Tepito: The Wild Neighborhood that Spawned Great Boxers

boxingBy Ted Sares - The gringos have always beaten us in everything else, but not in boxing… ---Cesar Bazan Perez

….being Mexican is a privilege, but being from Tepito is a gift of God. - Motto used by Tepito neighbors

Tepito has learned to recycle stigmas, like the label of criminality, and make them over into a kind of collective charisma. But it goes beyond that: the so-called barrio bravo has grown resistant to anti-barrio viruses by maintaining its own ways of organizing work, its own daily rhythms, and even its own urban dialect ii Alfonso Hernández

Many consider Tepito a dangerous place to visit.. It is deep in the core of Mexico City with an enormous street market that operates six days a week and sells many illegal items. It is often referred to as the "el barrio bravo de Tepito," (which roughly translated means: "the Wild Neighborhood of Tepito"). It is a soulful place where innocents and hard working people coexist with criminals.

This infamous, albeit often misunderstood place where many prominent Mexican boxers have been born is perhaps best known for being home to dangerous gangs and criminals. It is bordered by streets on which children ride bikes with walkie-talkies and cell phones ready to alert gang leaders that suspicious looking types have entered Yet, as someone once said, bad things happen everywhere and there is no one place where bad things happen every moment of every day. So, while respect should always be paid to the reputation of a locale, a locale should never be judged on reputation alone. Indeed, and not unlike La Lagunilla (another great Mexico City market area), my many visits to Tepito have been both enjoyable and safe ones even though poverty, corruption and violence are daily realities.

There is still a boxing gym where young men spar with each other, but for all practical purposes boxing is little more than a memory. Back in the day, however, there were several boxers who fought their way out of Tepito to respect throughout Latin America and far beyond. Here are just a few:

llanueva Paramo a.k.a. Kid Azteca (1930-1961)

This immortal welterweight ended his long career with an astonishing mark of 156-44-8 that spanned four decades. And he fought at the top level without a gap. From 1953 until he retired in 1961, he fought 27 times. Even more incredible is that he lived until 2002 when he died at age 88. Unlike many great fighters who stay on too long, The Kid went undefeated in 26 of his last 27 fights.

Raul “El Raton” Macias (1953-1962)

The super popular El Raton started his amateur career reportedly at age fourteen, winning several national titles. Known by the nickname “Mouse,” the 5-foot-3 ½-inch Macías won the vacant bantamweight title over Chamrern Songkitrat of Thailand in 1955. He successfully defended the title twice before losing it before 20,060 fans to French-Algerian Alphonse Halimi, on a controversial split decision in 1957. Amazingly, he once filled Mexico City’s bullfighting ring where 50,000 adoring fans saw him defeat Nate Brooks in 1954 for the North American title. The Mouse had become Mexico’s top sports hero.

He was a “thinking man's fighter” who could win in many ways and beat many notables. In only his seventh pro outing, he outpointed veteran Galvan who had an amazing 83-28-5 record.

After a remarkable post boxing career in which he went 41-2, he passed away on March 23, 2009 in Mexico City. Considered by many as Mexico's first boxing "idol," his death was mourned throughout the country and a day of national mourning was declared. He had been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

Jose “Huitlacoche” Medel (1955-1974)

The “best fight the best,” and for fighting everyone and anybody and remaining competitive in the process, I am partial to the great Mexican bantamweights of the 50s and 60s. In particular, I liked Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medel who fought from 1955 to 1974 and finished with an active record of 69-31-8 with 44 ko's. Fittingly, his last fight was against future Super Bantamweight champion Royal Kobayashi in Tokyo.

“El Huitlacoche” was never a world champion, but he met the very best of his era's flyweights and bantamweights. In the tradition of ring warriors from Tepito, he never backed down from a tough opponent; he was one rugged customer as reflected by his deceptive final record of 69-31-8.

Rubén “El Púas” Olivares (1965-1988)

This legendary KO artist and multiple world champion finished with a remarkable 88 -13 1 record with 77 KO wins and a KO percentage of 74.04. Among his victims were such powerhouses as Bobby Chacon, "Chucho" Castillo, Jose Luis Ramirez, Lionel Rose, the aforementioned Medel, Jesus Pimentel, Kid Pascualito, and Efren Torres. In all, he won the World WBC and WBA Featherweight Championships and the WBC and WBA Bantamweight World Titles as well.

He went undefeated in his first 61 bouts (60-0-1) until losing to “Chucho” Castillo. This was during a time when such greats as Castillo, Chacon, Medel, Pimentel, and Danny “Little Red” Lopez were doing their thing; it was a grand time for boxing in Mexico and on the West Coast.

Considered by many as the greatest bantamweight champion of all time, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1985 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. He also is number 12 on Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.

Octavio “Famoso” Gomez (1966-1977)

“Famoso” was a bit of a globe trotter and often would fight in his opponent’s home town. Like Medel. his level of his opposition was off the charts and included such great as Katsuyoshi Takayama whom he beat in only his seventh bout), Olivares, Efren Torres, “Kid” Pascualito, fellow Tepito native Rodolfo Martinez, Alfredo Marcano, Art Hafey, Rafael Herrera, and “Little Red” Lopez. He won his last five bouts and ended up with an old school record of 58-19-5. But he was more than an old school veteran; he was a tough son of Tepito who was willing to duke with the best and more than held his own.

Carlos “Caña” Zarate (1970-1988)

Nothing defines this bomber’s career more that what happened when he iced Alfonso Zamora in four sizzling rounds on a hot California night at the Forum on April 23, 1977. Zarate was 46-0 with an astounding 45 KO victories. His opponent and slight favorite was 28-0 record with 28 consecutive knockouts. That’s an amazing combined ring record of 74 wins with 73 wins coming by knockout. These were two guys who could send their opponents into zzzzzzzz’s at any time in a fight.

Zarate’s great career as a boxer/puncher was distinguished in many ways including being the only fighter to put together two streaks of 20 or more KOs wins in a row. The bomber is also on Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers as number 21.

With an astounding final mark of 66 (KO 63)-4 (KO2) and an eye popping KO percentage of 90, “Caña” was 50-0 when he lost his first fight to the great Wilfredo Gomez (21-0-1 at the time). After losing a highly controversial decision to Lupe Pintor, he retired for seven years but came back in 1986 and won twelve straight before losing a TD to Jeff Fenech in Australia. Curiously, three of his four losses came at the hands of future Hall of Fame inductees. Zarate himself was inducted into the Hall 1994 and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.

Rodolfo Martinez (1965-1979)

This Tepiteño fought his first 22 bouts in Mexico City before losing by MD to Rafael Herrera in a bid for the vacant NABF bantamweight title. He then won seven straight and was 35-1-1 when he again fought Herrera in 1973 with the vacant WBC bantamweight title at stake. This time, he would be stopped in 12 in a classic battle in which both warriors hit the deck.

He finally caught up with Herrera in 1974 and TKOd him in four to capture the WBC bantamweight title. He defended his title four times before losing it to Zarate in 1976. After losing his Mexico bantamweight title to Roberto “Kid” Rubaldino, he bounced back with his last great win, a seventh round TKO over undefeated Mike Ayala in Mike’s home town of San Antonio. He retired in 1979 with a tally of 44-7-1 and an equally impressive KO percentage of 67.32.

There are many other Tepiteños who made their mark in the ring (including the great Marco Antonio Barrera), but when one thinks of El barrio bravo de Tepito, the names of “El Raton,” “El Púas,” “Caña, “Huitlacoche,” “Famoso” and “Kid Azteca” over shadow everything else. These hard men embodied the nature of Tepito from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. After all, boxing and Tepito were synonymous back in the day.

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Article posted on 20.05.2009

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