Felix Zabala

Felix “Tuto” Zabala (October 18, 1937 – May 6, 2021) was a Miami-based boxing promoter and manager. He was a promoter and manager of over 50 fighters for forty years, handling world champions, contenders, and other fighters. Boxing historian Hank Kaplan considered him “the best promoter in Miami”. He was also inducted into the “Florida Boxing Hall of Fame” as part of the “Class of 2009”.

American boxing promoter

. . . Felix Zabala . . .

Zabala was forced to deal with national conflicts early in his life. At 21 years old, he took up arms against the Castro government. He was eventually captured and detained for questioning in 1961. Though he was married, Zabala chose to flee Cuba on August 25, 1961. A friend who worked at an airline assisted him and got him aboard a flight to Jamaica. He worked as a taxi driver in Kingston for three months. With other Cuban militants, he joined an exile community in San Juan, Puerto Rico where he helped found Alpha 66. His wife, child, and young brother arrived from Havana soon thereafter.

In need of money Zabala began work as a boxing promoter, tirelessly putting up posters and other materials. His first large promotion was between middleweights Florentino Fernández and Rocky Rivero. The day Rivero was due to arrive in San Juan for the match, Zabala received a phone call from Rivero’s management saying that they wanted double the previously agreed-upon amount of money. Zabala paid him half of his requested payment upon arrival; however, he refused to pay the remaining difference after the fight, citing the terms of the existing contract.

Due to business reasons, by 1980, Zabala felt he had to leave San Juan. He relocated to Miami, where he took a job as regional representative for Muhammad Ali Professional Sports. However, he continued to promote Puerto Rican fights as well. Zabala retained his close contacts with fighters and trainers in Puerto Rico, however, and continued to promote events on the Caribbean nation. He bought a gym in 1982 from fellow promoter Chris Dundee.

Tuto Zabala’s first champion was Dominican Republic native Carlos Teo Cruz, a lightweight with a good chin and a light punch. The next Zabala champion was Vicente Paul Rondon, a Venezuelan fighter who was WBA light-heavyweight champion from 1971-1972. From the early sixties to the late seventies, Zabala promoted several hundred fights in San Juan, booked Puerto Rican fighters to fight abroad, and was involved in a dozen world title fights. Besides Florentino Fernandez, Teo Cruz and Vicente Rondon, Tuto Zabala promoted Miguel “Happy” Lora, Alfredo Escalera, Robinson Pitalua, Angel Espada, Jose Gonzalez, Pedro Miranda, Sammy Serrano and many other main event fighters and prelim club fighters.

For a few years, until the spring of 1998, Allstar and Don King Productions had a co-promotion deal, though the relationship between Zabala and King goes back to the early Seventies, when Zabala was still in Puerto Rico. Their association ended during preparations for that 1998 Wilfredo VazquezNaseem Hamed confrontation in England. King had wanted Vazquez to fight a rematch with the WBA mandatory challenger, Antonio Cermeno, whom King promoted, and who had beaten Vazquez in 1995 to win the WBA Junior Featherweight world title from him. Zabala logically went for the more lucrative and higher-profile bout.

“We don’t do business together anymore, but I still consider [King] my friend,” Zabala explained. “We’ve been friends a long time. I even had a fiftieth birthday party for him; it was about fifteen, seventeen years ago. It was in our back yard. We had lechón asada and black beans.”

. . . Felix Zabala . . .

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. . . Felix Zabala . . .