By Derek Bonnett: The United Mexican States, otherwise known as simply Mexico, sits in the southern portion of North America, bordering the USA, Guatemala, and Belize. Mexico is comprised of thirty-one states and a federal district for its capital. Other major metropolises are Guadalajara, Tijuana, Monterrey, Puebla, and Toluca. Mexico, the heartland of the Aztec Empire, has a storied history including its being conquered by Spain in the early 1500s at the hands of a small army of conquistadores led by Hernan Cortes. Mexico would earn its independence from Spain in 1821 with the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba and their own Declaration of Independence. Further battles ensued through Mexico’s ample history including a two-year war with the United States which was sparked over a border skirmish.
Outside of its great history, poorly condensed here, Mexico is today known for its ample cultural contributions in the areas of music, art, cuisine, and sport. From mariachi to Diego Rivera to pozole (a delicious soup customarily cooked using a pig’s head), citizens the world over are thankful for the Mexican contributions to the world. American people love to feel a little Mexican each year as the celebrate Cinco de Mayo, often misconstrued as Mexican Independence Day, but actually the commemoration of Mexico’s unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico has also contributed much to the world of professional soccer and continues to produce numerous "Aztec Warriors" to collect world championships in the realm of professional prizefighting.
To date, Mexico has birthed 168 world champions. This number does not even consider Mexican-American titlists! Mexican boxing has produced some of the best fighters in the world Libra por Libra or Pound for Pound. The names Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, and Ricardo Lopez frequently come up when discussing the absolute best fighters of all time. As of this writing, Mexico has six reigning world champions as two were dethroned and one vacated during 2016. This number will surely grow as the rankings are littered with highly formidable Mexican challengers across the divisions, but, mostly at 130 pounds and below. The following four boxers, after much consideration, compromise this edition of Each Nation’s Best: Mexico.
4.) Carlos Cuadras, 35-1-1 (27), is a the recently dethroned WBC super flyweight champion. The Guamuchil, Sinaloa native turned professional in 2008 after earning a bronze medal at the Mexican National Championships. He was defeated by reigning world featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez. As a pro, Cuadras came up in obscurity and built a reputation as a puncher who liked to work the body. Cuadras stopped Ronald Barrera in seven rounds to pass his first world class test. He followed that up with a unanimous twelve round decision over the seasoned veteran Fernando Lumacad. He then retired former world title challenger Victor Zaleta with a seventh round stoppage in 2013. In 2014, Cuadras dethroned WBC 115-pound champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Wisaksil Wangek) by eighth round technical decision after a clash of heads produced a cut over Cuadras’ left eye. Cuadras defended the title six times including an impressive decision over Luis Concepcion, who later became a fellow titlist. Other victims include Marvin Mabait, Koki Eto, and Richie Mepranum. Cuadras’ title run came to an end, ironically, in the fight he received most praise for. Cuadras, 28, was clearly outpointed by, current Pound for Pound King, Roman Gonzalez last September. However, Cuadras cut Gonzalez around both eyes with heavy punches. Gonzalez took the title, but he took a lot of punishment in moving from flyweight to super flyweight. Gonzalez was very impressed by Cuadras and acknowledged the need for a rematch. Boxing fans have further raised Cuadras’ stock due to their disappointment that Gonzalez had selected to face Rungvisai instead of embracing an immediate rematch. Cuadras continues to call Gonzalez out, but has stated he will also fight Juan Francisco Estrada, who also resides on this list.
3.) Leo Santa Cruz, 32-1-1 (18), like Cuadras, lost his world title in his last ring appearance. However, this was a much closer affair against Carl Frampton, which saw Santa Cruz more dominant in the late rounds after giving away many of the early rounds. It was a tough fight to score and both men went home winners even if Santa Cruz was so only figuratively. Santa Cruz is a couple week away from his big rematch with the 2016 Fighter of the Year. However, Santa Cruz, 28, is a three division world champion, winning belts at 118, 112, and 126 pounds. He won the vacant IBF bantamweight title by defeating Vusi Malinga on points and defended it three times. He climbed one division and destroyed Victor Terrazas in three rounds for WBC honors. He defended his super bantamweight title four times including a big win over Cristian Mijares, who not too long ago would have been rated favorably on this type of list. Santa Cruz edged Abner Mares for the WBA featherweight title in 2015, but only kept it for one defense before losing his unbeaten record to Frampton. Mares has since won another world title belt, furthering enhancing the value of Santa Cruz’ win. Frampton will be favored over the lanky inside fighter in the rematch, but not by a wide margin. Santa Cruz’ better stamina should help him down the stretch, but he cannot afford another slow start against the primed British elite.
2.) Saul Alvarez, 48-1-1 (34), is the most popular boxer from Mexico today and has become an icon in the sport of boxing. Known for his handsome face, the boxer from Guadalajara, Jalisco is today most commonly known as "Canelo"; similarities between he and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya are great in terms of marketability and taking on tough challenges. Alvarez has captured three 154-pound titles and one at 160 pounds. Canelo has an interesting resume, defeating future lightweight world champion Miguel Vazquez in his third and twenty-first professional bouts. Two years after their second bout, Vazquez began a title reign amassing six defenses. Alvarez went on to beat domestic and fringe contenders at welterweight such as Larry Mosley, Euri Gonzalez, Michel Rosales, and Lanardo Tyner. Canelo added the scalps of Carlos Manuel Baldomir, Matthew Hatton, Alfonso Gomez, and Shane Mosley. The Hatton win made him the WBC junior middleweight champion. Alvarez added the WBA version with a tough decision over Austin Trout, which saw Canelo dropping Trout in the seventh. The Mexican star suffered his lone defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a 2013 match-up of superstars. Alvarez acquitted himself well, but lost a clear decision in a fight that appears to have made him better. Since then, Canelo defeated Erislandy Lara and James Kirkland before outpointing Miguel Cotto for a middleweight belt. The fight was close, but again a great developmental task for Canelo, who is still only twenty-six. Canelo has added wins over Amir Khan and Liam Smith to win the WBO 154 title. Alvarez is an exceptional talent, but he has hurt his credibility with hardcore fans for his refusal to fight within established weight class and his avoidance of a genuine middleweight threat, namely Gennady Golovkin. Canelo will next meet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in May in a contest few care about. The bout is a bankroll move only and will do little to Canelo’s resume as the Chavez Jr. train stalled out long ago.
1.) Juan Francisco Estrada, 34-2-0 (24), will be an unpopular choice for some boxing fans, but those who truly follow the sport, know the score with Estrada. Estrada recently vacated the WBO and WBA flyweight titles to chase further glory at super flyweight, where fellow countryman Carlos Cuadras resides along with Roman Gonzalez. Estrada has his own history with Gonzalez. While Cuadras inflicted more damage to Gonzalez, there are those who actually believe Estrada did enough to win his bout with the Nicaraguan Super-Man. Estrada certainly won more rounds against Gonzalez than we are accustomed to seeing and his claim for a rematch is even stronger. Estrada, residing in Hermosillo, Sonora, came up similarly to Estrada fighting mostly domestic opposition, but absorbed a defeat along the way to eventual champion Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. in 2011. The eight round bout saw both men down and was a close affair. Estrada kept busy, fighting seven times that year, building toward a rematch victory over Sanchez by tenth round stoppage, which again saw both men down. Estrada was still somewhat of a nonentity in the sport going into his light flyweight title bout with Gonzalez. Estrada had never previously fought below 112, but managed to win four rounds on two judges cards.
Estrada can punch, but his work is best represented by his effective combination punching on the inside. He cuts the ring off well and creates angles by stepping to the side when he throws. Estrada wasted little time getting his career back on track and dethroned Brian Viloria for the WBO/WBA belts. Although the decision rendered was split, Estrada appeared to win no less than nine rounds as he out-moved and out-fought the stationary power-punching Hawaiian. Estrada defeated unbeaten Milan Melindo in his first defense, giving up two or three rounds only. Estrada defeated Richie Mepranum, retiring him after nine rounds, before adding national credibility to his dossier with stoppages over Giovanni Segura and Hernan Marquez. In total, Estrada defended his titles five times. Out of the ring for a year, Estrada opted to give up his titles and move to super flyweight where he returned to action last October with a ten-round win. How long Estrada remain top tamale is uncertain. He has the opposition to do so at 115, but the right fights must be made. A showdown with Cuadras would be a dream.
Mexico is the home to so many excellent fighters today. Some notables not listed here are Francisco Vargas, who just might be the most entertaining champion in the sport today. Pedro Guevara and Ganigan Lopez are two formidable light flyweights, who may one day climb the weight divisions like Estrada. Gilberto Ramirez shows promise as a super middleweight titlist and Abner Mares has not yet hung up his hat at the elite level. Oscar Valdez probably represents the future of Mexican boxing, but fighters of the past such as Orlando Salido still have a tough grasp on the present.
Donations of ceviche, tamales, and pozole can be delivered to Derek Bonnett in Connecticut, USA.
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January 17, 2017