Four months after the Thrilla in Manila – the legendary October 1, 1975 fight that took a heavy toll on both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier – the Greatest of All Time found himself under Iris Chacón’s spell during a charity fight against radio and TV host José Miguel Agrelot, aka Don Cholito. Though it’s one of the most memorable moments of his visit to Puerto Rico, Ali actually headed to the Caribbean island because he wanted his next fight to be easy, which is how Don King ended up booking him to take on Jean-Pierre Coopman, a less formidable opponent, on February 20, 1976 at the coliseo Roberto Clemente. His fight against Coopman went on to become an easy win for Ali, but how he spent his month in Puerto Rico is what’s worth remembering.
“Ali arrived in Puerto Rico on January 21, 1976,” said boxing fanatic Arturo Santiago Rubero, according to Primera Hora. “I went to meet him. Between the press and I, there were 40 people waiting for him.” Though he dedicated time to training for his match, Ali didn’t just sit around the Hotel san Juan de Isla Verde during his month-long stay. He visited the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus – something El Nuevo Día reporter Jorge Pérez vividly remembers. Pérez attended UPR at the time, and he saw Ali calmly walk around the campus, among the students. “A classmate of mine, who I later worked with, later told me that he was able to get close up to Ali, and that he even touched him and pressed his bicep,” Pérez wrote.
Ali set up a boxing ring at The Río Piedras State Penitentiary, aka Oso Blanco, and sparred with any of the inmates that were up to the challenge, according to Fox News Latino. But his fake beef with Don Cholito became one of the best ways he promoted his fight against Coopman. On El Show del Mediodía, Don Cholito stepped to Ali. “Everybody in the whole world says that you have a big mouth, and that you talk too loud,” Don Cholito said. As Ali starts wagging his finger in Cholito’s face, the host takes off his blazer and tells the boxer to reconsider what he’s doing. Standing at 6-foot-3-inches, Ali dwarfed Don Cholito. But the TV host didn’t back down, and slapped Ali before knocking him out.
Eventually, the two took their fake rivalry to the ring at the Pepín Cestero de Bayamón. Chacón – who gained popularity in the 70s for her singing, dancing, and commercials – joined her fellow Puerto Rican’s corner team, and just like everything else in her career, she did it on her terms, the Iris Chacón way. In one image, she’s seen massaging the radio host, as she wears a personalized Tweety shirt. When the fight started, Cholito managed to get some hits in, but he fell at one point. That’s when a dancing Chacón stepped in and helped him get back to his feet. “After [he got up], she distracted Ali, and then Don Cholito took advantage and knocked him out,” Santiago said. Chacón used her butt to clinch the fight for Cholito, and helped the two men raise money for the Asilo de Ancianos La Providencia en Puerta de Tierra.