Home > Boxing > Boxing in Mexico: A curious tradition

Boxing in Mexico: A curious tradition

I was recently talking to a couple of friends about Mexican boxing and I realised that it is worthy of an article. After all, boxing in Mexico really is something of a phenomenon.

No country has a more storied tradition in the sport. Only the United States has produced more world champions than Mexico, which boasts 109 and among these 109 are some of the greatest fighters to ever grace a ring. I use the term fighter as in Mexico, you do not box, you fight. There is a certain macho pride attached to being a fighter and if you do not show a fighter’s heart, you will struggle to get the respect and adoration of the public (ask Oscar de la Hoya). Mexico is a country that describes Barrera vs. Morales as simply una gran pelea (a big fight). In the United States, it is a ‘fight for the ages.’ So what is it that makes Mexico such a force in boxing when they fail to make much of an impression in other sports? In all honesty, it is something of a mystery. Many argue that the fighting instincts can be traced back to the Incas and Mayans, and that certain ethnic groups such as the Tarahumara show a particular prowess. Others claim that growing up in severe poverty engenders a mental toughness and fighting spirit that a comfortable lifestyle does not. Neither theory is satisfactory. The former is virtually impossible to prove and whilst the latter may be proved by the likes of Erik Morales, it is just as emphatically disproved by Marco Antonio Barrera and his law degree. Whatever the reason for the country’s success in the sport, we should be thankful. With so many great fighters, it is difficult to pick out individuals. Nonetheless, I am going to try to provide a list of the greatest ever Mexican fighters… here we go!

1) Julio César Chávez 107(86) – 6(4) – 2

Number one on the list is the only place that is not up for debate really. The word legend is much overused in sport nowadays, but when talking about Chávez, feel free to use it liberally. El César del Boxeo was a three weight world champion who enjoyed demigod status in his homeland. How many boxers could pack 132,247 spectators into the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City? That is what Chávez did in February 1993 when he fought Greg Haugen. Chávez was a remarkably tough fighter without an ounce of quit in him and in many ways embodies what people associate with boxing when they think of Mexico. In a long and illustrious career, Chávez racked up a string of wins over top fighters including: Edwin Rosario, Ruben Castillo, Greg Haugen, Hector Camacho and, who can forget, Meldrick Taylor in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year for 1990 as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a 12th round KO of the American when trailing of the two of the three judges scorecards. Unfortunately, the greatest Mexican boxer of all time was a shell of his former self when he fought Oscar de la Hoya and it was sad to see the death of a legend as another was born. Nevertheless, in a 115 fight career Chávez reeled off 107 victories and in the process left us with years of memories to cherish. Unarguably the greatest fighter Mexico has ever produced.

2) Erik Morales 49(34) – 6(2) *

The decision to place Morales at 2 may spark much debate as people cite the fact that he lost twice to Barrera, but in my opinion Morales beat a higher level of opposition in general and often won in convincing fashion. The man known as El Terrible began his professional career at the tender age of 16 in poverty stricken surroundings in Tijuana. For Morales it was the ring or the narcotics trade and fortunately, he loved to fight. Like Chávez, Morales is a three weight world champion and will forever be remembered for his barnstorming trilogy with arch nemesis Barrera. Morales lost the series 2-1, but most observers felt it could have gone either way. Morales is still active after a two and a half year hiatus, but if truth be told, his best days are behind him. In his prime, Morales scored wins over Barrera, Manny Pacquiao, Paulie Ayala, Wayne McCullough, Junior Jones, Daniel Zaragoza and Kevin Kelley. Morales was again a typical Mexican fighter who preferred a fight in a phone booth to a tactical tussle. That said, his boxing skills were always underrated and he could use them if needed. It is primarily for this reason that he is at number 2.

3) Juan Manuel Marquez 50(37) – 5(0) *

Marquez is perhaps the most underrated of the fighters being discussed here and has suffered from living in the shadow of Barrera and Morales. Dinamita became a star in his own right after a thrilling draw with Manny Pacquiao in May 2004. Marquez was floored 3 times in the opening round before dominating all night on the counter, rocking Pacquiao on several occasions. He was unlucky not to get the decision. He too has gone on to become a three weight world champion and holds impressive wins over Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor, Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez, as well as the draw with Pacquiao. Marquez is still going      strong and could yet add to his legacy.

4) Ricardo López 51(38) – 0

This may come as a surprise to many but López was genuine elite class and had he boxed in a more glamorous weight division, (he was a minimumweight) he might get the credit he deserves. Finito, as he was known, is one of very few fighters to retire with his 0 still in tact. He went to Japan and knocked out Hideyuki Ohashi in his own backyard to capture the WBC Minimumweight strap, a title which he defended 20 times. Later moved up to Light-Flyweight and won the IBF world title, which he went on to defend twice before retiring. López was a tremendously skilled boxer with a solid punch and is more than worthy of his place on the list.

5) Marco Antonio Barrera 65(43) – 7(1) *

The Baby Faced Assassin started boxing for pay at 15 and defies the stereotype that boxers come from deprived backgrounds. Barrera was raised in a middle-class family and had aspirations to become a lawyer (he holds a law degree from La Salle University in Mexico City). He instead chose to fight for a living and he has done well out of it with millions of dollars in the bank and a legacy that very few can match. Another three weight world champion, Barrera shows a great chin, good punch and a lust for blood (all traits loved by Mexican fight fans), but he is also capable of utilising boxing skills if the occasion calls for it. He is shoe-in for Canastota (boxing’s hall of fame), but is now coming to the end of a career that has seen wins over Morales (twice), Naseem Hamed, Kevin Kelley, Johnny Tapia, Kennedy McKinney and Paulie Ayala.

Honourable mentions

Salvador Sanchez 44(32) – 1(0)

Best known for beating the previously unstoppable power puncher Wilfredo Gomez by 8th round TKO, as well as a win over Azumah Nelson (TKO15). His life and career were cut tragically short by a car crash at the age of 23. Sadly, we will never know how good he could have been.

Israel Vazquez 44(32) – 5(4) *

Will always be remembered for four fight series with Rafael Marquez. Held the IBF and WBC Super-Bantamweight world titles and boasts wins over Rafael Marquez (twice), Jhonny Gonzalez, Oscar Larios, Jorge Julio, José Luis Valbuena and Ivan Hernandez. Typical blood and guts warrior from Mexico City, but his career looks to be over now as scar tissue has reduced his face to something like a blood-filled balloon ready to pop at any given moment.

Carlos Zaraté 66(63) – 4(2)

One of the sport’s greatest ever punchers with 63 KOs in 66 victories. Former WBC Bantamweight champion but failed to add the Super-Bantamweight version after losing to Jeff Fenech and Daniel Zaragoza. Best remembered for 15 round Split Decision loss to Lupé Pintor in which the scorecards varied wildly from 143-142 in favour of Pintor, to 145-133 for Zaraté. Lost his biggest fight against Wilfredo Gomez after taking four trips to the scales to make weight. Does however, boast wins over Paul Ferreri and Alfonso Zamora.

Rafael Marquez 39(35) – 5(4) *

Has lived in his brother’s (Juan Manuel) shadow for a long time, but he is a top class fighter in his own right. Another who typifies all that is good about Mexican boxing and who packs a punch capable of turning a fight, something he did against Tim Austin in the 8th round to win the IBF Bantamweight title. Possesses excellent boxing skills, particularly the jab (ask Israel Vazquez), but prefers a fight (again, ask Vazquez). Will always be remembered for epic fights with Vazquez (won 2 and lost 2) but also holds wins over the likes of Tim Austin, Mark ‘Too Sharp’ Johnson, Silence Mabuza (twice) and Heriberto Ruiz.

José Angel Napoles 81(55) – 7(4)

Old school Mexican fighter and former WBC Welterweight champion. Lost his biggest fights against John H Stracey and the great Carlos Monzon. Nonetheless, 81 wins and a four year reign as world champion mean that the man known as Mantequilla (butter) is worthy of a mention.

So there you have it, my list of Mexico’s greatest fighters. I am sure there is much to debate here, so if you do not agree, all comments are welcome!

* still active

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