Canelo vs. Angulo and the 5 Greatest All-Mexican Rivalries in Boxing History
You aren't going to find many—if any—countries on the planet that are more boxing-crazed than Mexico.
With Mexico's rich tradition, dozens of world champions and some of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, one of the proudest things you can call a Mexican fighter is a warrior.
That makes the battle, particularly among these compatriots, intense. Rivalries are often born out of competition, desire to be the best and regional/geographic factors that draw in some of Mexico's often contentious social structures and history.
Many of these rivalries are an intersection of politics, pride, geography and the ambition to be nothing short of the best.
On Saturday night, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo will look to stamp their place among the greatest all-Mexican rivalries in boxing history.
Until then, we'll have to settle for the ones we already have.
These are the five greatest all-Mexican rivalries in boxing history.
Canelo vs. Angulo
Canelo Alvarez and Alfredo "El Perro" Angulo will step into the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and both men badly need a win.
The Showtime pay-per-view event has been dubbed "Toe-to-Toe," and you can bet that both men will live up to the hype by attacking early and often. It doesn't hurt that the two Mexican junior middleweights, per Lem Satterfield of The Ring Magazine, aren't terribly fond of each other.
Most of the angst seems to come from Angulo, who has some lingering bad feelings over an incident that took place between the fighters in Mexico some years back, per Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com. He can't understand why Canelo's team feels the need to go after him at every opportunity.
Angulo told Reeno: "They are the ones who always speak badly of me.....especially Eddy Reynoso. He is the one who always speaks bad about me...why I don't know. It seems weird because they are a level above me, supposedly. Why do they have to bother talking about me? I find it weird."
Canelo responded to claims, most notably by his promoter Richard Schaefer, that he dislikes Angulo with a flat denial.
"I have no problems with him whatsoever," Alvarez told Reeno. "I don't know him. I've never crossed words with him. I have no problems with him whatsoever. I can't have problems with somebody that I don't know."
That statement doesn't seem to jibe with what we've heard before about the animosity between the fighters.
Per BoxingScene.com, Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, stated in January that there was initially some difficulty in making the fight because Canelo didn't want Angulo to profit off his name. Of course, that could have been a promoter doing what he does—sell interest in the fight—but if you're a fan, you hope there is something behind it.
It would make an already intriguing fight just that much more interesting.
Carlos Zarate vs. Lupe Pintor
Carlos Zarate and Lupe Pintor began their climbs up the boxing ranks as friends and stablemates. But their relationship dissolved into bitter rivalry and controversy.
Pintor, born into an extremely poor family, took up boxing in his late teens in order to cope with myriad family problems, including an abusive father.
Zarate, still considered one of the most lethal punchers in the history of the sweet science, came into a June 1979 title defense against Pintor with just one career defeat. That had come in the famous battle of the knockout punchers against Puerto Rico's Wilfredo Gomez in 1978.
The battle between the once friends was close, competitive and controversial.
Pintor came forward all night, but he was dropped in Round 4 and seemed to be getting thoroughly countered whenever he let his hands go. His aggression, though mostly ineffective in many eyes, was rewarded by two of the three judges, who awarded him a split-decision win by scores of 143-142.
The third judge, who was more in line with the media scoring, had Zarate the comfortable winner by a 145-133 margin.
Pintor was reportedly stunned to have received the verdict, and Zarate was incensed. He immediately threatened to take his case to the WBC, who sanctioned the bout, and he soon retired when this did not turn up any fruit.
He would ultimately return to the ring seven years later and even challenge for two more world titles. But neither was successful, and it was his rivalry with Pintor, and that questionable decision, which cost him a great deal of his career.
Carlos Zarate vs. Alfonso Zamora
Sometimes, rivalries are born out of pure jealousy and bad feelings. That was certainly the case when Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora met in one of the most highly anticipated bantamweight clashes in history.
Zamora was the first of the "Z boys" (as Zamora and Zarate were known) to capture a share of the 118-pound championship, defeating Korea's Soo-Hwan Hong for the WBA strap in 1975.
At the time, both fighters were trained by Arturo Hernandez, who would eventually sell Zamora's contract in order to focus his attentions on managing Zarate's career.
That led to a great deal of bad blood between the fighters and their teams, and when Zarate captured the WBC Bantamweight Championship, it was only a matter of time before the men settled the issue in the ring.
Interestingly, since both men were titleholders at 118 pounds, their bout was not a unification contest and was only scheduled for 10 rounds. And it's probably best known for the events surrounding the fight rather than the fight itself.
The Los Angeles Police Department dispatched riot police to the arena in Inglewood in hopes of preventing the crowd from involving themselves in the fight, but it didn't turn out that way.
Less than a minute into the bout, a fan attempted to charge the ring, only to be stopped by members of the LAPD. It was just that kind of night and that kind of rivalry.
The fighters—who entered at a combined 67-0 with 66 knockouts—traded big punches in the first couple of rounds, but Zamora quickly found himself on the receiving end of more punishment. He was gassed by the third round and hit the canvas before the round was over.
The fight became more lopsided in the fourth, and after suffering two more knockdowns, Zamora was saved by his father Alfonso Sr., who threw in the towel.
Punctuating the night, riot police were once again forced to intervene when Zamora Sr. and Hernandez threw down in the ring after the fight.
You could make the case that the fight failed to live up to the hype, but Zarate and Zamora still hold a place among Mexico's most bitter rivalries.
Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales
When it comes to Mexican boxing rivalries, it's often about location, location, location.
You'll find no better example of that than the legendary trilogy between Mexico City's Marco Antonio Barrera and Tijuana's Erik Morales.
Mexico City and Tijuana have historically had a great deal of enmity toward each other, largely built around often the complex and highly volatile class structure in a country of approximately 120 million people.
Heading into the 2002 rematch of their scintillating and closely contested first contest—Morales took a narrow split decision in a fight dubbed the 2000 Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine—Mexico City's Barrera and Tijuana's Morales made no secret of their disdain for each other and their opponent's hometown roots.
Barrera and Morales frequently slung highly charged insults at each other, and almost all of them are not fit for print here. Suffice it to say, both men genuinely disliked each other, and much—if not all—of that had to do with their geographic rivalry and the historical connotations and perceptions attached to each region.
In the ring, the two Mexican warriors took out their anger and mutual disdain by slinging fists for a total of 36 rounds. Nothing compares to their first fight, but the second and third helped cement this as one of the greatest trilogies—and definitely one of the best intra-Mexican rivalries—in boxing history.
Barrera took the second fight by narrow unanimous decision after being knocked down by a body shot in Round 7. He also won the third by a thin majority decision.
Like the first fight, the concluding chapter of the trilogy was dubbed the Fight of the Year for 2004 by The Ring Magazine.
After 36 rounds of boxing, countless personal (often racial) insults and some of the closest scorecards you'll ever see, Barrera and Morales each proved to be elite Mexican warriors. But they still don’t like each other.
Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez
When you talk about exciting, entertaining and brutal modern boxing rivalries, you'll hear a lot about Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward's epic trilogy.
You'll also hear a great deal about Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales (who are covered later in this piece).
But Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez's four fights are right up there with any of them, and they’re arguably even better.
The two men met for the first time in 2007 at the Home Depot Center (now StubHub Center) in Carson, Calif. for Vazquez's WBC Super Bantamweight Championship.
Both fighters threw huge punches in every round, with Vazquez suffering a broken nose from a Marquez uppercut in the opening frame. Despite being felled in the third round and rising on unsteady legs, Marquez won the contest when Vazquez retired on his stool after the seventh, complaining about his broken nose.
If anything, the rematch—contested a short six months later—was even better than the first bout. Both men were badly cut over their eyes in an insane third round—later dubbed Round and Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine—and Vazquez regained his belt with a stupefying sixth-round knockout.
Their third fight in 2008—once again Fight of the Year as chosen by The Ring Magazine—was the first, and only, of the series to go the full 12 rounds. Once again Vazquez suffered deep, nasty gashes over both of his eyes, but he survived to capture a disputed split decision.
Vazquez was felled in Round 4, but Marquez was docked a point in Round 10 for repeated low blows. In the final seconds of Round 12, referee Pat Russell credited Vazquez with a knockdown when it appeared that only the ropes were holding Marquez on his feet. That would be the decisive factor in the decision.
The fourth, and final, fight between the two warriors took place more than a year after their third bout. That was largely due to the immense punishment that they both suffered, and in particular, Vazquez who had to have three surgeries to repair a damaged retina.
Once again, Marquez opened deep cuts over Vazquez's eyes and secured the final victory of the series via third-round knockout. This was the least competitive and exciting bout of the rivalry.
It's fitting that the series entered with each man securing two victories and two defeats, and while a fifth fight was briefly floated, there's no need. This is already one of the greatest boxing rivalries in history—if not the single best—and both men left it all in the ring.
Ruben Olivares vs. Jesus "Chucho" Castillo
Some fans will argue that Ruben Olivares—and not Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.—is the greatest fighter to come out of Mexico. While that may come off as blasphemy to others, he's definitely in the conversation, and he's widely thought to be among the greatest bantamweight fighters in boxing history.
But, as a person, he wasn't for everybody. Olivares used his boxing success to live a hard-partying, playboy lifestyle outside of the ring. His antics rubbed many people the wrong way, and one of those who disliked him was the late, great Jesus "Chucho" Castillo.
Prior to the first fight of their trilogy, Chucho didn't make an attempt to hide his dislike for a man who was, in many ways, his polar opposite. Whereas Olivares was notoriously outgoing and the life of the party, Castillo was described as more reserved and quiet.
Olivares came into the first contest having knocked out his last 21 opponents, but Chucho was able to survive to the final bell, even dropping the champion before losing a decision.
The first fight was so competitive, and so heated, that a rematch was scheduled just six months later in October 1970.
This time, Chucho inflicted a serious cut on Olivares in the opening round, and by Round 14, the fight was stopped in his favor. With the victory, Castillo became the world bantamweight champion and the first man to score a victory over Olivares in the professional ranks.
The rubber match would be settled with another Castillo knockdown but Olivares decision victory. It closed the book on an animosity-fueled rivalry that still sparks bitter discussion and debate in Mexico.
Olivares, the Mexican playboy, would end his series with two up and one down against Chucho, but their rivalry was legendary. Castillo would always be able to claim he was the first to claim Olivares' scalp in the ring.