Sugar 'N Spice: The Emergence of the Latino Fighter
10.28.04 - By Bert Randolph Sugar, Sr. Boxing Analyst at-large for CMXsports.com - To understand boxing one must understand its roots. From its beginnings the sport has resonated with urban ethnicity, drawing its recruits from the tenements, the ghettos, the projects, the barrios, the places that offered little presence and even less of a future. Many a troubled and troublesome youngster has embraced “The Sweet Science” as a way out, a social staircase from of the mean streets which form his limited world, fighting his way, bloody hand-over-bloody hand, up the ladder of acceptance the only way he knew: with his fists.
Article posted on 28.10.2004
And so it was that after each and every emerging group in America--the Irish, the Jewish, the Italian and the African-American boxers--used boxing as their social entry point that another group, the Latinos, entered into full fellowship with their predecessors.
The first great American-born Latino fighter was Manuel Ortiz, who ruled the bantamweight roost from 1943 to 1949, with one short two-month hiatus. But the list of other Latino fighters at the time could be written on a postcard with a description of their neighborhoods on the other side and with more than enough room left over for the return address, one that usually read “From Mexico” or “From Puerto Rico”--addresses early-day stars like Baby Arizmendi and Sixto Escobar called home.
Still, Latino fighters were as overlooked as Whistler’s father. At least until the night of June 28, 1972. For that was the night a quintessential warrior named Roberto Duran burst upon the scene giving new meaning to the Spanish word “machismo” as he practically gelded Ken Buchanan to take the lightweight championship of the world. His victory heralded the advance of an army of Latino fighters who came tumbling out of the barrios to follow the banner of the man they called “The Hands of Stone.”
It mattered little that Duran was a Panamanian, for this macho man gave heart to his American-born hermanos, a heightened sense of themselves. And youngsters in the barrios, who had had to scrap for everything, now developed a strong appreciation of their Latino identity and marched--with a salsa or meringue beat--to the gyms en masse.
The trickle became a Niagara as the likes of Bobby Chacon and Danny “Little Red” Lopez emerged. Soon others, like Michael Carbajal, Johnny Tapia, Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas and hundreds upon hundreds of others stepped into the ring, all proudly bearing the mellifluous surnames that readily identified their Hispanic roots.
And as they began to appear on ABC-TV back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, announcer Howard Cosell would invariably, in heavy stentorian overtones, say something to the effect of: “he’s fighting in the typical face-first manner you see in all Hispanic fighters,” ignoring any subtleties in their styles.
But truth to tell, these Latino fighters did have subtleties whether they be, like Duran, from Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador or the United States.
Take Wilfred Benitez, for example, one of the great practitioners of defense, able to avoid punches coming at him from any angle and from anywhere. Or Alexis Arguello, who could move in and out and then deliver his powerful punches while avoiding those of his opponent.
Today, there is no such thing as a Latino “face-first” fighter, their skills such that they combine traditional “machismo” with boxing “smarts.” There’s the fluid offense and defense of such greats as Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricardo Lopez, the “thinking” tactics of a Marco Antonio Barrera and the “flashy” style of a Joel Casamayor.
And although their styles may vary, there is no mistaking their greatness, for today’s Latino warriors may carry their banner in different ways, but they carry it with pride.
Bert Randolph Sugar, CMXsports’ Sr. Analyst At-Large, called “ The Guru of Boxing,” has a new book Bert Sugar On Boxing,” (or “The Best of Bert Sugar, The Worst of Bert Sugar, What the Hell’s the Difference?”), published by The Lyon Press and currently available at Border’s, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com
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