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The Cocoa Kid

Apr 26 2014 | 0 comments

The Cocoa Kid, aka Herbert Louis Hardwick was born in the City of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico to Maria Arroyo, a native of Puerto Rico, and Lewis Hardwick, an African American Merchant Marine. In 1913, his father was on leave and left the island without knowing that Maria was pregnant with his child. It was only upon his return several months later, that he found out that he was a father.

The Hardwick family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was still a child and his father renamed him "Herbert Lewis Hardwick." Tragedy struck the family when his father and the rest of the crew of the USS Cyclops disappeared during World War I. The loss of the ship and 306 crew and passengers without a trace sometime after March 4, 1918, remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history not directly involving combat. The cause of the ship's loss is unknown. Hardwick was only four years old.

Shortly thereafter, upon the death of his mother, Hardwick went to live with his maternal aunt Antonia Arroyo-Robinson. Arroyo-Robinson raised Hardwick and he came to identify more with his Puerto Rican heritage.

Hardwick began to box in Atlanta when he was fourteen years old under the tutorship and management of Edward Allen Robinson (Antonia's husband). He fought for the first time as a professional at the age of fifteen, on May 27, 1929 at the Elks' Restaurant, in Atlanta, against a boxer who went under the name of "Kid Moon" and was victorious in that encounter.

The boy sprouted into adolescence like a reed reaching toward the sun. He turned fifteen in 1929 and was already fighting as a professional featherweight in segregated boxing clubs in a segregated city. His arms were like whips. Battles royal were on the undercards. At seventeen, he earned fifty-cent purses in West Palm Beach, Florida. He owned one shirt and wore his boxing shoes on the street when he was discovered by Harry Durant, a state senator from Connecticut. Durant brought him north where the real action was.

It was in New Haven that Lewis began to call himself Luis. Reporters couldn’t get two syllables out of him, though when given the opportunity to speak on his own terms in radio interviews or from the ring, blacks and whites in the audience raised an eyebrow; he would speak Spanish, as if trying to connect with those he identified with, as if trying to win their affection.

Senator Durant was impressed with Hardwick and sponsored his trip to New Haven where Hardwick began to fight under the name of the "Cocoa Kid." The name printed on his boxing license was that of "Louis Hardwick Arroyo." Hardwick used various names during his boxing career, besides using "Louis Arroyo," he would also fight under the name of "Louis Kid Cocoa". On April 4, 1932, he scored a win in his first fight in Connecticut, against a boxer named Joe Miller.

The group was known as the "Black Murderers' Row." This group was made up primarily of African-American highly rated boxing contenders in the 1940s and 1950s, who competed around the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions. Hardwick was the only Hispanic of African descent in the group. Renowned for their toughness and great boxing ability, they were feared throughout the boxing world and were the most avoided fighters of their generation. According to boxing pundit Jim Murray, the Murderers’ Row was the most exclusive men’s club the ring has ever known. They were so good and so feared that they had to have their own tournament. The term "Boxing Murderers’ Row" was coined by writer Budd Schulberg, screenwriter of On the Waterfront.

He craved recognition and fought over 250 times to get it. For eighty-one months between 1933 and 1947, he was a serious contender in the lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight divisions, a reed reaching number one but never quite touching the sun. No champion dared face him—not Barney Ross, not Henry Armstrong. Long after his skills had declined with age, a prime Sugar Ray Robinson ran out on a contract to fight him—twice.

He made four defenses of the title. On September 22nd of that year at the same venue, he defeated Jackie Elverillo on points in 10 rounds. On 11 June 1937, at the Coliseum Arena in New Orleans, Hardwick fought his old nemesis Holman Williams, prevailing in a close fight, winning a decision in the 12-rounder. Ring Magazine had donated a championship belt for the bout.

Hardwick successfully defended his title against Black Canadian boxer Sonny Jones at the Valley Arena in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 15 November 1937, in a bout refereed by former world heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey. Hardwick scored a technical knock out in the sixth round of their 15-round bout. He had devastated Jones in the third with a right to his jaw and opened a cut over Sonny's left eye with another right. Eventually, Sharkey stopped the fight as Jones could barely see.

Hardwick lost the title to Charley Burley on 22 August 1938, at Hickey Park in Millvale, Pennsylvania. Burley won a unanimous decision in the 15-round bout, knocking Hardwick to the canvas three times and defeating him decisively, taking his title. Burley never defended the title, probably out of a desire to get a title shot with Armstrong. To fill the vacant title, Hardwick and Holman Williams met in a rematch on 11 January 1940 at the Coliseum in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1944, a controversy erupted between Hardwick and a boxer named "Oakland Billy Smith." When the fighters met on November 24, in the Civic Auditorium of San Francisco, California, the betting odds favored the Cocoa Kid over Smith by 2 to 1. When Hardwick was knocked down four times, referee Frankie Brown became suspicious and stopped the fight, declaring it a "no-contest." During an investigation carried out by the California Boxing Commission, Hardwick claimed his poor performance was due to personal anxiety about his “sick mother” (meaning his aunt Antonia). According to the Oakland Tribune, the commission felt that Hardwick threw the fight. In addition to withholding his earnings, the commission fined him $500, and suspended him from boxing for six months.

That same year of 1949, Hardwick was Robinson's sparring partner at the welterweight king's training camp in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Robinson was training for a fight with Steve Belloise and was at his peak. In one session, Hardwick landed a short overhand right to Robinson's chin and dropped him in the second round.

After retiring from the ring in 1950, Hardwick found himself homeless and penniless in Chicago. Marguerite Winrou, his wife, divorced him and gained the custody of their children. According to the Naval Record Management Center in St. Louis, Missouri, Hardwick had served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was honorably discharged after being diagnosed with pugilistic dementia by military doctors. He kept his diagnosis a secret during his days as a boxer in order to continue boxing.

He wasn’t sure of his name anymore, this tattered figure wandering Times Square. “Heriberto Harwitz” was as close as he could get. He’d shuffle over to the general delivery window at 33rd and 8th and mumble to the clerk. benefit check was his only income, but he’d often lose his service papers and had to find his way to the local veterans office and fill out an application for copies. Staff had a fine time trying to sort through the misinformation he provided—he forgot where and when he was born. 9, 1916” in “Mexico” he guessed on one application. He was actually born on May 2, 1914 in Puerto Rico.

Due to his long and difficult boxing career, Hardwick suffered from pugilistic dementia in his last years. In 1955, he wrote to the Navy asking for a copy of his discharge papers which he claimed were stolen with his Social Security card and was later admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in North Chicago. He died there on December 27, 1966 and is buried in Wood National Cemetery, section 36a, row 11, site 3, located in the state of Wisconsin. In 2011, Hardwick was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.


A Reed Reaches Toward the Sun: Cocoa Kid. (2014). Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from

Cocoa Kid. (2014). Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from

Herbert Lewis Hardwick. (2014). Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from

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