Mexico. Puerto Rico. Two countries, two proud boxing traditions. The list of world boxing champions reads like a who's who of the sport: Sanchez, Chavez, Zarate and De La Hoya from the Mexican side; Trinidad, Gomez, Rosario and Benitez from the Puerto Rican side.
When a Mexican fighter steps into the ring against a Puerto Rican fighter, the stakes are always elevated, the stage set for something dramatic. Personal pride gives way to national pride. Fan interest intensifies. Often as not, something resembling magic ensues.
On the night of the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II, a long-awaited, eagerly-anticipated rematch of a sensational, brutal war fought in 2008, it seems appropriate to examine a handful of the most significant fights featuring a Mexican fighter against a Puerto Rican fighter.
WBC Featherweight Championship (126 LBS)
August 21, 1981–Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Undefeated WBC Super Bantamweight (122) champion, Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez (32-0-1, 32 KOS), from Las Monjas in San Juan, Puerto Rico entered the ring as a 2-1 betting favorite over the once-defeated, and not well-known Santiago Tianguistenco-born, Salvador Sanchez (40-1, 30 KOS), the WBC Featherwight (126) champion. Gomez, a huge puncher with dynamite in both fists, talked confidently and often about his plans to knock out Sanchez early.
Fights are won with fists, however, and Sanchez punished Gomez from the opening bell on, beating the Puerto Rican champion mercilessly. A final, brutal Sanchez fusillade unloaded upon a helpless Gomez, as he sagged against and nearly fell through the ropes, prompting referee Carlos Padilla to step in and end the fight.
The slick-punching Sanchez put Gomez down in the first round, breaking the Puerto Rican fighter's cheekbone and virtually closing both of Gomez' eyes by fight's end. Indicative of the ferociousness of the rivalry, Sanchez was quoted afterward as being disappointed that the fight only went eight rounds. He had wanted to beat up on the Puerto Rican fighter for the full 15 rounds.
Less than a year later, Sanchez was dead, claimed in a car accident on August 12, 1982. His status as the greatest Mexican fighter, established that night against Gomez, was only matched in Mexican boxing lore by the great Julio Cesar Chavez.
Gomez recovered from the fearful beatdown and went on to ultimately claim two more world titles, defeating Juan La Porte in 1984 for the WBC Featherweight crown and Rocky Lockridge for the WBC Super Featherweight (130) belt.
WBC & IBF Welterweight Championships (147 LBS)
September 18, 1999—Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
The heavily-promoted, long-awaited fight between undefeated fighters, Oscar De La Hoya (31-0/25 KOS) of East Los Angeles and Felix “Tito” Trinidad (35-0/31 KOS) of Cayey, Puerto Rico, established a pay-per-view record for viewership of a non-heavyweight at the time, drawing over 1.4 million buys. It is unfortunate, however that the fight is remembered more for what De La Hoya did not do in the ring than what he actually did that night.
For the first eight rounds, the “Golden Boy” was golden indeed. Jabbing and moving, peppering the tough, dangerously heavy-handed but slower Trinidad, De La Hoya dominated the first two-thirds of the bout, racking up in most viewers' minds an enormous and apparently insurmountable lead on the presumed judges' scorecards.
The fight turned when, following the eighth round, Oscar took the advice of his corner and took off during the final four rounds, dancing, punching only sporadically, appearing even to run at times. Neither the crowd in attendance, nor, presumably, the pay-per-view audience watching across the world approved of this decision.
When, finally, the judges' scorecards were read by the inimitable Michael Buffer, it was readily apparent that the judges were not impressed either. Judges Jerry Roth scored the fight 115-113 for Trinidad. Judge Bob Logist scored the fight 115-113, Trinidad. Glenn Hamada saw the fight an even at 114-114. Puerto Rico's Felix Trinidad, seemingly dominated for most of the fight, had defeated Oscar De La Hoya, who was American-born, but of Mexican heritage.
Even after the passing of a decade, there is still a bit of righteous Mexican anger over De La Hoya's running, er, backpedaling, during the final four rounds of the Trinidad fight.
WBC Light-Welterweight Championship (140 LBS)
September 12, 1992—Thomas & Mack Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez, the pride of Culiacan, Mexico, entered this much-anticipated fight with a record of 81-0. His foe, the light-punching Hector “Macho” Camacho also entered the bout undefeated (41-0/17KOS.)
The fight, as many expected, was a mismatch from the get-go. Relentlessly stalking and pounding his man, the heavy-handed Mexican bullied Camacho, pounded him unceasingly with rights to the head and brutal lefts to the body.
Chavez was famous for this body punching and feared for it, too. Meanwhile, Camacho, to his credit, took everything Chavez had to dish out, managing to stay on his feet.
The decision was, as expected, unanimous, with scores of 117-111, 119-110 and 120-107.
In retrospect, Hector Camacho's highlight of the night was his ring entrance as Captain America—well, that and surviving the final bell on his feet. Even Chavez was surprised at Camacho's toughness, giving the beaten-to-a-pulp fighter props for surviving the beating and staying upright.
WBC Super Bantamweight Championship (122 lbs)
October 28, 1978—Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
Carlos Zarate, of Tepita, Mexico, the reigning WBC Bantamweight king (118 LBS), entered the ring at 55-0, with an astonishing 54 KOs. Gomez, the defending super bantamweight kingpin was also undefeated at 21-0-1, with 21 KOs. According to Ring Magazine, this bout featured the highest KO percentage ever for two fighters in a championship bout.
The tall (5'9”) Zarate was rather lanky for a bantamweight, freakishly so, in fact, and looked nothing like one of boxing's all-time greatest punchers. His power was concussive with either hand, and all of Mexico eagerly awaited the beating that his explosive fists were going to administer to the brash Puerto Rican champion.
It never happened.
Gomez dominated the taller Mexican fighter, avoided his legendary punching power, and ultimately knocked him down four times en route to a fifth-round stoppage. As an aside, Gomez landed “extra” blows to a downed Zarate after several of the knockdowns. In retrospect, though, with Zarate's skinny, spindly legs and Gomez' own fistic pop, the outcome was never in doubt.
WBA Welterweight Championship (147 LBS)
July 26,2008—MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
“A modern classic” was how HBO announcer, Max Kellerman described this brutal war between “the most avoided fighter in boxing,” Antonio Margarito (36-5/26KOS), “The Tijuana Tornado” and undefeated Caguas, Puerto Rico-born Miguel Cotto (32-0).
For 11 rounds, this was a war, fully meriting its “classic” status. Cotto, surrendering four inches in height to Margarito, nonetheless boxed effectively throughout the fight, displaying superior technique and boxing prowess, landing frequently savage flurries against and off of Margarito's hard skull.
Margarito never took a backward step, however. The lanky Mexican, feared for his rough-and-tumble pressure-fighting style and renowned chin, simply stalked Cotto, walked him down, trapped him into a corner or against the ropes at every turn.
By the sixth round, it became apparent that Margarito's pressure fighting was getting to Cotto, whose chin has always been a liability. The previously-mobile Cotto was fighting more flat-footed, allowing Margarito to begin unloading on Cotto's midsection.
While Cotto was still winning the rounds via cleaner punching and superior accuracy, Margarito subtly began to take over the fight. A look at the corners between rounds seemed to confirm this. Cotto's face and left eye were horribly swollen, and the look on the Puerto Rican's face reflected despair as much as anything.
In Round 11, Cotto, appearing gassed, his face a bloody mask, got nailed by a short left uppercut, followed by a right and another left at the 1:43 mark. Cotto took a knee, and received a standing eight count from referee Kenny Bayless. Dazed and wobbly, Cotto teetered across the ring while Margarito gave chase, his long arms windmilling punches in Cotto's direction. At 1:58, Evangelista Cotto, Miguel's trainer and uncle, threw in the towel and referee Bayless halted the fight—KO for Antonio Margarito and a victory for Mexico.
In Margarito's next fight, a firestorm of controversy was ignited when “Sugar” Shane Moseley's trainer noticed something odd about the taping of Margarito's hands by his trainer. Long a boxing trainer in the employ of the ageless, longtime middleweight camp Bernard Hopkins, Nazim Richardson objected to and demanded an inspection of Margarito's hand-wraps. Upon lab analysis, the wraps were found to contain traces of a Plaster-of-Paris-like hardening substance.
Margarito's then-trainer, Javier Capetillo, and Margarito himself were both suspended by the various boxing commissions. To this day, Margarito maintains his innocence, though clearly his reputation and the validity of his previous significant victories, especially the 11th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto, are all called into question.
For his part, Cotto maintains that Margarito is a cheater and criminal. Margarito says otherwise, maintaining he will see Cotto carried out of the ring on a stretcher when their long-awaited rematch takes place.