This Saturday when Leo Santa Cruz takes on Carl Frampton for possibly the best rematch of the year, one thing is for certain: they will go for broke.
The Irishman and the Mexican-American share a true champion’s heart and both represent the athletic tenacity of their countrymen. Santa Cruz (32-1-1) is on the B-side for the first time in his championship career with his lone loss to Frampton.
However, he is among a generation of Mexican boxers that are truly in their prime.
We all wax nostalgic on Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr., Genaro Hernandez and other great Mexican pugilist’s of the eighties and nineties, but today’s crop of young guns have matured and are at the top of their game. With the Mexican fan base still as voracious as ever for boxing, this new generation is sustaining what was once thought to be a shaky combat economy.
When Abner Mares made his professional debut in 2005 against Luis Malave, he had already compiled a record of 112-8 with 84 KOs as an amateur. He took Gold at the 2002 Central American & Caribbean Games. The Guadalajara-born fighter represented Mexico at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as a Bantamweight, losing in the opening round. He won a silver medal at the 2004 World Junior Championships and a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games, losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux.
From the moment he entered the professional ranks, his star truly shined. He compiled a record of 20-0 before fighting to a draw with Yonnhy Perez for the IBF bantamweight title. The result didn’t matter because in a mere seven months later that he would be the IBO and WBC Silver bantamweight champion in a split decision win over Vic Darchinyan.
Mares would go on to secure the WBC super bantamweight title and WBC featherweight title before losing those crowns in wars with fellow Mexican fighters Johnny Gonzalez and Leo Santa Cruz. Since then, Mares returned last month to dethrone Jesus Cuellar, who had been on an 11-fight win streak. Back on top as the WBA featherweight champion, he is holding the flag high for the new school.
Santa Cruz, aka "El Terremoto" aka "The Earthquake", is special and compiled his 32-1-1 record from outworking his opponents with pinpoint accuracy. His father/trainer, Jose Santa Cruz, has been unofficially dubbed the secret to his success and without him, the younger Santa Cruz just didn't look like himself against Carl Frampton. Add the worry of his father's battle with bone cancer at the time keeping him from the corner, and you have the elements to his first loss against Frampton last July.
With the rematch this weekend and the elder Santa Cruz back in his corner, there is no telling how dangerous he will truly be.
In the fight business, lineage means a lot, and there is a special cauldron of DNA that makes greatness for many. Mikey Garcia is definitely blessed to be the protege of his big brother and trainer, Robert Garcia. Robert was a professional boxer and a former IBF Super Featherweight Champion who lost his belt to the late Diego Corrales. Their father, Eduardo Garcia, was an amateur boxer and trainer of world champion boxer Fernando Vargas.
The youngest-in-charge is a two-weight former world champion, having held the WBO and Ring magazine featherweight titles in 2013, and the WBO junior lightweight title from 2013 to 2014. Garcia, like Ande Ward, took some time off from the sport roiled in legal battles with his former promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank. Sticking to his guns and training like he had a fight on the books kept his hunger during the almost two-year layoff.
The 5th round TKO of Elio Rojas last June in the Barclay's Center proved that Garcia is still a force to be reckoned with. His co-main event slot on Saturday's Frampton vs. Santa Cruz card against power puncher Dejan Zlaticanin for the WBC lightweight title could bring him back full circle to his championship throne.
Another name to watch out for is rising star Oscar Valdez. The WBO World Featherweight Champion has a record of 21-0 with a ridiculous 19 KOs. Valdez, who qualified for both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, the former at the age of 17, where he also became the first Mexican Youth World Champion. In his last fight in November of 2016, Valdez rocked #1 ranked WBO contender Hiroshige Osawa in the seventh round, forcing the referee to stop the fight after a barrage of hooks and counter punches. The 26 year old champ's star is shining brightly and Top Rank will continue to smile as Valdez continues to build upon his 90% knockout ratio.
But you cannot discuss Mexican boxing without mentioning Saul "Canelo", aka Cinnamon, Alvarez. His only loss is to the virtually unbeatable Floyd Mayweather, Jr. who gave him a boxing clinic back in 2013. Beyond that, no one has come close to dethroning the current pound-for-pound king.
Alvarez has fought in three weight classes and racked up substantial belts in two of them. His recent demolition of Amir Khan is a poster for why you don't want to fight him and his last win over Liam Smith for the WBO light middleweight title, made him a champion again. With the whole Golden Boy organization literally riding on his performances, it is no wonder why the next biggest fight of his career against Gennady "GGG" Golovkin is being spaced out so well.
Currently, junior bad boy Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., has the next crack at the Alvarez during Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, which will definitely attract the fanfare of their Mexican countrymen.
Yesterday's Mexican boxing stars have left a legacy of rapid-fire output and throwing caution to the wind in the ring in search of glory and greatness. Records like the great Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr.'s 107-6-2 are not realistic for today's preservation-minded young stars, but their desire to go for broke like all great Mexican fighters is more intense than ever.