It was not revenge—not exactly—that motivated Jose Stable during his long march toward Emile Griffith and a shot at the welterweight championship of the world. Stable had been friends with ill-starred Benny Paret, the man whose death at the hands of Griffith, on national television no less, shocked the nation. “During my years as a Golden Glover in Cuba,” Stable told Boxing & Wrestling magazine, “Paret was a big pro star there. When Benny beat Don Jordan for the welter title in this country, I was still fighting in Havana. So naturally, I looked up to him. You might say he was my hero.”
After Paret died, Stable struggled with mixed emotions about eventually facing Griffith in the ring. “Being fair about it, I can’t blame Griffith,” he said. “At the same time, I must admit that I’ll have more of a reason to win against him than somebody else. My loyalty to an old idol, the fact that Benny and I were Cubans in the days when we were proud to call ourselves Cubans—will be in my mind—and in my heart.”
In the end, vengeance, glory, and the title all proved unattainable, but their fevered pursuit may have left Stable in ruins.
During the mid-1960s, lean years for boxing, Jose Stable was considered a legitimate threat in the welterweight division. Some of the best 147-pounders in the world left the ring bruised and confused after answering the bell against him: Kenny Lane, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Dick Turner, and Gabe Terronez.
It was an upset decision over future champion Curtis Cokes, however, that stunned the boxing cognoscenti and gave Stable an instant reputation. Only 1,052 paying customers gathered at Sunnyside Garden in Long Island City on April 20, 1963, to watch Cokes and Stable square off. Cokes, the top contender at the time, was a 7-5 favorite entering the fight, but Stable outworked him for a close but unanimous decision.
Even after upending Cokes, Stable barely edged into the New York City limelight. His laconic personality, along with a workmanlike style in the ring, did little to quicken pulses in the cheap seats. (His power shortage also differentiated him from his chaotic middleweight counterpart Florentino Fernandez, a man who hit so hard he once left Gene Fullmer with a broken elbow.) And while The Big Apple was the epicenter of Latino culture, Cubans made up a meager constituency for Stable, the antithesis of the flashy Cuban fighters who had crossed over in the past: Kid Chocolate and Kid Gavilan. Whereas the Puerto Rican aficion would mob Carlos Ortiz in the streets or work themselves into a frenzy when Jose Torres fought, Cuban fighters had limited public support.
Stable was part of the Cuban diaspora that made its way to North America in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When Fidel Castro and his ragtag guerillas forced reigning dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee on December 31, 1958, the dream of revolution became a reality. Almost overnight, the Good Times ethos of Havana—casinos, mafia chic, upscale hotels, cabarets, sex clubs—vanished with the bleak finality of an extinction event. In November 1961, professional boxing, viewed as the exploitation of the working class for the base, frivolous amusement of the bourgeois, predictably followed suit.
Deprived of their livelihoods, faced with the uncertain future of the brave new world of tropical Communism, prizefighters fled the island en masse. Among them were Jose Napoles, Florentino Fernandez, Benny Paret, Sugar Ramos, Luis Rodriguez, Douglas Vaillant, Jose Legra, and Hiram Bacallao.
Stable wound up in the Bronx, alongside his idol, Benny Paret. Both men were managed by Manny Alfaro, and both men were rugged welterweights. With Paret already established as champion (“Kid” had outpointed flighty Don Jordan for the title in May 1960), Stable found himself overshadowed despite his promise. Eventually, Alfaro sold his contract to Manny Gonzalez. Now under new management, and with Victor Valle training him, Stable went on a run that would earn him the top slot in the division.
By late 1964, Stable had amassed a 14-1 record in America, with the only loss coming via decision on the road against Dave Charnley in Liverpool. The hometown crowd, giving hoarse voice to the concept of “fair play,” booed when Charnley had his hand raised. Stable rebounded with a winning streak that included his signature victories over Cokes, Hayward, Turner, and Terronez.
When he finally got his title shot against Emile Griffith in Madison Square Garden, Stable received $10,000, a middling sum even in the mid-1960s, an era when boxing found itself mired in an extended recession. But Stable had never received more than $4,400 in his career, and that payday, which he had earned against Curtis Cokes, had been attached by court order on behalf of his old manager, Manny Alfaro.
It was March 30, 1965. The main event was a sure thing: Jose “Chegui” Torres, the Puerto Rican superstar long denied glory because of his connections to Cus D’Amato, would challenge Willie Pastrano for the light-heavyweight championship of the world. In hopes of selling closed-circuit tickets, MSG added Griffith, always a New York City favorite, and Stable as a co-feature.
A crowd of more than 18,000 packed the Garden to watch a unique twin bill, one that had twenty-five percent of the existing world titles on the line in one night. Stable was ready. For more than a year he and Manny Gonzalez had been hectoring Griffith for a match. Now, five years after he left his family behind in Cuba, Stable had gotten his wish.
For the first few rounds, Stable troubled but did not overwhelm Griffith with his quirky darting-and-dodging style. With his general know-how, pinpoint jab, and combination punching, Griffith had the edge after six. In the seventh and eighth rounds, Stable began alternating between bobbing and weaving and circling on the outside, where he threw arcing left hooks and dove in close to dig to the body with both hands. When Stable won the ninth round—darting in and out with flurries—an upset seemed possible. In the tenth round, however, Griffith snapped out of his trance, accelerated, and cuffed Stable around the ring. He repeated his performance in the eleventh—although Stable returned fire when he could—and cruised through the final four rounds en route to a unanimous decision win.
What had those grueling fifteen rounds—endured in pursuit of a dream—taken from Stable? Too much, maybe, possibly everything. Stable never beat another contender. In fact, over the last two years of his career, Stable posted a miserable 1-9-1 record, even losing bouts to previous victims Gabe Terronez and Eddie Pace. If his sudden freefall was inexplicable, the result was sadly predictable.
Less than two years after challenging Griffith for the world title, Stable snapped. On February 2, 1967, in a fit of jealous rage, he shot and wounded Aida Romero, described in some reports as his common-law wife. Romero, who took slugs to her forehead and cheek, survived. Charged with felonious assault, Stable was turned over to the Department of Hospitals, for mental evaluation. Somehow Stable avoided prison, most likely because Aida, like so many victims of domestic abuse, declined to press charges. From the psych ward, Stable returned to the ring, where his misfortunes continued. He lost all three of his fights in 1967 and vanished from the fight scene.
In the early 1970s, Stable ran a bar on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx. Then, at some point, he traded the urban blight of New York City and the undertow of street life for the Sun Belt, Miami, long a destination for Cuban emigres. Stable arrived in Miami during the years of decay. How bleak was it? When Miami Vice began filming in rotting South Beach, it was the production crew that glitzed up the seedy background, almost single-handedly creating the vibrant pastel/pixel palette—along with the strobe-light, permanent midnight dance scene—meant to titillate the MTV generation and future spring breakers. A few years before Crockett and Tubbs showed up, dashing everywhere from Collins Avenue to the Everglades in chinos and Wayfarers, Miami seemed on the verge of collapse.
Jose Stable was just another lost soul among the gathering thousands wandering desolate streets and haunting the patched, parched, and peeling bungalows frying, neglected, under a tropical sun. But Stable was also a ticking bomb, set to explode seemingly at random.
The next time Stable made headlines was in 1980, when his increasingly erratic behavior led to a scene that might have been an outtake from a Monty Python film. Back in New York City as a result of a civil suit, Stable made a surreal appearance at a Bronx courthouse. From a brown paper shopping bag, Stable produced, like some sort of midway act, a live chicken, which he proceeded to twirl above his head, sending feathers fluttering throughout the courtroom. In a non-sequitur as bizarre as the circumstances surrounding it, Stable announced that he would sacrifice the chicken, there, on the spot, in order to rid his wife of asthma. “You will not be allowed to kill the chicken or shed any blood in this courtroom,” judge Anthony Mercorella told him.
Stable was in the Bronx because he had filed a civil suit against a Santero named Eduardo Pastoriza, whom Stable had paid $10,000 in exchange for the secrets of Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion whose reputation has been sensationalized over the years by several high-profile ritual slayings (the Matamoros killings in the late ’80s) and Hollywood hokum such as The Believers. Apparently, Stable was unhappy with the results, but whether there was a money-back guarantee for the services provided by Pasotriza remains unknown.
Back in Miami, Stable found himself increasingly at odds with the law. After being arrested on separate charges of aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon, he received a summons to appear before a judge. Instead of appearing personally to his court hearing, Stable sent his wife (apparently the same woman he had shot in 1967) to greet the judge with a note that doubled as a challenge. “If you want me,” it read, in part, “come and get me.”
With a warrant signed by Circuit Judge Robert Kaye, police soon descended on 8430 SW 97th Street, a ranch-style house in South Dade, where Stable lived with his wife and four daughters. Stable had barricaded himself inside the house, and officials feared the worst.
At first, Metro officers tried reasoning with Stable via bullhorn, but the ex-welterweight contender was beyond logic. A round of tear gas fired into the house fared no better. Finally, the Special Response Team stormed the house. Once they got past the front door, Stable struck, this time with a handgun instead of the left-right combinations of a lifetime ago He sprang from his hiding place behind a couch and fired a single shot that struck Patrolman Robert Diers in the head. A bloody Diers staggered out into the street, while his partners subdued Stable, with force, but without firing a shot.
His old manager, Manny Alfaro, was shocked at what had occurred, but his comments to a local reporter suggested more than he probably realized. “My goodness,” Alfaro said. “How could he be in trouble? He was a religious man. He always dressed up in white. He was in some kind of spiritual religion. The last time I saw him, three or four months ago, he said, ‘Manny, I’m a spiritual leader now.’”
This standoff, one that lasted nearly two hours and forced the evacuation of an entire neighborhood, made the front page of The Miami News. There, in a bleak black-and-white photo, is Stable, lying on a gurney, hands cuffed behind his back, his face twisted in confusion, being wheeled toward a waiting ambulance. Although Diers survived, Miami, deep in the midst of a crime wave, had lost its collective patience with perps. In 1982, Stable, found guilty of two counts of first-degree attempted murder, was sentenced to life in prison. Today, Stable, closing in on eighty, is an inmate at Central Florida Reception Center, a lifetime removed from his nights as a Madison Square Garden headliner.
And his dreams as a young man?
“They were in my heart back in La Maya, Oriente, when we kids fought in a street corner lot. We staked out a ring on the uneven ground, used tattered gloves someone had thrown away. For hours we’d put on the gloves and go home happily with a cut lip or a bloodied nose. We never cared about size or weight. Fighting was the name of the game.”