Castillo hopes to uphold Mexican warrior tradition

Jun 20, 2007 - 4:45 PM By Mark Staniforth PA SportsTicker Boxing Writer

LAS VEGAS (Ticker) - To be a Mexican fighter, said Marco Antonio Barrera, you have to first be a warrior and throw punches from the first bell to the last. It doesn't matter that you get hit, as long as you land.

It is a teaching to which generations of great Mexican fighters have subscribed since the days when the phenomenal bantamweight Jose Becerra popularized the sport in his country through the 1950s.

That is why, for thousands of Mexican supporters who will flood over the border to Las Vegas on Saturday night, simple victory for Jose Luis Castillo over Ricky Hatton will not be enough.

Castillo will also be expected to uphold Mexico's tradition for brave, come-forward boxing.

Fortunately, in his two epic battles with the late Diego Corrales, Castillo has already proved he fits the bill.

And yet it says all you need to know about Mexican boxing that, for all the immense courage and championship belts Castillo brings to the table, he barely merits a mention yet in his nation's fighting hall of fame.

Lists of the greatest Mexican warriors are invariably headed by Julio Cesar Chavez, a native of Culiacan, who claimed six world titles in three weight divisions, and reigned unbeaten for his first 91 professional contests.

Chavez was a master in measured ferocity, stalking forward with wave after wave of punches and hammering home crippling body blows. Mexicans took him to their hearts with unprecedented enthusiasm.

In 1993, Chavez defended his WBC light-welterweight title against former champion Greg Haugen at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in front of a record crowd, estimated at 136,000.

Haugen, a boisterous former toughman competitor, insanely attempted to rile Chavez during the prefight buildup, insisting most of his former opponents were Tijuana taxi drivers my mom could have knocked out.

Haugen compounded his folly by rubbishing the notion that so many supporters were expected to witness what he was doing his best to turn into a ritual slaughter.

"Ain't 130,000 Mexicans who can afford to buy tickets," he scoffed.

A 10-foot moat, copious barriers of barbed wire and 2,000 policemen kept the screaming fans from Haugen, who entered the ring singing along to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

But they could not save Haugen from a furious Chavez, who floored and bloodied him in the opening round, and finished off the one-sided contest in round five.

"They must have been tough taxi drivers," admitted a chastened Haugen.

There are others who favour Salvador Sanchez, the brilliantly accurate featherweight who was killed in a car crash when he had barely begun to realize his full potential at the age of 23.

"My dad would mention Salvador Sanchez to me all the time," said Oscar de la Hoya. "He died so young. I never saw him, but my father saw him fight live.

"He said he had the potential to be so much better than Chavez. He says Sanchez had something special. He was on his way up. It's hard to say what he would have done."

******

Mexico's boxing greats, six of the best:

1. Julio Cesar Chavez. Undefeated in his first 89 contests, the ferocious Chavez saw off nine world champions, claiming six versions of world titles at six different weights. A brutal front-foot fighter, Chavez eventually retired with a record of 108 wins, six defeats and two draws, with 87 knockouts.

2. Salvador Sanchez. The stunningly fast and accurate Sanchez won the WBC featherweight title in 1980 and made nine successful defenses before his life was ended in a car crash at the age of 23. Sanchez, who had been considering a move up to lightweight to challenge Alexis Arguello, may have reigned for years more.

3. Ruben Olivares. Arguably the best of a phenomenal series of Mexican bantamweights, Olivares was a spectacular knockout artist who saw off 54 of his first 57 opponents inside the distance. After dominating his division he moved up to featherweight where he also enjoyed two short reigns as champion.

4. Marco Antonio Barrera. Irresistible Barrera has made his name as one of the undisputed stars of the current generation of fighters, winning titles at three weights and engaging in a series of high-octane brawls, not least his epic trilogy against Erik Morales.

5. Ricardo Lopez. Lopez spent most of his career propping up Chavez undercards, but was a Hall of Famer in his own right, ruling the straw-weight division for over a decade and becoming only the second universally-recognized world champion, after Rocky Marciano, to retire undefeated in 1992.

6. Carlos Zarate. The power-puncher par excellence, Zarate dominated the bantamweight scene in the late 1970s. He won 46 of his first 47 fights by knockout, all but eight of which ended before the start of the sixth round, including a stunning early stoppage of unbeaten rival Alfonso Zamora in 1977.

******

Guadalajara native Alfonso Gomez gets the chance to write yet another chapter in Mexico's proud ring history when the star of the first 'Contender' series meets Arturo Gatti in Atlantic City on July 14.

"To me this is a make-or-break fight. This is my time," said Gomez, who beat future finalist and Joe Calzaghe foe Peter Manfredo on the reality show.

"I never give up and I always give 100 percent. He is very strong at 140 pounds or 135 pounds, but at welterweight I think I will be the bigger man and my conditioning will help me prevail in this fight."






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