By David Martinez / Boxing Historian
Picking the five best Mexican boxers was really an easy task because the five I have personally chosen are so close in greatness at the peak of their careers, that I could virtually switch the order around in any way and that would satisfy any boxing fan.
My order is simply based on what I have seen, my research, interviews with the people that have lived in their eras, and my expertise on how they would of done against each other had they fought at the peak of their careers.
The level of their competition also plays a huge factor, but not necessarily their ring record, and I can say that I have been so blessed to have had the opportunity in my lifetime see all of these great champions in their respective careers.
#1) JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ
Total Bouts: 115 (107-6-2 / 86 by KO)
former WBC Featherweight Champion: 1984 to 1987
former WBA Lightweight Champion 1987 to 1988
former WBC Lightweight Champion: 1988 to 1989
former WBC Junior Welterweight Champion: 1989 to 1990
former IBF Junior Welterweight Champion: 1990 to 1994
former WBC Junior Welterweight Champion: 1994 to 1996
Mexico’s most recognized boxing champion ever is Julio Cesar Chavez, rated by most boxing experts as Mexico’s best ever.
Julio won the first of many titles in 1984, and had the most bouts of any of the top Mexican-born fighters – a total of 115.
He had the most successful defenses of world titles – a total of 27, and most title fights – a total of 37.
Julio was unbeaten in his first 90 fights, a period of 11 years, before losing his first fight – a split decision setback to Frankie Randall, in a bout that Julio was penalized two points in different rounds, which ultimately cost him the fight.
A picture perfect ring fighter with a savage body attack, Julio was involved in many historic bouts, one of them being his controversial KO win over Meldrick Taylor when referee Richard Steele stopped the bout with only seconds left in the final round after many at ringside had Talyor winning the fight before the stoppage.
Another historical fight was in 1993 when Julio knocked out Greg Haugen in five rounds before a live gate of 136,274 fans at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.
Julio fought all the other top notable fighters of his era, such as Ruben Castillo, Roger Mayweather, Rocky Lockridge, Juan La Porte, Edwin Rosario, Rafael Limon, Jose Luis Ramirez, Kyung Duk Ahn, Frankie Mitchell, Hector Camacho, Pernell Whitaker, Frankie Randell, Tony Lopez, David Kamau, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, and Kostya Tszyu.
Julio Cesar Chavez officially announced his retirement from the ring in January 2006.
#2) RUBEN OLIVARES
Total Bouts: 104 (88-13-3 / 78 by KO)
former World Bantamweight Champion: 1969-1970, 1971-1972
former WBA Featherweight Champion: 1974
former WBC Featherweight Champion: 1975
Ruben was simply the best Mexican-born body puncher that I have ever seen in the ring, with a tremendous left hook to liver and a right cross to his opponents chin which was devastating.
When Ruben won the World Bantamweight title in 1969 against Lionel Rose by knockout in five rounds, his ring record was an impressive 51-0-1 with 49 KO’s, and at one point early in his career he had a knockout streak of 21 in a row.
From April 1970 to April 1971, and in between other fights in that 12 month period, Ruben had a trilogy with Chucho Castillo, wining two of the three fights against his fellow Mexican countryman.
After the Castillo fights, Ruben started having trouble making weight at the bantamweight limit, and, before moving up into the featherweight class, he lost two fights against another great countryman, Rafael Herrera.
Although Ruben fought later in his career at featherweight, and won two versions of those titles at 126 pounds, his true greatness was at bantamweight at 118 pounds. They came no more colorful, nor more dynamic than Ruben Olivares, who I consider at his prime one of the greatest Mexican-born boxer I have ever seen.
Ruben fought all the other top notable fighters of his era, such as Efren Torres, Jesus Pimentel, Godfrey Stevens, Bobby Chacon, Art Hafey, Alexis Arguello, David Kotey, Danny Lopez, Jose Luis Ramirez, and Eusebio Pedroza.
Ruben Olivares retired in 1981, but five years later, 1986 at the age of 39, he made a comeback and fought in two dismal fights before he officially retired from the ring in 1988.
#3) CARLOS ZARATE
Total Bouts: 65 (61-4 / 58 by KO)
former WBC Bantamweight Champion: 1976 to 1979
Make no mistake about it – Carlos Zarate is one of the greatest boxer / punchers of all time, in any weight class, in the history of boxing.
He has the distinction of being the only fighter in history to have put together two streaks of twenty or more knockout wins in a row, and he knocked out 46 of his first 47 opponents, with all but eight coming within five rounds. In his 61 career wins, he posted 58 of them by knockout, which is an incredible 95.1 “KO” percentage.
In April 1977, in a non-title fight against Mexican counterpart Alfonso Zamora, both fighters came into that bout with an amazing combined ring record of 74 wins and no losses, and with all of the combined wins by knockout but one. Zarate was 45-0 with 44 KO’s, and Zamaora was 29-0 with 29 KO’s. Carlos won that mega-fight with a 4th round knockout.
In my 47 years of covering boxing, Carlos’s 15 round split decision loss to Lupe Pintor in June 1979, is the worst decision I personally have ever seen in boxing.
Carlos retired after the Pintor loss, only to make a comeback seven years later, winning 12 straight before losing to Jeff Fenech and Daniel Zaragoza, well after the prime of his career.
Carlos fought all the other top notable fighters of his era, such as Rodolfo Martinez, Paul Ferreri, Danilo Batista, Alberto Davila, Wilfredo Gomez, and Andres Hernandez.
Carlos officially retired from the ring in 1988.
#4) VICENTE SALDIVAR
Total Bouts: 40 (37-3 / 26 by KO)
former WBA / WBC Featherweight Champion: 1964 to 1967
former WBC Featherweight Champion: 1970
Vicente Saldivar, in my opinion, is one of three fighters in the history of boxing that is very much underrated (the other two are: Harry Greb and Carlos Monzon) and certainly deserves to be ranked highly on anybody’s “pound for pound” best list.
Vicente’s first major victory came in 1964, in his third year as a pro – a convincing 10 round decision over future lightweight champion Ismael Laguna, a fight that was held in the old downtown Tijuana, Mexico “Bull Ring” which was filled to it’s capacity with pro-Mexican fans.
That same year, 1964, Vicente won the Featherweight title with a stunning 14th round knockout over Sugar Ramos, and held the Featherweight crown for four years, with eight successful title defenses which were highlighted by his trilogy with Howard Winstone. Vicente won all three fights.
After the third Winstone fight, in 1967, Vicente was at the height of his career at the young age of 24. With a ring record of 34-1, that only loss coming by way of a disqualification early in his career (which he later avenged with a knockout), he announced his retirement.
Vicente only stayed retired for twenty one months, and in 1969 had one tune up fight win over another ex-champion, Jose Legra, before he won back the Featherweight title with a 15 round unanimous decision over Johnny Famechon in 1970.
Vicente lost the title that same year to Kuniaki Shibata, then once again retired, only to comeback in 1971 for one fight, and again in 1973, to fight for the title, losing to a fighter that I personally have in my own top 10 of greatest fighters of all time in any weight class – Eder Jofre. This would be Vicente’s last fight.
Vicente fought all the other top notable fighters of his era, such as Dwight Hawkins, Baby Luis, Raul Rojas, Mitsunori Seki, and Frankie Crawford.
Vicente officially retired from the ring in 1973.
#5) SALVADOR SANCHEZ
Total Bouts: 46 (44-1-1 / 32 by KO)
Former WBC Featherweight Champion: 1980 to 1982
Salvador Sanchez is a name in boxing that will never be forgotten, and most experts will always wonder just how great he could have been; he was the reigning Featherweight champion when he tragically died in an automobile accident in 1982 at the young age of 23 years old, in the prime of his boxing career.
Salvador turned pro at a very young age, 16, and won 17 of his first 18 bouts by knockout. As his career progressed, he started to become more of a ring technician, and developed superior counterpunching skills.
Salvador only lost one fight in his career, a 12 round split decision to Antonio Becerra for the vacant Mexican bantamweight title in 1977.
In 1980, he won the Featherweight title against hard punching Danny “Little Red” Lopez with a knockout in the 14th round of an action packed fight. The result was the same in the rematch, but was more convincing with a 13th round knockout win.
Although the Lopez fights were classics, Salvador had two more fights that would signature his greatest against two opponents that will always be remembered as great champions themselves: Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson.
In 1981, Gomez was the Junior Featherweight champion, and was considered by many as boxing’s best pound-for-pound with an impressive unbeaten record of 33 fights, 33 wins, and 32 by knockout. He was moving up a weight class from 122 pounds to challenge Salvador for his title at 126 pounds.
In a classic, Salvador complexly dominated Gomez from the first round with a knockdown, and went on to win by a 8th round knockout.
In 1982, Nelson, from Ghana was a young and unbeaten at 13-0 from Ghana, who would go on later to win world titles in two different weight classes. In a fight that was too close to call, Salvador finally broke down the African fighter, winning in the 15th and final round by knockout.
Three weeks after the Nelson fight, Salvador died instantly at the crash scene while driving his new Porsche too fast on the early morning of August 12, 1982.
Salvador fought all the other top notable fighters of his era, such as Ruben Castillo, Patrick Ford, Juan La Porte, Roberto Castanon, Nicky Perez, and Pat Cowdell. Here’s a trivia note – in 1979 he knocked out Felix Trinidad, Sr.
In closing, if I had to name any Mexican-born boxer that would also fit into my top five list – greatest “pound for pound” … that would be: unbeaten Ricardo Lopez (51-0-1 / 38 by KO), the former minimumweight, strawweight, and junior flyweight champion who was a holder of those belts for 11 straight years.
At a tier followed by the six boxers I have listed, heading this next set would be Miguel Canto (61-9-4 / 15 by KO) the former flyweight champion who made a record 14 straight successful title defenses in a four year period. He would then be followed by (in order) Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Rafael Herrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Chucho Castillo that would round out the top dozen of great Mexican-born boxers.