What makes a boxer a great? Many would argue (especially the recent generation of fans), their undefeated records, their title defenses, their KO ratio, or, the many belts they would acquire in many different weight classes throughout their career.
Although these qualities may seem to be good argumentative positions, many old-timers would throw the majority of us a curveball; stating: what makes a boxer a great is their will and determination to be the best, fighting anyone and everyone, win or lose, because the greatest attribute a great boxer can posses is proving to themselves they are in fact the best with every challenge they take.
In fact, back in the “golden age” of boxing, when it was nothing but man’s will against man’s will, trainers and managers wouldn’t see it fit for their fighter to compete in a title fight without first having experienced a loss. It was almost a vital necessity for their fighter to have a loss on their record to avoid being discouraged from the sport if they were to suffer their first loss when their time to shine was presented to them in a title fight.
The boxing world at the time understood very well that a loss was almost a necessary attribute for greatness. Fans and boxing critics would almost demand a fighter had a loss on their record for him to refer to himself as “great.” The boxing world understood that an undefeated fighter didn’t have enough experience if they hadn’t suffered a loss.
With that being said, let’s take a look (based on the attributes an old-timer would classify a boxer great), at what Mexican fighters would be considered the top five best Mexican fighters of all time.
5. Carlos Zarate
Starting at number five, one of the greatest boxers that the tough borough streets of Mexico has ever produced, was Carlos Zarate (66-4-0, 63 KOs). Zarate was the WBC Bantamweight champion and the only boxer to have streaks of 20 or more KO wins in a row.
Zarate’s fighting style was one that would appeal to any generation of boxing fan. He was a good technician, definitely defining “Mexican style,” with his come-forward body punching onslaught. Never known for backing away from tough challenges, he has to be on the top five list of the greatest Mexican fighters ever.
Fighters with the will and determination like Zarate’s will always make noise in boxing as long as their prime years allow them to, but, unfortunately, father time catches up to us all and Zarate was no exception.
He went on to lose by way of KO to one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters, Wilfredo Gomez, towards the end of his career, but it didn’t matter, boxing fans will always remember Zarate for his great display of courage and determination.
With an exciting fighting style that produced great memorable fights, Zarate went on to being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was recognized as one of the 100 greatest punchers of all time by The Ring Magazine.
4. Erik Morales
Any boxing fan that hasn’t ever heard of Erik Morales has a lot of studying to do. Morales (52-9-0, 36 KOs) makes the list of the top five greatest Mexican Boxers of all time at number four. Morales displayed a wide array of boxing attributes that handed losses to some of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers such as Manny Pacquiao.
The poised technician dominated with his superb boxing ability, making any seasoned veteran look like an amateur if they stepped into the ring underestimating him; like Danny Garcia did in their first fight.
What sets Morales apart from other fighters was his comebacks from retirement. One of the most memorable fights that displayed Morales’s superb boxing ability and the kind of determination that makes a good boxer a great one, was his memorable fight against Marcos Maidana.
Morales had return to the ring after a long retirement to fight Marcos Maidana in 2011. Not looking fit at all, Larry Merchant referred to him as looking like a “stuffed turkey,” the young, devastating Argentinian power-puncher Maidana was favored to win with relative ease.
From the very start, Maidana’s relentless style and punching power formed huge swelling over Morales’ right eye, which worsened over the course of the fight. With his eye swollen shut by the end of the first round, Morales kept his veteran composure. Fighting back with one eye, he began to land stupendous combinations on the Argentinian fighter, backing him off against the ropes and teeing-off on him.
Maidana quickly realized he was fighting against a great veteran boxing legend. Performing with nothing less than determination, experience and an unbreakable will, Morales gave Maidana an unforgettable run for his money that night. Although Maidana went on to winning the fight by majority decision (though most could argue it was a closer fight), Morales won the match.
Erik Morales has established a defining career with many more memorable fights and has accomplished so much in the sport, becoming a five-time world champion, having won titles as a Super Bantamweight on up to Welterweight. With credentials like these, he definitely belongs on top of the charts.
3. Ruben Olivares
The number three spot goes to Ruben “El Puas” Olivares (89-13-0, 79 KOs). With a career spanning over two decades, and over 100 fights, Olivares became a favorite amongst the boxing world. Knocking out his opponents in over 87 of his victories, how could he not?
With the kind of veteran record he possessed, Olivares had seen all styles, and overcame them. During his exciting career, he spent years holding the world Bantamweight title and later, the Featherweight championship.
Bouncing back from his loss against Alexis Arguello, Olivares went on to fight 21 more bouts before the end of his career. With his fan pleasing, abrasive textbook knockout style, how could he not be one of the five greatest Mexican fighters of all time?
2. Pipino Cuevas
Pipino Cuevas (35-15-0, 31 KOs) will always be in the conversation as one of the greatest boxers Mexico has ever produced. Jose “Pipino” Cuevas, won his first Welterweight title at age 18, becoming the youngest Welterweight champion in history.
It was on July 17, 1976, that he received a shot at the WBA Welterweight title, pulling off an upset victory against Angel Espada. Knocking Espada down three times in the fight, Espada fought some spirited rounds before finally retiring in his corner before Round 12.
Throughout a tough and competitive career, Cuevas endured with exuberant prosperity. He fought the likes of Tommy “The Motor-City Cobra” Hearns and Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran.
Despite his loses to great fighters, Pipino Cuevas belongs at number two due to his fan pleasing “macho man” Mexican-style, and unbreakable will. He fought everyone, never ducked and learned to get back up from the canvas to challenge himself fight after fight.
1. Juan Manuel Marquez
And the number one greatest Mexican fighter of all time is, Juan Manuel Marquez. With an excellent record of 56-7-0, 40 KOs, Marquez is the incarnate definition of the greatest Mexican boxer of all time.
His perseverance, defining determination and overcoming challenges proves why he’s the greatest. Although Marquez has unfortunately been overshadowed by many great Mexican fighters such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Julio Cesar Chavez, none can compare to what JMM has overcome and accomplished in his career.
What sets JMM apart from his countrymen, is that he had to rise above all odds and assert his presence in the sport. Moving up in weight to chase his rival Manny Pacquiao, he faced other great fighters like Orlando Salido, Marco Antonio Barrera, Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz, Floyd Mayweahter and Michael Katsidis; gaining all the valuable experience that he would go on to use against Pacquiao in their four fight saga.
Marquez closed his rivalry against the Filipino fighter in an astonishing way—better than any Hollywood ending has ever or could ever produce by knocking Pacquiao out cold in the last second of the sixth round. JMM is classified as the greatest Mexican fighter because of his true competitive fighting spirit, amazing boxing technique and the accomplishments that set him apart from other Mexican fighters.
And so it goes, these men have made an impact and have left their mark in the sport of boxing in a fashionable way. The boxing public can only wait in eager anticipation for the next greatest Mexican boxer to emerge one day.
With big shoes to fill, lets hope we get to see the next great Mexican fighter within this coming generation or the next and hope that the notion of fighting for money, or fighting sure victories like catch weight advantages, doesn’t keep hindering the attributes of what makes a great Mexican fighter.
The only way a fighter can achieve true greatness is by challenging oneself and learning from their mistakes/losses. Only through the knowledge gained from such experiences will greatness be attained.
Header photo by Will Hart/HBO