Best I Faced: Lupe Pintor
Lupe Pintor won world titles in two weight classes in the late 1970s and mid-’80s. On Sunday, the proud Mexican’s impressive career will be recognized when he enters the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Pintor is from Cuajimalpa, the most westerly of the Mexico City boroughs. Life, he says, was tough for him growing up.
“It was hard, there was poverty,” Pintor told RingTV.com through Paul Landeros. “I came from a broken family, with an aggressive father. The neighborhood was tough, we didn’t have many clothes, also we didn’t have much food.”
From a young age he clashed with his father, as the two endured a tumultuous relationship.
“I had to leave home at 16 years old, then I found boxing,” he said. “[I] represented Mexico in some amateur tournaments. I didn’t have chance to fight at the Olympics but it makes me very proud that I represented Mexico. Boxing gave me everything. It allowed me to know great characters, to know great people.”
In March 1974, weeks before his 19th birthday, Pintor turned professional as a flyweight. He soon grew into a bantamweight. He stayed active, fighting regularly over the first five-years of his career – going 38-4 – when he met his stablemate, though not friend, the once-beaten WBC bantamweight champ Carlos Zarate.
“It was the opportunity of my life,” he said defiantly. “I thought ‘it’s defeat him or dying.’ The essence of boxing is win or die.”
Pintor, got off the canvas for the first time in his career to earn a razor thin split decision to win the 118-pound crown.
Although some believe Zarate deserved the decision, Pintor believes he won it.
“I beat him because of my technique. It was a hard fight because I got a lot of damage but he lost that fight because he made a lot of mistakes, he had fear that night.”
Pintor says it was his best win.
“When I defeated Zarate my life changed,” he said. “I was a humble guy and thanks to my strength and dreams I was able to change that part of my life. I made good money for that fight, also the love of people; they still love me because I didn’t have addictions, drugs, alcohol. If I was born again I’d do it all again.”
The newly minted champion made two successful title defenses before he met the ill-fated Johnny Owen in September 1980. Pintor was shading the action, ahead on all three cards before he finally got to the Welshman, dropping him twice in the 12th round. Owen later underwent surgery but tragically never regained consciousness passing away two months later.
“Johnny Owen was very honorable because he had determination, not only the determination of winning but representing a society, his people, that’s the greatest thing I admired about him,” Pintor said respectfully. “His will, his hunger, that’s something that made him very special, unfortunately he left his life in the ring but I will always remember the characteristics that define him.”
He remained steadfast and returned to action later that year.
“I used the determination and inner strength to keep with my career,” he said resolutely. “[I] didn’t doubt myself and what I am doing.”
Five more defenses followed before he abdicated his throne to move up to junior featherweight where he met Puerto Rican superstar Wilfredo Gomez in December ’82 as chief support to Wilfredo Benitez-Thomas Hearns at the Superdome, New Orleans.
A brilliant fight ensued; the bigger Gomez was able to turn back arguably the toughest of his challengers to register the 17th successful defense with a 14th-round stoppage.
“It was a special night for me because I had the chance to get the title,” Pintor said. “Unfortunately, I got cut in the fourteenth round. It was a lucky punch but lucky punches don’t exist in this sport, he threw that punch and connected great, so it wasn’t a lucky punch. I thought another chance would come but that was a great experience for me.”
While many refer to the Mexico-Puerto Rican rivalry as the best in boxing, Pintor was happier to beat his compatriot Zarate and can accept losing to Gomez.
“I think Mexico-Puerto Rico is a great rivalry but without doubt I think Mexicans are better than Puerto Ricans because of their will, their passion. It was more honourable losing to Gomez than Zarate because Zarate wasn’t anything and Gomez was a great champion.”
Pintor took some time off before resurfacing a year later, “El Grillo de Cuajimalpa” saved his last great performance for when he met his countryman Juan Meza for the WBC 122-pound title in ’85. Pintor dropped Meza twice before going on to win a unanimous decision. The win also saw him win THE RING Magazines “Comeback of the Year” award.
He travelled to Thailand where he failed to make weight, surrendering the title on the scales and was stopped against Samart Payakaroon. He retired, tbut he lure of boxing brought him back eight years later with limited success. He finally stepped away in 1995 with a record of 56-14-2 (42).
Looking back Pintor is happy he faced everyone he wanted to in his career, although he would have liked to engage in rematches with Gomez and Zarate: “He (Zarate) wasn’t convinced and I wanted to defeat him again, people even now think Zarate won that fight and I (wanted) to prove I beat him.”
In 2002, Pintor made the pilgrimage to Wales where he met Owen’s family. He was well received.
“It was a really nice experience,” he said. “It was hard for me because it’s a traumatic experience. Some family members encouraged me. I had the chance to explain that Johnny could be me and I could have lost my life in the ring. That’s an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.
“Fortunately, I have bonded with the family. That’s the greatest thing of my career. They were very emphatic, the empathy I have made with Johnny’s family, that’s the greatness of boxing.”
Pintor, 61, is married to Vicky, he has three children. He works for the Mexico City government. He enjoys music and dancing and likes to exercise.
“I am very proud of my country, my career, and of being a new member of the Hall of Fame. It’s great closure to a great career,” said the 2015 inductee.
RingTV.com caught up with Pintor and spoke with him about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Alberto Davila: My jab was the best! But Alberto Davila, he had resources, he had skills and he was a short guy who knew how to get in his stance and land his jab.
I can’t remember because all my title bouts were against offensive people who were coming forward.
Wilfredo Gomez: I think Wilfredo Gomez should have retired after our fight, he received a lot of punches, a lot of damage. That was the fight that took the best of his career. I think the difference between Salvador Sanchez and Gomez and me and Gomez was that Salvador Sanchez was the big guy, I was the small guy against Gomez.
Johnny Owen: He had the fastest hands and his attacks were continuous.
Carlos Zarate: He was very skilful but he had fear. I think he was scared, that is why he moved a lot.
Owen: The one that surprised me was Owen because he was willing, he was hungry for success, he wanted the title, his will was that much that he even lost his life. It’s a historic fight because when you get a chance [to fight for the world title] it’s something you give your best to succeed in, he did magnificently.
Gomez: He was very tough, he was like a train like me. It was like a train clash, unfortunately in the fourteenth round I got hit.
Gomez: Nobody that I fought felt bad when they hit me. I think Gomez surprised me because during the fourteen rounds we were exchanging punches.
Davila: Davila, Gomez and Owen. I would say Alberto Davila. The difference was he was always going forward, trying to get that title, he had no fear.
Gomez: He was a fighter with a lot of heart and good technique.
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