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 just a few of the many experiences I had growing up in such a home. Sports was also an important thing in my family. As a kid growing up in my teens, I have fond memories of Abelito watching baseball/soccer matches whenever I went to visit. However, I especially remember the times he was glued to the TV watching boxing.
I don’t remember having a hardcore boxing fanatic in the family, but for some reason the sport’s presence was always present around the house. It was just part of our culture.
Around the age of 10, I began hearing my grandparents and uncles raving about this New Mexican kid who was starting to make a name for himself in the sport. That fighter’s name was Julio Cesar Chavez. Ultimately, Chávez will become the fighter that will draw me, my family, and our entire culture back into the sport of boxing.
Mexican/Mexican Americans weren’t as crazy about boxing as they were when Chávez was in his prime. It was a big event when Chávez was fighting a big fight. I remember hearing neighbors, people at grocery stores, barbers, and many others getting involved in Chavez’s upcoming fights. I definitely had the best of both worlds, being exposed to the craze of Mexican/Mexican American boxing in San Diego, CA, 5 minutes from the San Diego/Tijuana border crossing (San Ysidro border crossing to be exact).
Today, Chavez’s glory years are long gone, but Mexican boxing lives on. Mexicans and Mexican Americans continue to make up a large segment of the boxing fanatic population. Fighters like Rodolfo Chango Casanova, Jose Toloco López, Pepe Arizmendi, Jose Becerra, Miguel Cantu, Vicente Saldívar, Carlos Zarate, Alfonso Zamora and Rubén Olivares helped pave the way for Mexican boxing. Since then Salvador Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez and Ricardo López have consolidated their influence on the sport. Today, Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, Eric Morales, and Marco Antonio Barrera continue to carry the torch.
The continued popularity of boxing among Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, can be seen in today’s biggest boxing matches. Outside of a heavyweight division, if two non-Latino fighters are about to fight in a “superfight,” the attendance is usually poor. It doesn’t matter if two good fighters are facing each other. Ricardo Mayorga vs Vernon Forest is a recent example of an important match not being drawn as it should have been. Even well-known fighters like Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Kostya Tsyzu are struggling to fill arenas and get fans to watch their fights.
Due to the decline in boxing’s popularity since the 1980s, many of the matches involving Mexican and Mexican-American superstars do not sell out, but do significantly better in ticket sales and television ratings when compared to other matches that do not involve this group. Today, if you ask a boxing fanatic who has been in a few fights, he will attest that fights involving Mexican/Mexican-American superstars are always the most exciting, exciting, and generally enjoyable. It is the enthusiasm and pride of the Mexican/Mexican American fan base that creates this unrepeatable item. Some past and recent examples of matches that have produced this element, any major Mexican/Puerto Rican rivalry include Chavez/Taylor, Chavez/Haugen, Barrera/Morales, and Barrera/Hamed.
Personally, not many feelings compare to the energetic rush I experienced during a boxing match with a ring full of other Mexican/Mexican American boxing fans. When I hear rancherita music walking or when I see the beautiful green, white and red, something inside of me explodes. It’s a very strong feeling. It is pride, ardor and masculinity wrapped into one feeling. One has to experience it to understand it. Goosebumps don’t even compare.
I think the reason so many of us feel this way is because boxing is a sport that allows us to show off our immense pride. Outside of soccer, Mexicans don’t really excel in any other sport. What better sport to excel in than one that allows an entire culture to practice the masculinity of its culture? For Mexican/Mexican American Boxing fans, it is very important that our ring warriors proudly represent our people and culture. It allows us to identify with something positive, something triumphant.
It goes without saying that Mexicans and Mexican Americans have always been doing quite well for themselves in the sport of boxing, but in the last 20-25 years there has been quite an outbreak in terms of the level of talent that has developed. Could this be the reason why many Mexicans and Mexican Americans continue to be interested in the sport?
I tend to think it has more to do with our love of the nature of the sport.
We still love this sport because it represents us with a passion like no other. No other sport makes us feel so good about ourselves. There aren’t many sports that bring an entire culture together. Boxing is the exception.
On those big fighting nights that Raza’s mate is in, it allows us to be part of something special and borderline legendary. This is Mexican/Mexican American boxing. We will not trade it for the world.
Originally published – January 2002