Growing up in a Mexican/Mexican-American family in Southern California exposed me to many things. Rice, beans, tortillas, menudo, ceviche, piñatas, Chapulin Colorado, El Chavo Del Ocho, and rancheritas were only a few of the many experiences that I had while growing up in such a household. Sports were also a big thing in my family. As a kid growing up into a teen, I have fond memories of my abuelito watching baseball/soccer games whenever I’d go over for a visit. However, I particularly recall the times when he was glued to the television watching boxing.
I don’t recall there being a die-hard boxing fanatic in the family, but for some reason the presence of the sport always existed throughout the household. It was just part of our culture.
Around the age of 10, I began to hear my grandfather and uncles raving about this new Mexican kid that was beginning to make a name for himself in the sport. That fighter’s name was Julio Cesar Chavez. Chavez would eventually become the fighter that would lure me, my family, and our whole culture back into the sport of boxing.
Mexican/Mexican-Americans have never been so boxing crazy than when Chavez was in his prime. It was a huge event whenever Chavez was in a big fight. I remember hearing neighbors, people at the grocery stores, barbers, and many others getting worked up about Chavez’ upcoming fights. I definitely had the best of both worlds, as I was exposed to the Mexican/Mexican-American boxing craze in San Diego, CA, 5 minutes from the San Diego/Tijuana border crossing (San Ysidro border crossing to be exact).
Today, the Chavez glory years are long gone, but Mexican boxing lives on. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans continue to make up a large chunk of the boxing fanatic population. Fighters like Rodolfo Chango Casanova, Jose Toluco Lopez, Baby Arizmendi, Jose Becerra, Miguel Canto, Vicente Saldivar, Carlos Zarate, Alfonso Zamora, and Ruben Olivares helped paved the background for Mexican boxing. Salvador Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Ricardo Lopez have since solidified its impact on the sport. Today, Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, Erik Morales, and Marco Antonio Barrera, continue to carry the torch.
Boxing’s continued popularity amongst Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, can be witnessed at today’s biggest boxing matches. Outside of the heavyweight division, if two non-Hispanic fighters are set to battle in a “superfight,” attendance is usually poor. It doesn’t matter if two very good fighters are facing each other. Ricardo Mayorga vs. Vernon Forrest is a recent example of a significant bout that didn’t draw as well as it should have. Even proven name fighters such as Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Kostya Tsyzu struggle to fill the arenas and attract fans to watch their fights.
Due to boxing’s decline in popularity since the 80’s, many of the matchups which do include Mexican and Mexican-American superstars, don’t sellout, but significantly do better in ticket sales and in television ratings when compared to other matchups which don’t include this combination. Today, If you ask a boxing fanatic who has been to a handful of fights, he or she will attest that fights which include Mexican/Mexican-American superstars are almost always the most electrifying, exciting, and overall the most enjoyable. It’s the enthusiasm and pride of the Mexican/Mexican-American fan base that creates this unreplicable element. Some past and recent examples of bouts which have produced this element, include any major Mexican/Puerto-Rican rivalry, Chavez/Taylor, Chavez/Haugen, Barrera/Morales, and Barrera/Hamed.
Personally, not many feelings compare to the energetic rush that I experience during a boxing match with an arena filled with other Mexican/Mexican-American boxing fans. When I hear the rancherita ring walk music or when I see the beautiful green, white, and red, something inside of me explodes. It’s a very powerful feeling. It’s pride, fervor, and machismo wrapped up into one feeling. One has to experience it to understand it. Goosebumps don’t even compare.
I guess the reason many of us feel this way is because boxing is a sport that allows us to show off our tremendous pride. Outside of soccer, Mexicans don’t really excel in any other sport. What better sport to excel in than one that allows a whole culture to exercise its culture’s machismo? For Mexican/Mexican-American boxing fans, it is very important that our ring warriors proudly represent our people and our culture. It allows us to identify with something positive, something victorious.
It goes without saying that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have always done well for themselves in the sport of boxing, but in the last 20-25 years there has been a huge outbreak in terms of the level of talent that has developed. Could this be the reason why many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans remain interested in the sport?
I tend to believe that it has more to do with our love for the nature of the sport.
We continue to love this sport because it represents us with an unrivaled passion. No other sport makes us feel this great about ourselves. Not many sports bring an entire culture together. Boxing is the exception.
On those big fight nights when a fellow “Raza” is representing, it allows us to be a part of something special and borderline mythical. This is Mexican/Mexican-American boxing. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Originally Published – January 2002
by J. R. Zurita