Mexico could be facing a period with no superstar
Mexico always had a boxing idol, it seemed. Whether it was Raton Macias or Ruben Olivares or Carlos Zarate or Salvador Sanchez or Julio Cesar Chavez, fans south of the border always had a superstar who they revered almost as a god.
And even after Chavez faded away, they had three Hall of Fame-caliber featherweights all at once — Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez — to fill the considerable void.
Now, while the boxing landscape in one of the sport’s most fertile breeding grounds in hardly barren, only Marquez can be construed as a legitimate star. He’s 36, though, meaning he won’t be around much longer. And behind him there is no obvious candidate to pick up the Mexican boxing mantel.
For the first time in recent memory, that country might be without its boxing idol.
“I don’t know where the next one will come from,” said Cliff Rold, a boxing historian and writer. “There’s nobody who really stands out.”
Boxing in Mexico is thriving in some ways. Big U.S. promotional firms have contracts with big television networks south of the border and ratings reportedly are high, equal to or even exceeding that of soccer, some say.
And one of their own, Marquez, is fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 19 in Las Vegas in one of the biggest boxing events of the year.
That’s encouraging stuff. And if Marquez somehow wins? The Mexico City fighter might be the biggest thing back home since Chavez was at his peak, perhaps on the night he stopped Meldrick Taylor with two seconds to go in 1990.
Still, he’d be 36. Maybe he would fight Manny Pacquiao and have an opportunity to become even bigger. However, he would soon be gone and we’d back to the problem mentioned earlier: Who would come next?
Mexico has many good boxers. Twenty of them are rated by THE RING, second only to the United States. Three are on the Top 10 pound-for-pound list, although all them — Marquez, Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez — are near the end of their careers.
Among the younger rated fighters, several are exceptional. For example, strawweight Raul Garcia is enormously talented but probably too small to become a star. And Bantamweight Abner Mares, a former Mexican Olympian, has unusual gifts but is in an extremely competitive division, which could either make him or break him.
Bob Arum of Top Rank and Eric Gomez of Golden Boy Promotions, who scout and regularly sign fighters from Mexico, insist that a large, healthy crop of young fighters will ultimately produce that star.
Golden Boy’s Saul “Canelo (Cinnamon)” Alvarez is among the most intriguing possibilities. The red-headed slugger, apparently a descendant of an Irish immigrant named Barragan, is only 19 but has 29 fights (28-0-1, 21 knockouts) and already is developing a substantial following.
Oscar De La Hoya said that whenever he goes to Mexico now “everyone asks me about Canelo.”
“I believe he’s the only fighter in Mexico with his own television dates,” Gomez said. “Not the promoter, not the manager, the fighter has his own dates. That’s how popular he is. And the kid has improved tremendously. He has all the tools.
“And the first time you see him, you’ll never forget him because he looks so different, with the red hair and the freckles. It’s incredible the ratings he does.”
Another obvious personality who comes into play is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of the great champion. Junior has a lot going for him — good lucks, considerable charm, the ability to communicate well and of course the name.
The only problem is a giant question mark about his ability. With few amateur fights, he’s learning the trade fight by fight and remains relatively raw. However, it might not be long before he’s tested: Arum wants him to share a card with John Duddy and then fight the Irishman next year.
Chavez, too, generates very good ratings in Mexico and does well on pay-per-view. Also, stories about him on RingTV.com have generated an unusually large number of hits.
“Chavez Jr. might be the closest to his father in the way the people see him,” said Ricardo Jimenez of Top Rank, who was a boxing writer for years. “They want to touch him, to be around him. That’s the idol part of him.
“Now he just has to win an important fight. He has everything else.”
Others have seemed to be on verge of emerging as that idol. The best example might be Antonio Margarito.
After he pounded Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico into submission in July of last year, the late-developing slugger was a hero. Then, after he was pummeled by Shane Mosley in January and later was suspended for using illegal knuckle pads, his star quickly fizzled.
Another example is Cristian Mijares, a classy boxer who dominated the junior bantamweight division until he was stopped by Vic Darchinyan and then lost a controversial decision to Nehomar Cermeno.
The result is a pending gap between idols, which actually isn’t unprecedented.
“There have been down periods before,” Rold said. “After Salvador Sanchez and before Chavez (Sr.) got really big, in the late ’80s, the best guys were Jose Luis Ramirez and guys like that. Chavez was there but it took him a while to build a fan base. Then we had Chavez, Ricardo Lopez, Chiquita Gonzalez, Barrera, Morales, Israel Vasquez, Rafael Marquez.
“We haven’t had a run like that in a while.”
True, but everyone interviewed for this article agreed on one thing: The Mexicans will rise again.
“We’re just in a period where some great guys have gone from the scene,” Arum said. “Barrera, Morales. Now Rafael Marquez is near the end of his career, as is Juan Manuel Marquez. There is talent on the horizon that will fill the void, though. It’s inevitable.
“In this country, after (Muhammad) Ali, they said there wouldn’t be a superstar. Then there was (Ray) Leonard. It’ll happen.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]