Torres, a native of the Ponce area and the son of a businessman, learned to box in the Army and captured the light-middleweight silver medal at the 1956 Melbournee Olympics. He earned his first boxing paycheck, $40, serving as a sparring partner for Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957.
Early in his pro career, Torres became friendly with young writers, among them Pete Hamill, who was with The Post. Hamill helped Torres get a column in the paper, and Torres wrote often on Hispanic community affairs. Norman Mailer wrote the preface to Torres’ biography of Ali. They remained friends, and as late as 1984, Torres was regularly sparring three rounds on Saturdays with Mailer, who was 61.
When Torres was introduced as the state athletic commissioner in November 1984 by Gov. Mario Cuomo, his guests included Cus D’Amato, his former manager; Hamill; Budd Schulberg, who wrote the epilogue to the Ali biography; and Mailer. Torres cited D’Amato as “the man who created the fighter” and Mailer as “the man who created my intellectual capacity.”
Torres vowed that as chairman of the athletic commission, he would promote educational opportunities for fighters “at least so they can read their contracts.”
“Jose will probably get a quicker response from me than other chairmen have gotten,” Cuomo quipped, “because he has this enormous chain of influential columnists.”
Tip of the iceberg
Torres, a member of the athletic commission before becoming its chairman, had also been active in politics, working for Paul O’Dwyer when he was the president of New York’s City Council and for Andrew Stein when he was the Manhattan borough president.
In his review of “Sting Like a Bee,” Leonard Gardner wrote in The New York Times that Torres had written “a study of the psychic content that in boxing is the hidden part of the iceberg.”
Shortly after resigning as athletic commissioner in May 1988, Torres reflected on the customary view that “the world of pugilism is acceptable only as a throwback to our basic animal instinct.”
Writing in the Times, Torres said he had hoped to induce people “to look at it from a more humane point of view, making them understand that, ultimately, boxing is a contest of will and character where triumphs are decided by the power of the mind, not of the flesh.”