Ranking the 10 Best Mexican Fighters in Boxing Today
It still remains to be seen when, or even if, Juan Manuel Marquez will return to the boxing ring. But as long as he is still officially active, he has to be regarded as the top Mexican pound-for-pound boxer.
He's on the short list for the top Mexican boxer of all time.
But the United States' neighbor to the south has one of the richest boxing traditions on the planet. In recent decades, especially, boxing fans with Mexican heritage on both sides of the border have been essential for keeping the sport strong.
This list is limited specifically to fighters of Mexican nationality, not simply Mexican ethnicity. For the purposes of my list, if BoxRec doesn't rate them as Mexican, I have not rated them as such, either.
10. Raymundo Beltran
If there was true justice in the boxing world, Raymundo Beltran would be the WBO lightweight champion of the world right now. Last September, he went to Scotland, broke Ricky Burns' jaw and, by my eyes, won the fight easily.
Alas, only one judge agreed with me and Burns retained his belt on a split-decision draw.
Beltran is a classic case of a guy who battled his way up through the sport the hard way. His record of 28-6-1 with 17 KOs looks a bit like a journeyman's resume, and for a long time Beltran made a part of his living serving as a sparring partner to Manny Pacquiao.
But in July 2012, he forced his way into contender status when he thoroughly outboxed Henry Lundy to earn a majority decision. Any true boxing fan has to hope Beltran gets another chance to win the title he deserves before hanging up his gloves.
9. Juan Francisco Estrada
At just 23, Juan Francisco Estrada has to be viewed as one of the fastest-rising young stars in the sport. He started his career as a super flyweight and lost just once, to future champion Juan Carlos Sanchez. In 2012, he made a brief trip all the way down to light flyweight to challenge the wrecking machine known as Roman Gonzalez.
Estrada gave Gonzalez his closest fight in recent years but dropped a unanimous decision. He then moved up to flyweight, where he has truly found his home. In April 2013, he upset Brian Viloria to capture the WBA and WBO 112-pound belts.
In July, he handed Milan Melindo his first professional loss. I'd love to see Estrada this year against fellow countryman Adrian Hernandez, or else in a rematch with Gonzalez at 112.
8. Carlos Molina
Carlos Molina might not always fight pretty, but in my opinion, he is one of the most underrated boxers in the world. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any active fighter who has been treated worse by the referees and judges.
I thought Molina should have won both his fights with Julio Cesar Chavez in 2005 and 2006. I thought he should have gotten the nod over Erislandy Lara when they drew in 2011.
When referee Jon Schorle disqualified Molina in March 2012, in a fight he was clearly winning, I thought it was one of the most absurd things I'd ever seen in a boxing ring.
But Molina stuck around and last September finally caught a break, winning the IBF light middleweight belt from Ishe Smith. He'll defend it Saturday against undefeated Jermall Charlo on the Saul Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo pay-per-view.
7. Daniel Ponce De Leon
Daniel Ponce De Leon has been a professional fighter since 2001, compiling a record of 45-5 with 35 KOs. He is a two-division world champion and at 33 remains one of the top featherweights in the world.
He is the last man to beat current WBC 126-pound champion Jhonny Gonzalez, having captured the WBC title from him in 2012 by Round 8 technical decision. He dropped the belt to Abner Mares in his first defense by Round 9 TKO.
I would really like to see a rematch between Ponce De Leon and Gonzalez in the first part of this year. With Mares still not executing his own rematch clause, it's time to give Ponce De Leon the opportunity to win back his old title and Gonzalez an opportunity to beat the last man who beat him.
6. Leo Santa Cruz
Undefeated Leo Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15 KOs) is already a two-division world champion at just 25. This Saturday, he defends his WBC super bantamweight belt against Cristian Mijares on the Saul Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo card.
Santa Cruz has been featured prominently on Golden Boy cards in the past couple of years. He is a relentless, all-action fighter who destroys opponents on the inside.
In his recent fights, he has seemed to be improving. He's knocked out four of his last six opponents, including former world champions Eric Morel and Alex Munoz.
5. Miguel Vazquez
Miguel Vazquez is among the best defensive technicians in boxing. He's the IBF lightweight champion and, by my own reckoning, the top-ranked fighter in the weight class.
Vazquez has not lost a fight since 2008 and has never lost at 135 pounds. His only losses have come against Saul Alvarez (twice) and Timothy Bradley.
He has no true signature wins, however, and is probably on the outside looking in for big fights, due to the fact that his style is not exactly crowd-pleasing.
Still, his success in the professional ranks cannot really be argued with.
4. Saul Alvarez
Saul Alvarez is one of the most popular fighters in the world. At just 23, he is headlining a pay-per-view this weekend.
BoxRec's computer program is giving him far too much credit for beating Shane Mosley, a future Hall of Famer who was way past his prime when Canelo faced him.
Still, there is also a tendency among some fans to underrate Alvarez, due to his oversized popularity. His win against Mosley was still a quality win, as was his TKO of Kermit Cintron. In handing Austin Trout a unanimous decision loss, he beat one of the division's top fighters.
Alvarez is partly a marketing phenomena, but he's also a skilled all-around boxer and former world champion who has been learning his trade in the professional ranks since he was a teenager.
3. Abner Mares
Mares lost the WBC featherweight title by shocking Round 1 KO to Jhonny Gonzalez last August. But the three-division world champion's resume prior to that setback is just too good to overlook based on getting caught one time against another great fighter.
From December 2010 through May 2013, Mares won six straight fights against former or current world champions, while collecting belts at 118, 122 and 126 pounds. He had worked his way onto most pound-for-pound top 10 lists.
Mares' stock was so high that in the week prior to his fight with Gonzalez, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told Boxing Scene that Mares deserved to be ranked No. 2 in the world behind Floyd Mayweather.
Gonzalez's KO brought all that momentum to at least a temporary halt. But I predict the young star will be back on top eventually.
2. Jhonny Gonzalez
Jhonny Gonzalez's Round 1 KO of Mares last August came during the Showtime-Time Warner feud that temporarily took Showtime off the air in my market. So I heard about it after the fact, and at first, I will admit I was shocked.
But the longer I thought about it, the less stunning it seemed. Gonzalez was a two-division world champion, known for his knockout power, with victories over fighters like Fernando Montiel and Marc Johnson.
Prior to stopping Mares, Gonzalez would have been on the lower end of this list. But at any given time, one big win can be enough to catapult a fighter to the top of the rankings.
1. Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the greatest fighters of his generation and one of the greatest in Mexican history. And at 40, he remains the top active boxer from Mexico.
Based on his most recent performances, the four-division world champion remains near the top of his game. In December 2012, he connected with one of the best right-hand counters in history to knock his longtime rival Pacquiao out cold.
Last October, he lost a close split decision to Timothy Bradley, a far younger and physically stronger fighter. It's unclear what his next move will be, but for now, he still deserves the top spot on this list.