Boxing is as much a battle of might in the ring as it is of wits outside the ring. And when it comes to Mexican fighters, none wear the belt quite as well as Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez. Here is why Canelo could take the throne from longtime favorite Julio César Chávez as Mexico’s top boxeador.
His freckles and red hair earned “Canelo” his nickname, but he wasn’t always proud of it. He was bullied for his unique look throughout his childhood. One day, Canelo swung back. He’s been a fighter ever since.
Canelo and Chávez have had similar careers — an undefeated rise punctuated by a disappointing loss to a top-ranked fighter. The difference? Canelo fell to the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr., but his stamina going 12 rounds was enough to make even the toughest of Mexicans tear up with pride. Chávez Sr. lost to Oscar de la Hoya twice. First after a large gash opened in his brow prompting a doctor to stop the fight in the fourth round, then in a an eight round rematch TKO.
If a woman as beautiful and successful as former Miss Universe Marisol González thought Canelo was husband material, then he’s gotta be doing something right. The couple was engaged in 2011 and broke up a year later.
Julio César Chávez admitted to ESPN Deportes he struggled with alcohol and cocaine as his career started declining. On the flip side, Canelo is as squeaky clean as they come. The only time this fighter makes headlines is when he’s knocking out another win.
Boxing is the one sport in which those individuals that come from an underprivileged background or have had to lace up the gloves to escape street violence can have their own rags to riches stories. Many of the greatest boxers of all time come from ethnic and cultural minorities, or from Global South regions such as Latin America. Today, world boxing is dominated by a handful of Latin American boxers and fighters of Latino origin in the United States. From junior flyweight all the way to heavyweight, Latino boxers are enjoying a dominance that translates into accomplished dreams and millions of dollars. Here are 13 established and upcoming fighters across most of the weight classes that are vanquishing their opposition and writing their names on the annals of global pugilism.
1. Saúl Canelo Álvarez Weight class: middleweight
The current king of boxing in financial terms. No one has made more money after Floyd Mayweather retired from boxing a couple of years ago. The Mexican Canelo has just signed a $350 million dollar deal with the streaming service DAZN and will fight again on September 14, Mexican Independence weekend, in Las Vegas. His opponent is yet to be confirmed, but it seems it will not be Gennady Golovkin, but perhaps the world light-heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev. If that is the case and Canelo defeats him, he will prove his worth against a much heavier and much more powerful puncher. By this point we are all surprised by the amazing things Canelo can accomplish in the ring.
2. Andy “Destroyer” Ruiz Weight class: heavyweight
This native of Imperial Valley became an elite boxer after soundly defeating British champ Anthony Joshua in a shocking fashion. No one, other than experts and insiders, would have predicted a KO win by Ruiz, whose flabby physique contrasted with the muscular Joshua. He will make millions in the rematch, which is rumored for September, and win or lose he will increase his popularity among Latinos the world over. Mexican-Americans can now claim a champ amongst them.
3. Juan Francisco “Gallo” Estrada Weight class: super flyweight
This Mexican veteran is a true master of the craft. He recently defeated the Thai dynamo Sor Rungvisai, who had defeated the amazing Nicaraguan Chocolatito Gonzalez. Estrada combines savvy counterpunching with exquisite lateral movements and is bound to become a top pound-for-pound star in the lower weight classes.
4. Teofimo Lopez Weight class: lightweight
This brutal puncher has quickly established himself as the top prospect in boxing. He is an American of Central American descent, and his fists have put him in line to challenge the pound-for-pound king, Ukranian Vassily Lomachenko. Only time will tell how far this bombastic pugilist will go, but he is must-watch TV and the diamante en bruto of powerful promoter Bob Arum.
5. Zurdo Ramirez Weight class: light heavyweight
This powerful Mexican ex-champ recently moved up from super middleweight, where he enjoyed a great reign. He is ready to mingle with the big boys in the light heavyweight class. He is hungry and undefeated, a deadly combination. His persona is as ranchero as it comes, sombrero included, so he has captivated Latino audiences in the United States.
6. Luis Panterita Nery Weight class: bantamweight
This former champ is undefeated and fights in a category in which the indomitable Monster, Japanese fighter Inoue, reigns supreme. Nery, a native of Tijuana, reminds us of the great Erik Terrible Morales in his precision punching and big cojones. After losing his title on the scale he is ready for big things and making up for lost time.
7. Rigoberto “El Chacal” Rigondeaux Category: super bantamweight
This Cuban fighter is one of the best amateurs in history and has only one defeat in his record. He has been around for a while, but because of his exquisite defensive skills he is sometimes deemed as a boring fighter. In his latest fight, however, he went toe-to-toe with Mexican Julio Ceja, which made for a more audience-friendly demonstration of the escuela cubana del boxeo.
This Mexican just scored a huge upset by knowking out Puerto Rican raising star Angel Acosta. Mexico has given amazing fighters in this category (remember Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez?), and Soto could be the next in line to be a Hall of Famer. Even if his skills have to be polished a bit more, he possesses a fighting style reminiscent of the great punchers of the 1970s.
9. Vergil Ortiz Jr. Weight class: welterweight
Some consider him the top prospect in boxing. He fights in an elite category that includes Errol Spence Jr. and Terrence Crawford, perhaps two of the best fighters in the world. Ortiz has just demolished every single opponent due to his precise body punching and fierceness. His motto: hard work. He takes nothing for granted and seems to be destined for greatness. Born in the United States, Ortiz is proud of his heritage and often wears the Mexican national colors, verde blanco colorado.
10. Jaime Munguia Weight class: super welterweight
This young champ started making headlines in 2018, when he was mentioned as a possible opponent for Gennady Golovkin when the May 2018 fight against Canelo fell through. Munguia is an all-action fighter that, however, still needs some work on his defense. He will eventually fight Canelo or GGG and surely produce an unforgettable fight. The native of Tijuana signed with streaming DAZN, just like Canelo, so we are sure there are big plans in store for him. But, as we said, he has to work on his defense or a big puncher might take him.
11. King Ryan Garcia Weight class: super featherweight
The Mexican-American golden boy has been touted as the successor of Oscar De la Hoya and Canelo: he is a charmer who is as galancito with the ladies as he is a killer in the ring. He possesses otherworldly speed and good instincts inside the ring. He is yet to be tested, though, which reveals the care that promoter Oscar De la Hoya has had in not rushing him into the elite circles just yet.
12. David Benavidez Weight class: super middleweight
This former super middleweight champ was stripped from his title in 2018 after testing positive for cocaine. He is back with a vengeance and after admitting his guilt on social media he is determined to get back what he lost out of his own fault. Only time will tell, but he has one of the fastest hands in the upper divisions. A fight against Zurdo Ramirez would be a barn burner, one of those Latino classics. He is a native of Phoenix, Arizona.
13. Luis “King Kong” Ortiz Weight class: heavyweight
This gargantuan Cuban puncher was very close to becoming the champ when he had Deontay Wilder on the verge of a knockout. He eventually lost a few rounds later but will fight a rematch in September. If he pulls off the upset, and he very well might be given his technique and ring generalship, we will have two Latinos, him and Andy Ruiz, calling the shots in the holy grail of boxing: the heavyweight championship of the world.
No one can deny the impact Latinos have had in the sport of boxing. The rough upbringing of many young men from the region has led trainers and managers to generate a vast quantity of world champions. Names like Julio Cesar Chávez, Ricardo López Nava, Felix Tito Trinidad, Alexis Arguello, and Carlos Monzón bring tears of joy to fans from countries as diverse as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Nicaragua. Boxing champions encapsulate the dreams and aspirations of young Latinos. Because it is often the case that in our continent governments fail the population and each person has to fend for themselves, boxing has become a metaphor for individual progress amidst the most adverse circumstances.
Roberto Durán is one of the most iconic boxers from Latin America to embody the fighting spirit of Panama.
Credit: Instagram. @robertoduranbox
Panamanian legend Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Durán broke into the Latin American and U.S. mainstream pop culture due to his volatile personality and the brutal precision of his fighting style. Now retired, Durán is again in the spotlight due to the release of the documentary “I Am Durán,” directed by Mat Hodgson and which features other personalities such as Oscar De La Hoya and Robert De Niro, a big fan of his.
So before you watch the documentary, here are some facts about the proud son of Panama. Keep your guard up!
He was born on June 16, 1951.
He was born in Guararé, where his mother Clara Samaniego was from. His father was from Arizona in the United States and was of Mexican descent.
He was abandoned by his dad when he was only 5-years-old.
As a way of survival, his family could not keep him in school but rather had to send him to work in the streets as a shoeshine boy. Just like the Filipino great Manny Pacquiao, Durán learned the ropes of life in the streets. That made him hungry for success, a hunger he translated into surgically performed combinations in the boxing ring.
He laced up the gloves when he was 8-years-old.
His fighting spirit was there from the beginning. He grew up in the slums of El Chorrillo, so he had to learn how to defend himself in the rough streets. He visited the gym Neco de La Guardia as a kid and the rest is history: before they knew it, he was up there in the ring sparring experienced boxers. What a chico maravilla.
He began his pro career with 31 straight wins.
Durán got a reputation of being a killer in the ring due to his hard punches, solid body frame and general toughness. He won the lightweight championship against Ken Buchanan in 1972 but lost for the first time that same year against Esteban de Jesus. The fight in Madison Square Garden was his Waterloo. Two years later he rematched De Jesus and knocked him out. It is important to note that the De Jesus fight was his sixth in 1972, so he was worn out.
He was the first Latin American boxer to rule in four weight classes.
Others would follow (the Mexican greats JC Chávez, Juan Manuel Márquez, and Travieso Arce), but Roberto was the first bad hombre from Latin America to rule in four weight classes. And he did so in a day and age when a world championship was hard to get (in today’s corrupt boxing world there are up to four champions per each one of the 17 weight classes, so being a champ is relatively easier). He also fought many fights scheduled for 15 rounds instead of the current 12. Even though his best years were at lightweight, he rules the following classes: lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, and middleweight.
He made 12 defenses of the lightweight title.
Roberto was practically indestructible for a period of time. He won eleven title defenses by KO and reached a record of 62-1. He gave up the lightweight title in 1979. He basically dominated world boxing in the 1970s with those hands of stone that sent opponents to sleep, one after an another.
His biggest night: beating Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 for the welterweight title.
After vacating the lightweight title “Manos de Piedra” moved to welterweight. He defeated Carlos Palomino and Zeferino Gonzales, two tough opponents. Once comfortable in the new weight, he faced the golden boy of US boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard, in a fateful June 20 night in Montreal, Canada. Roberto’s relentless pressure broke down Sugar Ray. Thunder defeated lighting and Durán won by a unanimous decision.
But then came the infamous “No Más.”
After defeating Leonard “Manos de Piedra” became even more legendary. He went back to Panama and partied like there was no tomorrow. The rematch was fought in November. Leonard trained like a champ, while Roberto had to cut weight extremely fast and just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Leonard was magnificent: he played with Roberto, mocked him, slipped the Panamanian’s punches and basically humiliated him. In the eighth round, Roberto turned his back to Leonard and said: “No sigo” (this were his actual words, although the infamous “No Mas” is how the event was remembered.
He rebuilt his career.
It would be hard for any sports figure to come back after such a meaningful defeat. It is not the same being knocked out after a valiant effort as quitting. It was such a disappointment not only for the fighter but also for his millions of fans. So what did the great fighter do? What all elite pugilists do: he came back with a vengeance. He defeated Wilfred Benitez and Davey Moore, two of the best fighters in the world.
He is one of the 1980s Magnificent Four.
Boxing in the 1980s was defined by four greats: Roberto, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. These four all fought each other and gave fans thrills. Roberto lost to Hearns by KO and to Hagler by a tough decision, but his name will always be attached to one of boxing’s golden eras.
He fought until 2000.
It is unusual for a fighter in this day an age to compete across four decades, but Durán did it. His professional debut was on February 23, 1968, and his last fight was a loss to Puerto Rican extraordinaire Hector Macho Camacho on July 14, 2000. At the end of his career, his record read 103 wins, 16 losses, and a whopping 70 KOs. Wow, just wow.
The debate continues: is he the greatest Latino fighter ever?
That is hard to tell. The main contenders for this mythic title are here in this photograph with him: Mexicans Julio Cesar Chávez and Juan Manuel Márquez, who also faced myriad of champions and former champions over their storied careers. One thing is for certain, Roberto wrote his name on the annals of boxing history in golden letters. And he will never be forgotten.