Panama Al Brown: The Cabaret Man
By Simon Graham
Alfonso Teofilo Brown Stood 6 feet tall with a reach of 72 inches you could be forgiven for thinking that these are the stats of a cruiserweight or light heavy boxer. But Panama Al was somewhat of a freaky bantamweight, equipped with sublime boxing skills and a dancers movement Brown’s career would take many twist and turns in and out of the ring but like so many fighters of this era his colourful career would end tragically.
Born in Colon Panama his first exposure to boxing came while watching American soldiers boxing at the United States Shipping Board, at the Panama Canal Zone, where he worked as a young clerk.
He turned pro in 1922 and within 7 fights was the Panamanian flyweight champion, he then had his first overseas fight in New York in 1923 where he quickly built up a reputation as the third best flyweight by Ring magazine, moving into 1924 they also had him as a world top 6 bantamweight contender.
Brown settled in Paris in 1926 after fighting multiple times in Europe finally getting a shot at the title in 1929, in a preliminary fight Brown scored one of the fastest knockouts in history breaking Gustav Humery’s jaw with his first punch the referee counting out Humery after 15 seconds.
On June 18, 1929, Brown made history by becoming the world’s first Hispanic world champion, beating Gregorio Vidal by a fifteen round decision to win the vacant NYSAC bantamweight title a year later he beat Johnny Erickson by disqualification to claim the NBA bantamweight title and then that same year beat Eugène Huat to claim the IBU bantamweight title.
Between the years 1930 to 1935 Brown defended his titles numerous times he would often find himself defending one title only to be stripped of another regaining them in quick succession.
After losing his titles in 1935 the smart dressing flamboyant Brown turned to singing and dancing in cabaret clubs, living the high life and mixing with the Parisian elite. After prolonged drug abuse he was persuaded by his partner French Poet Jean Cocteau to enter rehab get fit and box again.
Brown returned to the ring in 1939 for what would be his last great fight defeating Baltasar Sangchili the man who had taken his title 1935 to become champion again, Brown fought once more that year before retiring again.
In later life he returned to the USA by now all the high society living in Paris had paid its toll after bouts of syphilis, battling arthritis and in need of money Brown would spar up and coming contenders for a dollar a round taking huge beatings.
Panama Al Brown died penniless in New York of tuberculosis in 1951. Originally buried in New York City, his remains later were interred at Amador Guerrero Cemetery in Panama City, Panama where he is remembered as a true legend.
With a record of 161 fights 129 wins Brown was the recognized bantamweight world champion for six years and over that time made 11 title defences against the best bantamweights and featherweights of his era.
“For me to be alive, I need 20,000 bottles of champagne. The rest comes second.”
A true character out of the ring and an outstanding boxer inside.