As we get set for the Cinco de Mayo extravaganza of an all-Mexican showdown tonight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., what better time could there be to recall the greatest all-Mexican fights in the history of boxing? No greater fans of fisticuffs “Mexican-style” can there be than the good people at your favourite independent boxing website, and so we offer here our list of the most noteworthy and important, as well as the most furiously fought, all-Mexican clashes. There are the 12 rumbles most deserving of remembrance in the long history of Mexican boxing. Will Canelo vs Chavez Jr. earn a spot on this list? Only time will tell. Check it out:
12. Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles TD 12 Armando Muñiz I – March 29, 1975: When Napoles fled Cuba–and Fidel Castro’s unfortunate ban on professional boxing–he found asylum in Mexico. Moreover, he also found a more than welcoming public who knew talent when they saw it. Thus, “Mantequilla” became an honorary Mexican, amassing popularity in his new country by partaking in great battles against the likes of Curtis Cokes, Emile Griffith, Hedgemon Lewis and Carlos Monzon, the last in an unsuccessful shot at the middleweight crown. When Napoles returned to welterweight to defend his crown, he encountered the challenge of Armando Muñiz, a 6-to-1 underdog and former Olympian with a fervent desire to get ahead in life. But in Acapulco, where the first Napoles vs Muñiz bout took place, Armando found heartache and disappointment instead of fistic glory, as he saw the bout controversially stopped by the referee–after a short talk ringside with WBC honcho Jose Sulaiman–who awarded a technical decision to Napoles when Armando had clearly dominated most of the bout. As insulting and disgusting an outcome as it was, unfortunately it would be just the first of several disappointments the talented Muñiz would suffer throughout his career. For the Cuban-Mexican Napoles, it represented a wake-up call that his storied career was quickly coming to an end.
11. Erik Morales KO 11 Daniel Zaragoza – September 6, 1997: It was the classic confrontation: age and experience vs youth and raw talent. 39-year-old Daniel Zaragoza was the grizzled WBC super-bantamweight champion, his face bearing the scars of 21 world title fights. Opposite him stood Erik Morales, a 21-year-old sensation viewed as the next great Mexican fighter. Zaragoza vs Morales was regarded as Morales’ coming out party, his first chance at a world title and his introduction to American boxing fans. The early rounds were close, but in the fourth a wild right hand from the champion came over the top and landed flush on the younger man’s jaw buckling his knees. Somewhat surprisingly, after five rounds, Zaragoza had the edge over the relatively inexperienced “Terrible”. However, by the ninth it was clear Morales was slowly but surely gaining control. Gradually losing respect for the champion’s power, he began to open up, battering Zaragoza with inside uppercuts and hooks. The crowd exhorted the champion to dig even deeper, but the well was dry; the tired champion visibly slowed in round ten, Morales beating him to the punch again and again. Towards the end of the eleventh, Morales landed a huge right to the pit of Zaragoza’s stomach, the force of the blow launching the old warrior off his feet and onto his back. Rolling up to a sitting position, the soon-to-be ex-champion smiled and gestured with his fist at Morales as if to congratulate his conqueror. He didn’t bother to try and beat the count.
10. Julio Cesar Chavez TKO 8 Mario “Azabache” Martinez – Sept. 13, 1984: Once again the L.A. Forum hosts an All-Mexican showdown that will go down in history, this time on the eve of Mexican Independence weekend of 1984. 19-year-old “Azabache” Martinez, riding high after impressive knockout wins over Donny Brooks and former super featherweight champ Rolando Navarrete, gets his shot at the 130 WBC belt that Hector “Macho” Camacho had recently vacated. Mexican fans can’t wait for Martinez’ crowning, but on his path stands then unknown 21-year-old Chavez, of whom Azabache has only heard “is somewhat good”. Unfortunately for him, Azabache didn’t hear about Julio’s extraordinary relentlessness and his outsized hunger, although it’s hard to say whether it would’ve made a difference. For the better part of eight rounds Julio mercilessly pounded on a game but bloodied—and ultimately outmatched—Martinez in a brutal fight. The end result was a vintage Chavez stoppage, the first of six world titles for Chavez, and the birth of a legend. Instant and widespread acclaim followed, with the boxing world rejoicing at finally having discovered the next great Mexican fighter.
9. Carlos Palomino TKO 15 Armando Muñiz I – January 21, 1977: Palomino arrived at his first meeting with Muñiz as the undefeated WBC welterweight champion after having defeated Britain’s John Stracey a few months before, who in turn had dethroned the great “Mantequilla” Napoles. Muñiz, for his part, was taking his third shot at the title, after twice having fallen to the same Napoles. Largely due to Armando’s performances against “Mantequilla”–especially in their first fight–the challenger’s fan base had expanded considerably, and the boxing world at large expected him to give a very good effort against the always entertaining Palomino. However, those expectations fell way short of the mark, since Palomino vs Muñiz–with, once again, a packed L.A. Forum as its witness–became a memorable slugfest. After 14 very close and very violent rounds, all three judges saw an even bout, so Palomino took charge in the final stanza and earned a dramatic knockout win. This being the first time a title had been disputed between two college graduates, the fight delivered way more action than anyone could’ve predicted between these two ferocious schoolboys.
8. Lupe Pintor SD 15 Carlos Zarate– June 3, 1979: In 1979 Carlos Zarate enjoyed the adulation of his countrymen as the best bantamweight in the world. In his native Mexico City he attended parties studded with celebrities, artists and politicians, while in the U.S. he fought hard and often, earning paychecks the size of which he never could’ve dreamed of when as a kid he walked the streets of his impoverished Tepito neighborhood. After a painful loss to super bantamweight champion Wilfredo Gomez, Zarate went back down to his preferred weight class to face Lupe Pintor, a former gym mate and an ambitious up and comer himself. Fought amidst the glamour of Las Vegas Caesar’s Palace, Zarate vs Pintor is still considered a Rorschach test for boxing fans: those who favour clean, crisp punching believe Zarate should’ve earned the decision that the judges awarded to the busier, though less efficient, Pintor. At the time many believed the outcome a plain robbery, and Zarate counted himself in that camp; the loss hurled him into a downward spiral of indebtedness and drug abuse that took him years to get out of. For Pintor, it was just the start of a long career that would be filled with drama, excitement, and even tragedy.
7. Juan Manuel Marquez UD 12 Marco Antonio Barrera – March 17, 2007: Barrera defended for the fifth time the WBC super featherweight title he acquired in his rubbermatch with Erik Morales against Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay. Marquez, who three years before had amazingly fought his way back from three first-round knockdowns to a disputed draw with Manny Pacquiao, was two-fights removed from a dubious points loss to Chris John and badly in need of a signature win. With HBO’s Larry Merchant demanding a rematch before the opening bell even rang, “Dinamita” took full advantage of the opportunity against the aging–but wildly more popular–Barrera by showcasing a more offensive-minded style than usual, going toe-to-toe with the Baby-Faced Assassin. Technical and violent in equal measures, Barrera vs Marquez became a festival of flashy combinations and vicious power-punching in what would be Barrera’s last great performance. Amid all the heated action referee Jay Nady even missed a Barrera knockdown, but penalized Marco for punching Marquez when he was down. At night’s end the referee’s mistake had no bearing on the result since, surprisingly, all three judges had Marquez winning a comfortable decision in what many spectators deemed a fight too close to call.
6. Marco Antonio Barrera MD 12 Erik Morales – November 27, 2004: After two dramatically close encounters, Morales and Barrera met at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand for a third time looking for closure. Morales–the WBC super featherweight champion at the time–arrived as the slight favourite; meanwhile, fans were deeply concerned Barrera was in decline given that he underwent brain surgery following his rematch with Morales only to go and get stopped by Manny Pacquiao in 2003. Nevertheless, fans flocked to the contest entranced by the promise of non-stop action the fighters’ names represented; to the surprise of many, the two proud Mexican warriors over-delivered. What would become 2004’s Fight of the Year yielded a ferocious encounter and a scintillating eleventh round that became the best three minutes of battle that year. In the end, Barrera emerged victorious via majority decision, putting an end to one of the greatest rivalries boxing has ever seen, in passing cementing his superiority over Morales and his reputation as an all-time great Mexican fighter.
5. Rafael Herrera KO 8 Ruben Olivares – March 19, 1972: A former seminarian and hopeful soccer player, Rafael Herrera wouldn’t be on most people’s list of candidates to dethrone one of the hardest-punching champions of his time. But in front of a rowdy crowd at Mexico City’s Toreo de Cuatro Caminos, Herrera not only dethroned Puas: incredibly, he actually put a beating on him. Showing no respect for Olivares, who at that point had fought in over 70 professional fights while losing only once, Rafael pounced away from the start, opening a cut over Puas’ right eye in the sixth, and ultimately earning a highlight-reel knockout with a beauty of a right hand in the eighth. While Olivares would afterwards blame the shocking loss on weight struggles, the truth is Herrera’s triumph effectively closed an era in Mexican boxing. Olivares–perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter up to that point–would fight on for over 15 years following the loss to Herrera, but there’s little doubt he lost much more than his title that night.
4. Carlos Zarate TKO 4 Alfonso Zamora – April 23, 1977: In 1977 the two best boxers in the bantamweight division were both tremendous punchers, both undefeated, both champions, and both natives of Mexico City. A showdown was inevitable between these two friends and former training partners; even further, it was a match everyone knew could not go the distance given the lead fists of Carlos ‘Cañas’ Zárate and Alfonso ‘El Toro’ Zamora, their records combining for a phenomenal 72 KOs in 73 fights. Bad blood between the two camps added some extra intrigue, as their feuding managers and competing sanctioning commissions effectively drowned the chance of a unification bout; however, that didn’t stop the factions from agreeing to a 10-round non-title fight. In front of a robust police presence to deal with a rowdy, largely Mexican crowd, and notwithstanding the midfight intrusion into the ring of a largely unclothed spectator, Zarate vs Zamora delivered what everyone had come to see, namely a brutal war. After four chaotic rounds and two knockdowns, a flurry of hard punches from Zarate left Zamora crumpled under the ropes, effectively crowning ‘El Toro’ as the most fearsome bantamweight of his time and making him a bona fide Latino boxing superstar.
3. Israel Vazquez SD 12 Rafael Marquez III – March 1, 2008: By the time March of 2008 rolled around, the WBC title had already changed hands twice over the past twelve months between Vazquez and Marquez in back-to-back fights. The first bout saw Vazquez retire on his stool because of a broken nose, and the rematch saw Marquez getting stopped in the sixth round by a bloodied Vazquez. Both encounters offered thrilling, non-stop action cut short by premature endings, so there was the feeling among aficionados that Vazquez and Marquez could still top their already impressive displays. That is exactly what happened in their third fight, as the rubbermatch yielded an epic war between the two Mexico City natives that truly eclipsed their previous bouts. They exchanged knockdowns and fought with fierce pride through twelve grueling and rousing rounds, with Vazquez earning the split nod from the judges. It was thus that Mexican boxing saw yet another savage chapter added to its history books, but one that stands apart from all others.
2. Jesus Castillo TKO 14 Ruben Olivares – October 16, 1970: The first Olivares vs Castillo confrontation, fought at the legendary L.A. Forum, broke Puas’ impressive KO streak, although Olivares still emerged victorious after proving superior to Castillo. But that was only the opening salvo of this classic Mexican rivalry, with expectations running high when the rematch was announced. The second fight between these bitter foes–held at the same venue as the first in front of a rabid crowd of over 16,000–saw the mighty Olivares suffer a nasty cut over his left eye early on, which made it all that more difficult to deal with his nemesis’ overly inspired fists. It was a historical loss for Olivares, since it represented the first blemish on the resume of the fighter then considered the greatest among all Mexican boxers. It also represented Chucho’s peak: after failing in two previous attempts to capture bantamweight gold, he finally earned the title by stopping a fearsome puncher in a hell of a gunfight in front of an intimidating crowd, thus proving his mettle and his standing as a Mexican great.
1. Erik Morales SD 12 Marco Antonio Barrera – February 19, 2000: As far as All-Mexican fights are concerned, fans never had it better. At Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, two fierce, all-action warriors met in a super bantamweight unification grudge match that ushered in the era of the Fabulous Four. Morales brought an undefeated record, as well as impressive wins over Daniel Zaragoza, Wayne McCullough and the same Junior Jones who had twice bested Barrera. The “Baby-Faced Assassin”, notwithstanding his losses to Jones, wanted to prove he was every bit as good as the younger Morales; bookies begged to differ, some of them going as far as labeling him a 5-to-1 underdog in his first meeting with “El Terrible”.
Needless to say, Barrera vs Morales I more than lived up to its considerable hype, offering rancor-fuelled action from the opening bell and changes in momentum in practically every round. The violence reached an apex in a savage fifth stanza that earned Round of the Year honors. Controversy also arose, with Barrera earning a dubious knockdown in a dramatic final round. In the end, close scorecards awarded a split decision to “El Terrible” when most observers believed Barrera more deserving. The first Barrera vs Morales confrontation is a true boxing classic counted by many among the most vicious ever fought. –Rafael Garcia