The Latino Legends
The sport of boxing has been blessed with great fighters from almost all continents of the world, from Manny Pacquiao (Asia) to Jeff Fenech (Australasia) and onto Azumah Nelson (Africa). Great fighters, but also national icons of that continents sporting history.
However, no continent has provided more great champions than the Americas. Arguably not the USA, but in the south of that land mass – Latin America. From Mexico through central America to the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico and down to the boxing hotbeds of Panama, Colombia and Argentina.
The monikers of ‘Manos De Piedra’ (Hands of Stone), ‘El Flaco Explosivo’ (The Explosive Thin Man) and ‘El Gran Campeon’ (The Great Champion) resonate out from the Latin third of the continents. Messrs Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello and Julio Cesar Chavez are the epitome of national pride and Latino machismo.
From the pioneers of Kid Chocolate and Panama Al Brown in the 1920’s & 30’s, through Manuel Ortiz and Kid Gavilan in the 40’s & 50’s, to Pascual Perez and Jose Napoles into the 1960’s and beyond, the Hispanic two-thirds of the America’s has been bountiful with multiple champions and many multi-weight world champions – Arguello x3, Duran x4, Chavez x3, Wilfred Benitez x3, Juan Manuel Marquez x4, Erik Morales x4, Marco Antonio Barrera x3.
There have been legendary fights between these champions, sometimes resulting in trilogies – Barrera v Morales in the early millennium being the pick of the bunch – Barrera winning the series 2-1 in epic fights. Add to that Israel Vazquez v Rafael Marquez from 2007-2010 resulting in a fourth fight and final 2-2 log.
There have been the famous rivalries between countries, most notably Mexico v Puerto Rico, and the fights that epitomised that rivalry – Carlos Zarate v Wilfredo Gomez, Lupe Pintor v Gomez and Salvador Sanchez v Gomez in the 1980’s being classic examples. Into the 90’s there was the Michael Carbajal v Humberto Gonzalez rivalry at light flyweight (108lbs), their first fight being the pick of the crop.
A number of these Latin legends have been involved in the greatest fights of all time – Sugar Ray Leonard v Roberto Duran 1, Aaron Pryor v Alexis Arguello 1 the prime examples.
Many Latin boxers have been Ring Magazine fighter of the year:
Jose Napoles – 1969
Carlos Monzon – 1972
Carlos Zarate – 1977
Salvador Sanchez – 1981
Julio Cesar Chavez – 1991
Felix Trinidad – 2000
Sergio Martinez – 2010
Juan Manuel Marquez – 2012
A number dominated their divisions through a decade – Duran (lightweight), Monzon (middleweight), Zarate (bantamweight), Lopez (strawweight) and Pedroza (featherweight).
Some featured in milestone fights that marked a ‘passing of the torch’ to a younger hero – Jose Napoles v John H Stracey and Eusebio Pedroza v Barry McGuigan being examples closest to home.
Then, there are the lesser known champions who live on for their ferocity, one punch power, bravery or pure class – Lupe Pintor, Ruben Olivares, Diego Corrales, Ricardo ‘Finito’ Lopez, and national icons like Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Edwin Valero, from Nicaragua and Venezuela respectively.
Not forgetting the American/Mexican’s or Mexican/American’s, however you wish to put it. The Oscar De La Hoya’s, Bobby Chacon’s, and Michael Carbajal’s to name but a few. Even the recent heavyweight champion of the world Andy Ruiz reclaimed his Mexican heritage when becoming champion.
One common theme throughout this ledger is with the exception of Andy Ruiz and 1920’s Argentine Luis Firpo almost all these boxers have campaigned and enjoyed success in the lighter weight classes. Predominantly from strawweight (105lbs) to lightweight (135lbs), exceptionally up to middleweight (160lbs).
All these supreme boxers do though share a common language and fistic heritage, mainly with few exceptions, a rise from poverty to the higher echelons of the sport. All despite being individually unique, have illustrated that Latino machismo when under fire and have considerably enhanced the sport over the decades on the world stage. Viva boxeo latino ! Long may boxing in the Hispanic world flourish and may the roll call of legends continue into the future.
Many of these legends can be viewed on YouTube to get a true appreciation of their significant contribution to boxing history.