killed in action” on the battlefield in North Africa. The Army went so far as to return Cisneros’ clothing and effects to his boxing manager back in the U.S. Luckily, news of Cisneros’ death turned out to be a mistake. He was alive and still fighting. The major flub had a silver lining when the Army discovered his talents in the ring. Cisneros was a professional boxer. He was soon tapped to fight for the United States Army.
Contender in the ring
Before he found himself on the battlefield, Cisneros had a stout professional fighter’s résumé. The Questa native fought in the lightweight division and built up his record over a 10-year period to finish with 73 wins and 15 losses, with 21 knockouts. Cisneros fought in the latter half of the 1930s with his debut fight taking place in San Luis, Colorado, against Abie Valdez on Jan. 14, 1937.
Cisneros was 5 feet, 5 ½ inches tall and was chiseled like a marble statue. His physique earned him the nickname “Rock of New Mexico.” According to his official “tale of the tape,” he was a right-handed fighter, but his reach, or arm length, was lost in the records. He was featured multiple times in boxing publications throughout his career. Most notably was a picture of him and his manager, Gus Wilson, on the cover of The Knockout boxing magazine in the edition from May 31, 1947. Cisneros also met several famous boxers in his career, including Jack Dempsey, who was born less than 60 miles away in Manassa, Colorado, and Joe Louis. Both were heavyweight champions and legends in the sport of boxing.
In the early years, Cisneros worked his way up the ranks by fighting local contenders in venues in and around his hometown. Events were often singular fights and featured young boxers who were fighting in their first professional matches. Places like Taos, Eagle Nest, Cimarrón, San Luis and Questa were the towns that saw Cisneros ascend to an 11-0 start. During that span, the Rock met his first challenge when he was pitted against Chato “Bulldog” Gonzales from Corpus Christi, Texas, who came into the fight with a 22-13 record. The fight happened in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and ended with Cisneros knocking out the Bulldog in the second round March 22, 1937. Two years later, Cisneros got his big chance – leaving the tiny stage sets of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado – to face Lee Sheppard in the second bout in a five-fight event in Cleveland, Ohio, March 1, 1939. Facing the seasoned boxer, the Rock succumbed to Sheppard in the second round by technical knockout to record his first professional loss.

Lightweight boxer, Larry Cisneros (left) and former heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey share a light moment in this undated photo. Given that Cisneros hailed from Questa and Dempsey from Manassa, CO, the two were close in geography as well as friendship. Dempsey, aka. the "Manassa Mauler," was the heavyweight champion until the mid 1920's. While Cisneros fought in the late 1930's and climbed to the third spot in the world lightweight rankings.
Nearly half a world away and in the least likely of places four years later, two Northern New Mexico brethren found each other during a short respite from the battlefield of the European theater during World War II. And while the olive drab uniforms of the United States Army painted soldiers in a similar tone on the outside, it was the tone in their respective norteño voices that helped them find each other above the din of the ruffian crowd in a small Italian tavern. The date was Dec. 19, 1943, and it was a conversation the two soldiers overheard about their respective family members back home that prompted Cisneros and Octaviano “Tano” Lucero to learn more about each other.
According to family accounts, the two soldiers were in earshot range when Lucero was talking to his friends about his brother, Eloy, who was back home in Taos and had married a woman from Questa. Cisneros overheard the conversation and went over to Lucero to introduce himself; he remarked that his sister, Bertha – who was back home in Questa – had just married a man from Taos. As it turned out, they were both talking about their sibling newlyweds.
And thus began a lifelong friendship, nay kinship, that was memorialized by a photo taken shortly thereafter and sent home as a postcard to prove the odd find. The card read, “Octaviano sends his regards and best wishes to both Eloy and Bertha. Small world isn’t it? Best of luck, Larry Cisneros.”
The chance meeting of Lucero during the war was just one of the stories to emerge from the Cisneros family lore.


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