The phrase “hot Latin blood,” coined to describe the alleged fiery temperament of Spanish speakers on the planet, goes back well into the 19th century. So maybe it was inevitable that Mexico and Puerto Rico would carry on a smouldering rivalry for some eight decades. In fact, pugilism can offer no greater national feud than this one when we consider all the great fights and fighters involved.
Tomorrow we feature an exclusive excerpt from The Bittersweet Science, a new anthology of boxing writing, specifically Rafael Garcia’s compelling look back at the pivotal first clash between Mexico’s Antonio Margarito and one of Puerto Rico’s greatest champions, Miguel Cotto. Thus it’s the perfect time to recall the most competitive and entertaining battles in the most historic, not to mention the hottest, national conflict in all of boxing. Check it out:
12. Wilfredo Gomez TKO5 Carlos Zarate: A clash of power punchers whose combined records were 73-0-1 with 72 knockouts sold out the 10,000 seat Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico a week before the fight. Demand was so high that overflow seating was arranged for a closed-circuit broadcast at an open-air baseball stadium next to the venue. It took a few rounds to draw forth action from the two weight-drained fighters, but in round three both men landed stiff punches. A knockdown of Zarate in round four marked the beginning of the end. When crowd noise drowned out the bell and Gomez again put Zarate down, one minute wasn’t enough time to recover. A final knockdown summoned a towel from the Mexican’s corner in round five and “Bazooka” remained undefeated.
11. Giovani Segura KO8 Ivan Calderon I: Only 5’0″ and tipping the scales at 108 pounds, not many boxing champions have been smaller than Calderon. But against Segura the diminutive Puerto Rican showed a heart two sizes too big as a nonstop torrent of punches was chucked his way. Through three rounds Calderon managed to slip his way around Segura’s shots, but laying on the ropes too long led to serious punishment in rounds four and five. Even at 35, Calderon had a few tricks left and he boxed his way through the sixth before wobbling Segura in the seventh. Body shots ended Calderon’s night in round eight though, marking his first loss as a professional and the end of his reign.
10. Jorge Arce TKO12 Wilfredo Vazquez Jr: “Travieso” Arce skipped donning his trademark cowboy hat and sucking on a lollipop on his way to the ring for this crucial contest. At 20-0-1 with 18 knockouts, Vazquez, the son of a Puerto Rican great, wasn’t to be taken lightly. Starting quickly, Arce snagged the first few rounds before getting decked by a left hook in round four, accounting for the first knockdown of his career. But Arce’s relentless pressure was too much for Vazquez as the fight wore on. In round 11 Vazquez was caught and pummeled against the ropes, and it continued into the 12th until Vazquez’s corner signalled surrender.
9. Orlando Salido TKO8 Juan Manuel Lopez: Though Lopez had weathered a few rough patches before, he was still undefeated and coming off a career-best victory over Rafael Marquez when he was matched with Mexico’s Orlando Salido, who was viewed by many as nothing more than a tough gatekeeper with 11 losses on his record. And indeed Lopez took the initiative and out-banged the veteran in the early rounds. But Salido’s awkward delivery and jumpy style got through in round five and he sent Lopez down with a combination. From then on Lopez was repeatedly rocked and fought primarily on instinct. When round eight came Lopez had nothing left to give and the relentless “Siri” pounded him on the ropes to force a stoppage.
8. Sixto Escobar KO9 Rodolfo Casanova: The fight that started it all over 80 years ago. They didn’t know it, but the spectators at the famous Forum in Montreal were witnessing history as former editor of The Ring, Nigel Collins, would later call this bantamweight battle “the beginning of an enduring blood feud.” Mexico’s “Baby” Casanova went down in round three, but he rose and tore back in for more, even if he couldn’t seem to catch up. Round eight was a frantic attempt from Casanova to gain momentum, but his efforts were halted in the ninth when Escobar landed a right uppercut that put him to sleep. Shortly thereafter Escobar became the first Puerto Rican world champion.
7. Felix Trinidad TKO4 Yory Boy Campas: In this set-to between unbeaten fighters, Campas entered at 56-0 with 50 knockouts, while the soon-to-be beloved Puerto Rican was 23-0 and sporting 19 knockouts. Trinidad carefully navigated by Campas’ left hook in round one before running straight into it in round two and being knocked onto his keister. As he had several times before, “Tito” slugged his way out of trouble, but when he found himself rocked again in round three he twice hit Campas low, drawing a warning and then a deduction. Trinidad responded to the sanction with fury and punished Campas through the rest of the round and into the fourth where a salvo brought an end to the battle.
6. Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto: The gravity of this 2008 bout wasn’t missed in pre-fight hype and Cotto’s undefeated record made him a slight favorite. Splitting rounds early on, Margarito’s face was the worse for wear through the first half. But Cotto was rocked and sent to the ropes in round seven, which changed everything; both Cotto’s stamina and face began to disintegrate. Bleeding from his left eye, nose and lips, Cotto was sent to the canvas twice in the 11th before the match was halted. Afterward Bob Arum said that Margarito was “like an express train that couldn’t be stopped. Finally, the express train ran [Cotto] over.”
5. Julio Cesar Chavez TKO11 Edwin Rosario: “The world title is going to go directly to Mexico,” Chavez said before the fight, and he pegged it. According to punch stats, Chavez connected with over 60 percent of his blows, and among the over 700 thrown were a heap of body shots that had Rosario gasping for breath early on in the fight. Again and again Chavez pinned Rosario to the ropes near his own corner as the champion fought back and landed about half as much as he dined on. Moving up a division proved no issue for Chavez, who absorbed whatever came back at him and used his strength to push Rosario around. By round 10 Rosario’s left eye was all but slammed shut and his mouth bloodied; the following round his corner saved him by tossing in the towel.
4. Felix Trinidad TKO12 Fernando Vargas: Confident he would be facing one of the two in the near future, Vargas had watched his Olympic teammate David Reid get dismantled by Trinidad. Months later the fight was signed and Trinidad was getting under the 22-year-old’s skin, saying he would defeat Vargas easier than he did Reid. The taunting worked and Vargas was lured into trading left hooks that downed him twice in the opening round. Vargas regrouped and came back to floor Trinidad in the fourth with his own left hook and Trinidad struck low to both buy time and stem the tide. But Vargas went back to work, fighting bravely until three knockdowns in round 12 ended the war.
3. Jose Luiz Ramirez TKO4 Edwin Rosario: In this rematch on NBC’s Sportsworld, two punchers squared off for a lightweight belt that had been left vacant by Alexis Arguello. Rosario had already defeated Ramirez, but not by much and he was determined to win more clearly this time, as evidenced by an opening round knockdown of Ramirez. Sensing a chance to end the fight, Rosario attacked furiously but was met with considerable resistance. In round two Rosario again scored a knockdown and pounced, but as the Mexican weathered the attack Rosario faded. Ramirez seized the initiative in the third and in round four the war continued with the Puerto Rican taking the worst of it, falling into a corner face-first before the bout was stopped.
2. Salvador Sanchez TKO8 Wilfredo Gomez: Though he had already proved his mettle against the likes of Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Juan Laporte and Ruben Castillo, Sanchez was still a 2-to-1 underdog to the charismatic and hard-hitting Puerto Rican who was rising from 122 pounds to meet the WBC featherweight titlist. But in the opening round it was Gomez who hit the canvas and the bewildered look on his face suggested he suddenly realized he was in for a long night. Sanchez had Gomez in trouble again in the second round but then eased up, content to destroy Gomez’s face as he dealt his arrogant opponent a painful lesson in humility. Bazooka’s eyes swelled grotesquely, though he managed to pin Sanchez to the ropes and land bombs now and again. But in round eight the punishment became too severe for the fight to continue and “Chava” handed Gomez his first defeat.
1. Wilfredo Gomez TKO14 Lupe Pintor: Following his loss to Sanchez, Gomez’s extracurricular distractions and tendency to gain weight between fights didn’t stop. In the weeks leading up to this clash of champions some questioned if Gomez could make weight, but he did and he used it to push the smaller man around in the early going. It seemed Pintor, moving up from bantamweight, had difficulty adjusting until an epic third round gave the Mexican hope. From then on it was a furious back-and-forth war, with Gomez landing ferocious shots and Pintor absorbing them, only to surge back and swell Gomez’s face badly, sending him to his corner in a bad way at the end of round 12. Two rounds later a desperate Gomez attacked and finally hurt the tough Pintor, dropping him with a combination led by a body shot. The Mexican beat the count, though just barely, and was chased until he went down once more on a left hand up top. The fight was over then and there.