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.
Underdog is a word that gets tossed around quite frequently in the world of sports. That may be because as humans we love the story of the often-counted out, disregarded and overlooked individual coming out on top. David vs Goliath. Rocky vs Apollo Creed. The list goes on.
This past June, Latinos got their own modern-day underdog story in the upset victory of Andy Ruiz Jr. over Anthony Joshua. It was a moment that will live on among the biggest upsets in sports within the past several decades. As the boxing world gets set for the highly anticipated rematch between Ruiz and Joshua, many Latinos have already won before Ruiz has even put on a pair of gloves.
The-then 268 pound Ruiz knocked out three-belt heavyweight champion Joshua to become the first boxer of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight title. But as every underdog story goes, the victory didn’t come easy or expected.
Ruiz wasn’t even supposed to be at the fight until he was called in as a last-minute replacement for Jarrell Miller, who submitted three positive drug tests. Ruiz was dubbed “overweight,” “out of shape,” and a fill-in of what was supposed to be Joshua’s coming out party in his first fight in the United States. Ruiz entered the match as a +1100 underdog with a résumé of victories that took place in small casino venues from Tijuana to Tucson.
Suddenly, he’d be fighting against one of the most feared boxers in Joshua in one of the most famous arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden in New York City.
To put it in simplest terms, Ruiz had won the lottery without getting a single cent. Remember how I said humans love underdog stories? Yeah, this had all the makings of an underdog story but the easiest part of the script was already written. The world was just waiting for Ruiz to do his part.
Seven rounds of punches later, Ruiz had accomplished what few had ever expected a man of his background, style and size to ever accomplish in a boxing ring. But more importantly, Ruiz became an inspiration to so many Latinos in a time whenanti-Latino sentiment seems to be the only thing seen in the headlines.
Whether it be from the U.S. president, a white-supremacist shooter targeting “Mexicans” in El Paso, Texas and the constant narrative of an “invasion” from the Southern Border. But on June 2, 2019, the world woke up to a headline that didn’t read “Joshua KO’s Ruiz” or “Ruiz Who?”, they read “Ruiz Becomes First Mexican Heavyweight Champion.”
“It means a lot, especially knowing I’ve worked from 6 years old to get to where I’m at now,” Ruiz told the LA Times after the fight. “But it won’t mean something only to me. Each Mexican has his own dream, and I’ve come to believe as long as we focus, you can accomplish anything you want. So maybe by winning, I can change some minds.”
What has ensued since that legendary June night is a celebratory tour that few Mexican boxers have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
Overnight, Ruiz became a folk hero of some sorts to countless of Latinos who embraced the boxer and his underdog story. Ruiz came from humble beginnings, born in Imperial Valley, California and was raised by Mexican immigrant parents. His journey began at the age of six when he started his boxing career and would train long days and nights with his father,Andy Ruiz Sr. He would take his son with him for daily training sessions in Mexicali and would endure 90-minute waits at the border crossing.
Ruiz was born already counted out and that helped him become the fighter he is today.
That rugged street mentality was etched in his mind from a young age and still follows him to this day.
“We know their struggles,” Jorge Munoz, director of Sparta boxing club where Ruiz would train in his hometown of the Imperial Valley, told The Guardian. “We know how many times they wanted to give up. And the people in the boxing world, they understand how much you go to tournaments and you sacrifice, sometimes you don’t have food, you come back and you try to raise the money to go somewhere else and all these struggles you go through with one goal that you might never get the chance for.”
What ensued after his victory was a championship tour the likes of which a Mexican boxer had never seen. Ruiz met with the Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He made an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” There was even a photoshoot with GQ Mexico. The crowning moment was a hometown parade on June 22 in the Imperial Valley where thousands of fans showed up to cheer the champ.
“He’s one of us, so this is a big deal,” Reyna Gutierrez, a fan of Ruiz who was at that parade, told the Desert Sun. “People might not understand. He’s representing our community and he’s the first Mexican heavyweight champion. We’re so proud of that.”
Whatever the rematch result may be, it won’t matter to many Latinos. Ruiz has already done more than bring home a title, he’s become an underdog that Latinos can call their own.
The rematch bout is being billed as the “Clash on the Dunes,” as Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) will take on Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia about six months after history was made. One day before the fight, Ruiz already made headlines at the official weigh-in as he tipped the scale coming in at a surprising 283.7 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than in his first fight.
“I kind of wanted to be a little over what I was last time so I could be stronger and feel actually a little better than in the first fight,” Joshua told Yahoo Sports. “We were [planning to be 268], but they were making us wait before we got to the scales and so I had already ate. Plus, I weighed with all my clothes. That’s one of the reasons why I weighed probably too much
While the extra pounds might be concerning to some, experts and analysts see the match as a tossup. For Ruiz, he likes being counted out. He thrives on it. It’s the only way he knows how to feel entering the boxing ring.
“I never gave up, after everybody was telling me that I wasn’t gonna do nothing (because of) the way that I look … I kept training, I kept listening to my father, my team (and) my coaches. … When I got knocked down, I got back up like the warrior that I am. … (To) all the kids that have dreams, dream big,” Ruiz said at his hometown parade.
Never give up. Get back up. Dream big.
Yes, those are the words that sound like the description of an underdog. Andy Ruiz knows too well about that label and so do many Latinos. That’s why when that bell rings in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the world will be breathing in their collective breath as the latest chapter in this underdog story is written.
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.