By Michael E. Miller
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Still, South Florida is home to boxing legends past and present, from Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco in Miami to Dundee in Hollywood to the reigning "King of the World," Don King, whose corporate offices stand in Deerfield Beach. If Herman Caicedo and Jessie Robinson are to add their names to this list of greats, they'll need to bring all of their diverse talents to bear in training and managing fighters like Briggs and Purlett.
Born to Colombian parents in Queens, New York, and transplanted to Miami at the age of six, the now-30-year-old Caicedo grew up fighting on Miami's mean streets. His domain was SW Eighth Street and 27th Avenue, right next to Little Havana. At age eight Caicedo began his lifelong pursuit and study of martial arts.
Bruce Lee turned a lot of kids on to Asian fighting techniques in the 1970s. The movie Enter the Dragon was what did it for Caicedo. "But at that time, martial arts was very, very hard," Caicedo says. "It was rigid. It was designed for the hard-core."
By the time he was 11, he was whipping 19- and 20-year-old men in competition. His talents took him to Long Beach, California, in 1983, where he competed in the prestigious Ed Parker Invitational -- the tournament where, 20 years earlier, Bruce Lee had knocked a man straight across the floor with his "one-inch punch." Caicedo won first place in the junior men's national competition. And such a feat is no small accomplishment.
He won again in 1986. "Throughout all that time, I became one of the youngest known instructors. I was training heavily, and I loved the art," Caicedo recalls. "Like boxing now, you could have asked me anything about the martial arts then, and I knew it. I involved myself, and I lived it." Caicedo, at this point, was studying the discipline of American Kenpo karate.
In 1987 Caicedo switched to kickboxing when that craze hit the country. Kickboxing is a brutal hybrid of the most dangerous elements of boxing and martial arts -- sweeping and kicks. He won all 14 of his fights, 10 by knockout.
With the 1990s came another martial arts craze, this one even hairier than the other two: shoot fighting, a mixture of submission wrestling and kickboxing. There was no rule when it started other than to keep your opponent breathing. The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Tough Man competitions are somewhat milder versions of shoot fighting.
Because of Caicedo's great fighting skills and the fact that his mother was essentially raising him herself, Caicedo at age 14 announced that he was leaving home -- just like that and for no particular reason. "I thought I was a man," he says. "I thought I could defend myself. My mother was a firm believer of the school of hard knocks."
Caicedo wasn't on his own too long before he started getting into all sorts of trouble. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and spent time in and out of the juvenile detention center. (The juvenile judges knew him by name, he says.) He was known as a great fighter, so gangs of Miami roughnecks would try to get a piece of him. "When you're 13, 14, 15 growing up in Miami where we were, all kids cared about was getting laid and fighting."
When Caicedo got out of juvie at age 16, he decided to turn his life around. He went to his martial arts trainer and got a loan to open his own franchise. Tiger and Dragon (later renamed Black Panther) was Caicedo's venture on SW 122nd Avenue and Eighth Street. For years he was his own boss, running a full-on martial arts school and gym. But the pressures of making rent, keeping and attracting new customers, and making sure his employees were paid wore on him. He wanted to get back into training, and he wanted to get into boxing full-time.
Caicedo sought Angelo Dundee, who at the time owned the Angelo Dundee Training Center at Pines Boulevard and Hiatus Road in Pembroke Pines, and the two moved to Tiger Tail Gym in Hollywood. Caicedo wasn't wanted there initially. He commuted from Miami (as he still does) and showed up every day anyway. He was eventually given a job as an "assistant" -- a glorified water boy. Six months later, in 1999, he was Dundee's head trainer. When he hooked up with Purlett and manager David Cypress a few months after that, Caicedo saw an opportunity to make his mark on the South Florida boxing landscape.
About 1400 miles away in inner-city Detroit, Jessie Robinson, now age 39, was taking hard-hitting street kids and turning them pro at the Kronk Gym. Robinson had started training amateur boxers in 1985 and built a strong amateur team. Detroit, the home of boxing legends Tommy Hearns and Joe Louis, is a hard-working boxing town in the same fashion as Miami.
By the early '90s, Don King had added both Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield to his stable of fighters. King was putting together a crew of trainers to take good fighters to Orville, Ohio, (a town outside Cleveland) to spar one another. Deciding to take the best fighters of the bunch and promote them, King brought Robinson in as one of his freelance trainers for this venture.