Johnny Torres was only four years old when his family moved from his birthplace in Okeechobee to Homestead, Florida. Like his parents and siblings, the boy would find himself in the fields as a migrant picking tomatoes.
Times were tough for the Mexican population as they faced discrimination at school and in the city. Johnny recalled signs outside stores and restaurants that stated “No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed Inside.” As a teenager Johnny was filled with anger but was fortunate to meet Ben Lonic who ran a boxing program in the Armory. Ben took a liking to young Johnny and took him under his wing, allowing the boy to train in exchange for maintenance work at the gym.
Ben would teach the art of the upper cut, left jab, and right hook that would open the door for the talented lad to earn $75 for his first paid fight. This was a decent pay day since Johnny and Rosa Perez had been together for several years and now at the age of 19 he was the father of two.
Johnny built a record of 6-0 before his first loss. As his reputation grew so did the purse amounts. By 1981, Johnny had become the Florida State Champion. He would fight as the
Junior welterweight (135 pounds) and a light weight (140 pounds) making his way to a ranking of 7th in the World. Perhaps his biggest fight was a last minute booking against Boom Boom Mancini. Out of shape and overweight, Johnny had seven days to lose 25 pounds. The program of rapid weight loss led him to the verge of dehydration, with terrible headaches, but Johnny had slimmed down by fight day. Being compromised while facing Mancini, who was in top form, the expected happened, and Johnny was knocked out late in the first round.
Johnny ended his boxing career with a record of 23-9. He would go on to train other young boys, without charge. He would inspire through
example, teaching that angry, deprived youths can channel life’s frustrations into the controlled regiment of boxing instead of street violence. He would become Coach of the Year for the United States in 1986 as well as an Assistant Coach for the 1996 Olympic Training Camp.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew delivered a knock-out punch that destroyed the boxing gym. The Homestead Police Department allowed Johnny to run a Police Athletic League (PAL) which enjoyed success for several years.
Amongst his list of the notable fighters that Coach Torres trained, he mentioned local Nacho Duran. Then, with a proud smile, he added his son, Rocky, who sported a 22-7 record before retiring. In early November, Rocky will follow his dad’s footsteps as he will also be inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Since there is no third generation of Torres boxer’s in the future, Johnny hopes to return to the ring in Homestead as a trainer. He would like to come back with a free program for those unable to pay for training. He credits Ben Lonic for changing his life and hopes the City of Homestead would recognize the value of the rebirth of a city boxing gym.
Johnny ended the interview by saying, “I always let everyone know I am from Homestead.” After all, Homestead has given Johnny and many others the chance to reach their full potential as the city has matured philosophically giving all its citizens equal opportunities.