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Juan Manuel Marquez vs Juan Diaz

History: Greatest Hispanic Fighters

Jan 20, 2009

Any student of boxing history knows that among the great fighters, the Hispanic population is over-represented. Whether you're looking at records from 50 or 75 years ago, or 20 years ago or today, many of the best fighters in the world were and are Hispanic, and that doesn't happen by accident. It is borne of the culture, of a deep and abiding understanding of and appreciation for prizefighting, and for socio-economic reasons, too.

Whatever the origins, if you removed all the great Hispanic fighters from the rosters of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, you could demolish half the building and still have room left over.

What follows is one view of the five greatest Hispanic fighters ever, presented in alphabetical order. Certainly, some of this is generational; most fans believe the fighters of their youth were the best ever, but we've tried to be as objective as possible, weighing accomplishment, longevity, consistency, and performance against peers. This analysis is the result.

Note that no active fighters are included, as it simply isn't useful to rank a fighter historically until he's retired. Thus, Marco Antonio Barrera is not considered, nor is his rival Erik Morales, who will almost certainly fight again in the near future.

Alexis Arguello - 1968-1995
80-8 (64 knockouts)
Featherweight, Junior Lightweight, Lightweight Champion

It is unfortunate that Arguello is remembered mostly these days for the wonderful junior welterweight war he and the great Aaron Pryor waged in 1982, in which Arguello, going for his fourth world title in as many weight classes, succumbed in the 14th round. There was much more to "El Flaco Explosivo" (The Explosive Thin Man) than his two losses to Pryor.

Indeed, it could be argued that he did his best work before the American television networks finally caught onto his genius and began televising his every fight. Arguello won his first title by stopping the iconic Mexican puncher Ruben Olivares (see Honorable Mentions below) in 13 rounds and over the next decade went 19-3 in title fights, scoring a gaudy 17 knockouts along the way.

The excellent Alfredo Escalera, who had defended the WBC super featherweight title 10 times before Arguello dethroned him, lost in a rematch to Arguello too, in one of the bloodiest fights of the era.

Arguello, from Nicaragua, was just the eighth fighter in history to win titles in three weight classes and, according to The Ring, was the 20th hardest puncher in the history of the sport. Writer William Nack, after seeing Arguello knock Kevin Rooney stiff with a single right hand, wrote that he was "as precise and harmonious as a Mozart concerto."

Julio Cesar Chavez - 1980-2005
107-6-2 (86 knockouts)
Junior Lightweight, Lightweight, Junior Welterweight Champion

Toward the end we found out some things about Chavez that weren't especially admirable. We found out he could be a bit of a crybaby on his worst days in the ring, but that was toward the end.

All of his losses came after he turned 32 years old, when the hook to the body had lost some of its zing and the feet of probably the greatest ever Mexican fighter weren't as nimble as they once had been. When he was young and ferocious still there wasn't a fighter alive like Chavez, and his resume attests to it.

"The next lightweight to face Chavez would have to be long on courage and short on smarts," wrote Pat Putnam in Sports Illustrated after watching Chavez brutalize Edwin Rosario, a future Hall of Famer. Chavez, at 25 years old, was just getting started.

"The Lion of Culiacan" went 90 fights before losing (not counting the gift draw he received against the otherworldly Pernell Whitaker) and they didn't all come against Tijuana taxi cab drivers. Among the vanquished were Rosario, Hector Camacho, Greg Haugen, Roger Mayweather (twice), Ruben Castillo, Rocky Lockridge, Juan LaPorte, Joe Luis Ramirez, and of course, Meldrick Taylor in the fight KO magazine called the Fight of the 1990s (and was also The Ring's Fight of the Year). Chavez also beat Taylor in a rematch. At his best, he was magnificent.

Roberto Duran - 1968-2001
103-16 (70 knockouts)
Lightweight, Welterweight, Junior Middleweight, Middleweight Champion

It is a testament to Duran's shaggy charisma and wild-eyed brilliance that he weathered career calamities that would have crippled the legacies of fighters of lesser genius. Who else but he could quit mid-fight against Ray Leonard in their rematch, get laid out by Thomas Hearns, and fight on so long past his prime that he became a circus act, yet still be spoken of as a pugilistic god?

You can take your pick as to his shining moment: Is it the night he outfought the younger, faster Leonard in Montreal? When he brutalized poor Davey Moore to win the WBA junior middleweight crown, or the brilliant performance - rendered at 38 years old, no less - that netted him the WBC middleweight title against Iran Barkley in The Ring's 1989 Fight of the Year?

"It was even better than expected, a contest not only of superb boxing skills, but also of courage and determination," proclaimed the New York Times after Duran's victory over Leonard for the WBC welterweight title in 1980. "And when it was over...there was Roberto Duran, the former brawler from the slums of Panama, the winner and still the best pound-for pound fighter in the world."

Duran was more than the best fighter in the world. Years later The Ring named him the best lightweight ever. You can add to that the greatest Hispanic fighter ever, too.

Eder Jofre - 1957-1976
72-2-4 (50 knockouts)
World Bantamweight Champion

Jofre might have landed on this list if even he'd stayed retired after losing twice to Fighting Harada, the only fighter ever to beat him. After all, he'd won the world title and made 13 defenses over a three -year reign. What more could you ask for?

He was a national hero in Brazil and the fact he wasn't better known in the United States wasn't due to any lack of skill; he rarely fought outside his home country (he did appear thrice in America, beating Herman Marques, Eloy Sanchez, and the excellent Mexican, Jose Medel).

Jofre, "Galinho de ouro" (The Golden Bantam) assured his placement here by returning to the ring after three years and winning the featherweight title against Jose Legra. He was 33 when he came back and in that era fighters who retired and returned in their 30s just did not do well. But he did. He won 14 fights in a row and at 37 beat Legra for the title. They stripped him of it the following year but he hung around anyway for another three years and went - what else? - undefeated.

Jofre was "a flawless fighter (who) boxed beautifully and carried kayo power in either fist (and is) among the most underrated fighters in history," The Ring wrote in 1996. Not here he isn't. Here he takes his rightful place among the best Hispanic fighters ever.

Carlos Monzon - 1963-1977
89-3-8 (61 knockouts)
World Middleweight Champion

It's not enough to know just that Monzon went undefeated for 13 years and 81 fights, essentially the bulk of his career. It's not enough to know that he is widely and correctly regarded as one of the two or three greatest 160-pound champions ever or that until a few years ago, he held the record for middleweight title defenses with 14 (Bernard Hopkins owns it now).

It's not even enough to know that he went out on top, still champion, in sharp contrast to so many that came before and after, or that in 1997 The Ring called him the seventh greatest fighter of the last 50 years.

To appreciate Monzon, you have to know that physically, there was nothing exceptional about him. Yes, he was tall for a middleweight and strong and somewhat broad-shouldered, but he wasn't the fastest guy around. He could punch, but others hit harder. He wasn't especially graceful in the ring or fleet-footed. In truth, he was a little awkward and stiff, but there wasn't another fighter on the planet who was as strong mentally and as sound fundamentally and as in love with fighting.

"He needs (boxing) because he is an animal and he lives for macho," Rodolfo Sabbatini, who promoted Monzon's fights in Monte Carlo, said after Monzon's second win over Colombian puncher Rodrigo Valdes. The best fighter Argentina ever produced, Monzon could do it all. And he did.

Honorable Mention

These 10 Latino legends (presented in alphabetical order) didn't make the cut but are among the best fighters ever.

Panama Al Brown - Legendary 1930s beanpole held bantamweight title for six years.
Miguel Canto - Defensive genius made 14 defenses of flyweight title in less than four years.
Wilfredo Gomez - Puerto Rican icon defended junior featherweight title 17 times.
Jose Napoles - "Mantequilla" one of the five best welterweights ever. Period.
Ruben Olivares - Mexico's bantam and featherweight champ all-time great puncher.
Carlos Ortiz - Brilliant Puerto Rican boxer-puncher beat seven future Hall of Famers.
Manuel Ortiz - Tireless action fighter made 15 consecutive title defenses at bantamweight.
Pascual Perez - First Argentine world champ reigned at flyweight for five years.
Salvador Sanchez - Dominant featherweight champion died too young.
Carlos Zarate - Mexican bantamweight king went 54-0 with 53 kayos before first loss.

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