Can Angulo become the next Mexican idol?
Alfred Angulo (right, pounding Andrey Tsurkan) might have what it takes to capture the imagination of Mexican fans. Photo / Naoki Fukuda
Jan. 24 was supposed to be the coronation of boxing’s latest Mexican idol.
Antonio Margarito was going to fill Staples Center with thousands of adoring fans, beat back the challenge of Shane Mosley and then continue to win high-profile fights as celebrated Mexican warriors like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Julio Cesar Chavez did.
Margarito fulfilled the first part of his expectations – a record audience of mostly Mexican fans packed the downtown L.A. arena – but he failed miserably from that point on.
Margarito’s knockout loss to Mosley, and subsequent license revocation for illegally wrapping his hands prior to that bout, have been the most recent blows to Mexico’s proud boxing tradition.
In recent years, Mexican fight fans have witnessed the decline of Morales and Barrera. Vic Darchinyan, who knocked out respected junior bantamweight titleholder Cristian Mijares last November, added popular slugger Jorge Arce to his list of victims last Saturday.
It’s not a good time to be a Mexican fight fan, but hope in the form of a 154-pound prospect from Mexicali is on the way.
Alfred Angulo, who takes on late-substitute Cosme Rivera in the lead-off fight of an HBO-televised triple header this Saturday, might have what it takes develop into Mexico’s next attraction.
Angulo (14-0, 11 knockouts), who was originally slated to face former welterweight champ Ricardo Mayorga in the main event of the “Boxing After Dark” telecast from Sunrise, Fla., says he can already feel the pressure from his countrymen.
“Whenever Mexican fans approach me at fights these days they tell me, ‘You’re next’,” Angulo, a 2004 Mexican Olympian, said through cornerman Ignacio De La Hoya. “I know what they mean when they tell me that. It can only be expected. When I turned pro four years ago, Morales, Barrera and Arce were all on top of the sport, but it can’t last forever.
“Just like the Olympic Games come around every four years, I think new stars are supposed to emerge every four years in boxing. Now it’s time for young fighters like (2004 Olympic teammate) Abner Mares and me to stand up and prove ourselves.”
In Mayorga, Angulo had the perfect foil to prove that he’s ready for main-event status. The wayward Nicaraguan proved he’s still dangerous by giving Mosley a tough fight last September, but his lack of defense and questionable stamina would have likely played into the heavy hands of Angulo, an aggressive pressure fighter known for his excellent conditioning.
However, Mayorga pulled out of the fight last week and his replacement did the same a few days ago, leaving Angulo without a well-known opponent on whom to continue building his reputation.
However, the 26-year-old fighter doesn’t seem bothered by the recent developments.
“I don’t know what happened with Mayorga and Perez and I don’t care,” he said. “I’m going train hard like I always do and I’m going fight whoever they put in front of me.
“I had 95 amateur fights, many of which were international bouts. One day I would be in Russia, the next day I would be in Venezuela. I had to be ready to fight anyone with any style on any given day, so I never let it bother me when my opponent changes now that I’m a professional.”
Angulo’s promoter, Gary Shaw, views Mayorga’s pull-out as only a minor setback.
“Judging by the reception he got at the Margarito-Mosley fight, I think it’s only a matter of time before Angulo becomes one of, if not the – most popular Mexican fighters,” Shaw said. “The Mexican fans already know who he is. They mobbed him at Staples. It took us an hour to leave the arena after the fight. Even the celebrities who were there knew who he was and wanted to meet him.
“So, it’s not like he needed Mayorga to make his name. All Mayorga would have been is a name on his resume. It would have been a nice win. HBO’s commentators would have said ‘Wow, he knocked out Ricardo Mayorga!,’ but that’s all.”
Shaw believes Angulo will quickly pick up the torch that Margarito dropped against Mosley.
“He’s the only Mexican fighter who can do it,” Shaw said. “There are a lot of Mexican fighters out there, but they don’t have what it takes. They won’t be embraced by the Mexican people like Angulo will be.
“They’re either too old, or they’re transplanted Mexicans – fighters who were born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S. and speak English better than Spanish – or they just aren’t that good. No offense to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but he’s not going to be the one to fill the void. Angulo’s from Mexico, he fights Mexican, and he’s got that special quality that you can’t buy that makes fans gravitate toward him.”
What does it take to be a Mexican idol? Why are some fighters, like Morales, more beloved by Mexican fans than Mexican nationals who are just as talented and accomplished, like Juan Manuel Marquez?
Ricardo Jimenez, publicist for Top Rank and former sports editor of the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, says there are three key ingredients to a fighter becoming a Mexican idol.
“Number one, he’s got to win,” said Jimenez, a Mexican national who covered the career of Chavez and later worked PR for the likes of Morales and Arce. “You have to be a winner for the Mexican fans to start to get behind you.
“Number two, you have to earn a world title. You have to have some kind of recognition as a champion. People the say the belts don’t matter, but they do. Chavez was 50-0, 60-0 and nobody knew who he was. Once he won his first world title the Mexican fans took notice. Israel Vazquez was the same way. He was just another fighter until he won his world titles, and then he grew in popularity from there.
“Number three, you have to have a pleasing style. You have to be a fighter no matter what. This is very important, because there are talented world champions from Mexico who don’t have large followings and it’s because of this. I like the way (WBO 115-pound titleholder) Fernando Montiel has fought recently, but when he was young and when he won his world titles, he was more of a boxer. He fought safety first, and Mexican fans didn’t cling to him.
“Juan Manuel Marquez is another example,” Jimenez continued. “He’s been around forever and he’s an excellent champion, but he used to box more than fight. And even in his recent big fights against Barrera and Pacquiao, he didn’t close the show. He did just enough to win or just enough to make it close. To earn the loyalty of the Mexican fans, you have to leave it all in the ring. You have to fight to the end, like Vazquez did with Rafael Marquez. You have to give it your all, even when you know you’re going to lose, like Margarito and Arce did recently. You have to be willing to go out on your shield.”
So far, Angulo has the No. 1 ingredient. He hasn’t come close to losing a pro contest and Shaw aims to keep it that way until the fighter is ready for the No. 2 ingredient, which isn’t far off if one goes by the alphabet rankings.
Angulo, who is not rated by THE RING, is ranked No. 1 by the WBC and the WBO, and No. 6 by the WBA. However, don’t expect to see him take on the holders of those titles anytime soon. Shaw knows that he has a potential attraction and he also knows that his forward-marching Mexican star-in-the-making has style limitations.
The belt holders (and even the “interim” titlists) of the WBC, WBO and WBA are all tall, rangy southpaws (with the exception of Vernon Forrest). Daniel Santos, Sergei Dzinziruk, Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez can all wait as far as Shaw is concerned.
“I got a very brave fighter and a very brave trainer (Clemente Medina),” he said. “They’re willing to fight anybody, so I’m the one who has to be careful. No slick stick-and-movers, and no giant southpaws for us.”
Acknowledging Jimenez’s No. 3 ingredient, Shaw says he wants to put in Angulo in all-action matchups. The veteran promoter says the winner of an attractive March 7 matchup between undefeated contender James Kirkland and hard-punching Joel Julio is the kind of opponent he wants for Angulo.
“The winner of Kirkland-Julio is an obvious choice,” Shaw said. “That’s a fight HBO will get behind. They are already totally behind Angulo.”
However, the perfect opponent for Angulo won’t be a young puncher like Kirkland or Julio, according to Shaw. He believes the opponent that will bring Angulo into prominence with Mexican fans is the fighter who came close to carrying the torch for the nation but recently fell from grace.
“Antonio Margarito,” Shaw said. “There’s no telling what’s going to happen with his license being revoked, but in the event that he comes back in a year, I think he’s the guy for Angulo to beat to fill the void for Mexican fans.
“They thought Margarito was the guy. He wasn’t. And they started looking to Angulo as soon as Margarito lost to Mosley. If they fight, (Angulo) can prove he’s the one. If Margarito got his license back in a year, I’d give him one tune-up fight and then try to make the fight with Angulo. That’s the biggest fight out there for Angulo, in my opinion. That fight fills Staples to its rafters.”
Angulo can imagine the same capacity audience that assembled for Margarito cheering for him, but he envisions more than just Mexican faces in the crowd.
“I know I have Mexican fans, and hopefully I’ll gain more, but I like to think that all fight fans can appreciate me and my style,” Angulo said. “Black fans always approach me when they see me at the gym. A lot of white fans cheer for me whenever I fight in Santa Barbara. When I was at the De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight, Filipino fans wanted to get my autograph and take pictures with me.
“Sometimes I’m surprised at who knows who I am, but I’m glad fans of all races are watching because I want to make everyone happy when I fight.”
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]