Florentino Fernandez, whose entertaining brawling style helped him become one of the top middleweight contenders and popular local fighters of the 1960s, died of a heart attack Monday morning in Miami, his son, Florentino Jr., said. Fernandez was 76.
“He had just finished having a cup of coffee at his sister’s house and complained of chest pains,” Fernandez said. “Soon after, he passed out. Paramedics arrived very fast but they couldn’t revive him.”
Fernandez was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease but had no previous heart ailments, according to the younger Fernandez. “This is very shocking,” he said. “He was still very strong physically.”
Fernandez was born in Cuba, where he began his professional career in 1956 and moved to Miami three years later.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Fernandez was a fixture in promoters Chris Dundee’s shows in Miami Beach and Felix “Tuto” Zabala’s cards in Puerto Rico.
One of Fernandez’s noteworthy wins was a fifth-round knockout over future world light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres in 1963. Fernandez’s only world title bout resulted in a controversial split decision loss against champion Gene Fullmer in 1961.
“I’m not one to say a fighter got robbed of a decision too often but Florentino should have been champion,” boxing historian Enrique Encinosa said. “I’ve seen film of that fight many times and Florentino clearly won.
“Years later, I spoke with Fullmer at a Hall of Fame ceremony and he told me when Florentino hit him he felt chills up and down his spine.”
Fernandez retired in 1972 with a record of 50 wins, 16 losses, 1 draw and 43 knockouts. He was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009.
After boxing, Fernandez was one of the sport’s goodwill ambassadors, attending shows throughout the United States.
One of his last public appearances was three years ago in New York, where Fernandez attended as film premiere about the history of Cuban boxing.
“Lately, he had some difficulty remembering things but when it came to his boxing career, he remembered everything,” Fernandez Jr. said. “His most vivid recollections were about boxing. He recalled the many cities and countries he fought.”
In addition to his son, Fernandez is survived by wife Luisa. Funeral services are pending.