The term “Mexican Style” has become somewhat of a buzzword in boxing, with Mexicans being renowned for their toughness, durability and unrivalled desire to make their nation proud. Throughout the history of the Queensbury Rules, Mexico has birthed a whole host of skilled pugilists. Canelo Alvarez is the current flag bearer for the nation, but there have been a plethora of extraordinary fighters that have paved the way and put his country on the map. Which of them make my top 5 list?
5 – Juan Manuel Márquez
I resisted the urge to put Carlos Zarate in my fifth spot, and instead opted for the man who provided me with some of my earliest boxing memories. Juan Manuel Márquez was not only a beautiful combination puncher, but he was also one of the greatest counter punchers of his generation.
He secured world honours in every division from featherweight up to welterweight, holding victories over the likes of Orlando Salido, Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz (twice) and Mike Alvarado, in a career that spanned twenty-one years.
During his rise to the top, he was aggressively chasing two fellow Mexican greats, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. Unfortunately, he never quite caught Morales, and by the time he put his hands on Barrera, the legend was past his prime.
To the casual boxing fan, when you hear the name Juan Manuel Márquez, you instantly associate it with Manny Pacquiao. The pair shared the ring four times. The first ended all square, with Pacman edging the next two fights.
It was his victory in the fourth fight, though, that “Dinamita” will always be remembered for. The Mexican delivered a bone-crushing counter right-hand to the chin of Pacquiao, who was left motionless on the canvas. This punch proudly sits on the top shelf of the most brutal one-punch knockouts of all time.
He retired in 2014 with a record of 56-7-1, losing seven times throughout his career, with Floyd Mayweather Jr being the only man capable of decisively outclassing the Mexican.
4 – Vicente Saldívar
Vicente Saldívar is often lost in the stratosphere of great Mexican champions. Standing at just 5-foot 3-inches tall, he punched his way to the top of the 126-pound division and maintained one of the greatest featherweight championship reigns.
Compared to other fighters on this list, Saldívar had noticeably much fewer fights than the others. But the success he achieved in his shorter career speaks for itself.
After wiping the floor with favoured champion Sugar Ramos for the WBC and WBA titles, he went onto successfully defend both belts seven times – dispatching of whoever they threw in his direction.
Saldívar is often remembered by British fight fans for his memorable trilogy with Welshman, Howard Winstone. The Brit gave the champion all he could handle in their first two meetings, with Saldívar prevailing on the scorecards. The Mexican finally secured the stoppage victory in their third fight, though, with his power and work rate proving too much for the challenger.
He retired as champion in 1968 but was enticed back into the ring a year later. In his absence, Cuba’s Jose Legra and Australia’s Johnny Famechon took over at the top of the featherweight division. Saldívar wanted to remind the boxing world of his greatness, so he came back and beat them both.
Even if you ignore the handful of defeats he suffered at the end of his career, he deserves to go down as one of Mexico’s most talented and accomplished fighters.
3 – Salvador Sanchez
In the third spot, we have Salvador Sanchez. He is often overlooked due to the brevity of his career, but Sanchez was on route to becoming the greatest Mexican fighter of all time before his tragic and untimely death.
At the point of his fatal car accident, he had the boxing world at his feet. His blistering speed, persistent pressure and punch perfect timing put him on another level to every fighter around his weight. He would have inevitably been forced to climb up the weights in search of new prey and more world honours.
After turning professional at just sixteen, he racked up a record of 33-1-1 all before his twenty-first birthday. His only loss coming at bantamweight against a far more experienced opponent in Antonio Becerra.
Once he moved up to featherweight, Sanchez went on to win his next twenty-four fights, securing the WBC title in 1980 by dismantling Hall of Famer, Danny Lopez. He would then successfully defend his crown nine times against some of the best featherweight fighters in history. Those names include Ruben Castillo, Patrick Ford, Roberto Castanon, and Azumah Nelson.
Sanchez’ most significant and defining victory came against Wilfredo Gomez. At the time, the Puerto Rican was considered a genuine contender for the pound-for-pound number one spot and is recognised today as one of the best fighters to ever don a pair of boxing gloves.
This fight became one of the most celebrated pages within the Mexico vs Puerto Rico scrapbook. The pair were evenly matched going into the bout, but Sanchez was simply too advanced for Gomez on the night. He was ruthless; overwhelming the smaller opponent with his size, punch output and power on route to an eighth-round stoppage.
Sanchez’ potential was frightening and who knows what he would have gone onto achieve had he not been taken from us prematurely.
2 – Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Before you stop reading and question why I have Mexico’s most celebrated sportsmen second on my list – allow me to explain.
Chavez is an icon in his home country and is adored by boxing fans all over the globe. He epitomised everything about the Mexican fighting style; a vicious body puncher, with an impenetrable chin and never say die attitude.
Let’s not forget that he boasts the longest undefeated streak in boxing history. Although some people argue that his record was padded with lesser opposition, he still defeated the likes of Roger Mayweather (twice), Edwin Rosario, Hector Camacho and Meldrick Taylor, whilst holding world titles at super featherweight and lightweight.
The first blemish on his record came in the form of a draw against Pernell Whitaker, which should have been his first defeat in all honesty. The American was too tricky and defensively adept to Chavez’ come forward style, and was ultimately robbed of the deserved victory.
His career slowly went downhill afterwards, and he was later handed his first loss by Frankie Randall, before being stopped by Oscar De La Hoya twice and losing multiple fights from 1998 to 2005.
The reason he fails to take the top seat, in my opinion, is that he never dominated a division or had that signature victory against an elite opponent.
He won the WBC title at super featherweight in 1984 but wasn’t genuinely considered the number one in the division until he defeated Rocky Lockbridge in 1986. He then made three more defences before jumping up in weight and never solidly campaigned in a single category afterwards.
If he had rematched and defeated Whitaker, I think we could have been looking at the greatest Mexican fighter of all time. However, that was not the case.
He was a phenomenal talent, nonetheless.
1 – Rubén Olivares
Sitting pretty at the top of my list is not only one of my favourite fighters, but the greatest Mexican pugilist of all time. Whether you regard him as the best Mexican fighter or not, you cannot argue that Rubén Olivares is the best 118 pounder of all time. He wasn’t just part of the most cut-throat bantamweight era between 1965 and 1975; he proved himself to be the best of an extremely talented bunch.
“Rockabye” was a vicious puncher, with his left-hook being his most valuable asset. He achieved an incredible record of 89-13-3 over a twenty-three-year career. At first glance, the 13 losses may indicate that he wasn’t as good as I am suggesting. However, when you break down his résumé and analyse the defeats, 11 of the losses occurred at the tail end of his career and above his ideal optimum weight of 118 pounds. Meaning he went 69-2-1 in the most competitive and dangerous bantamweight division of all time, which is simply outrageous.
Those two losses came against fellow Mexican greats Chucho Castillo and Rafael Herrera. He later went onto avenge the loss against Castillo, which gave him a 2-1 advantage in their trilogy. Plus, Herrera was Olivares’ last fight at bantamweight because he was unable to safely make the weight anymore.
Once he outgrew the bantamweight division, he then made the difficult jump up to featherweight, where he would win the WBA title in his fifth bout. Many regarded Olivares as the King in the division until he was knocked out by future Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello in 1974. He would later add the WBC crown to his collection by stopping Bobby Chacon for the second time, in what would be his final championship reign.
The list of fighters he beat during his career is nothing short of spectacular. The likes of Salvatore Burruni, Chucho Castillo (twice), Efren Torres, Jesus Pimentel, Lionel Rose and Bobby Chacon all succumbed to the brilliance of the mini Mexican.
If Olivares had retired after his defeat to Herrera, I would have still regarded him as the greatest Mexican in history, purely based on his dominance at bantamweight. But the fact he moved up a division and added another two world titles just further added to his greatness. That is why I gave him the edge over Chavez Sr.
Do you agree or disagree with the placements on my list? Tweet me @JayTB__ and let me know your thoughts.