By Luis Domínguez
Throughout the history of boxing, the country that has had the most world champions is the United States… by considerable measure, with almost 30% of the total number of North American champions is Mexico… and from there are European, Asian and Latin American countries.
As for Latin American nations, there is everything. Some have had multiple champions, who have written their names in gold letters in boxing history … others have been less outstanding in quantity, but not in quality.
We are going to review here the best boxer from each Latin country… we have limited ourselves to those who have at least one boxer in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Countries with at least 20 world titles
With 87 victories, 59 of them by KO, and only three defeats, Monzón is the best Argentine boxer in history and one of the best I have watched. The three fights he lost were when he was just growing as a boxer and from his 20th fight to 99th he was never defeated again. From humble origins, he found in boxing the way to get ahead for his family … charismatic, he was adored in Argentina and even today the tragic life that came about after boxing is mourned. He is one of the great, great idols of that country. He had the ability to knock out but was equally an extraordinary boxer who dominated his opponents.
Most important fights: In 1970 he faced Nino Benvenuti and knocked him out on his own home, turf in the 12th round to get the Middleweight belt, which he would defend 15 times, until he left boxing. One of his defenses came against Hall of Fame boxer Emile Griffith, winning by KO in round 14 (in fact he beat Griffith twice). In 1974 he had as his rival the great “Mantequilla” Napoles and frankly he gave him a real beating, ending any doubts as to his place at the top of boxing at that time.
Honorable mention: Pascual Pérez, Nicolino Locche, “Maravilla” Martínez.
Antonio Cervantes “Kid Pambelé”
He was the first world champion of Colombia, he fought for 20 years and twice held the universal monarch belt. It is a somewhat rare case because when he won his first championship yet his record was not the most impressive, accumulating a mark of 34 wins by 9 losses, including an unsuccessful first attempt at the title. “Kid Pambelé” was considered a fighter with limited technique and was improving based on hard work. It is impressive that, like good wines, it improved over time… from the fight in which it suffered its ninth loss, its record was 36 – 3.
Most important fights: First of all, his victory against Frazer by KO in the 10th round, which earned him his first world championship, which he defended 10 times. In 1973 he retained his title against Nicolino Locche, who had previously denied him victory when he challenged him for the championship. His surprise loss to Wilfredo Benítez in a fight in which Cervantes was a clear favorite against a young man of only 17 years was perhaps the most painful of his career. His victory against Puerto Rican Esteban de Jesús, after knocking him down three times, is still remembered.
Honorable mention: Rodrigo “Rocky” Valdés, Miguel Lora, Fidel Bassa.
Julio Cesar Chavez
Even with the huge list of great Mexican fighters, to conclude that Julio César Chávez has been the best of them is not complicated. In a 25-year career he achieved a record 107 wins from just six setbacks… but four of those six losses came after age 36, when most boxers are retired. Chávez went on to accumulate a mark of 89 wins and a draw before his first loss, an absolutely impressive record. Possessing a devastating hook to the liver, great punching, incredible footwork and extraordinary stamina, Julio Cesar won 85 fights by KO. He was undefeated in his first 28 world championship fights. He was champion in three different weights. In his best years, JC was invincible and the best fighter on the planet.
Most important fights: Many… he beat Edwin Rosario, Roger Mayweather, Juan Laporte, José Luis Ramírez. There are two triumphs that have established him as a Mexican boxing idol: The KO of Meldrick Taylor in the last seconds of the last round, in a tremendously complicated fight, is a sample of Chávez’s iron will character and his permanent conviction in victory; the demolition and triumph by unanimous decision against a magnificent boxer such as Héctor Camacho. Losses to De La Hoya will always leave the question of what the outcome would have been if they had met in the best years of Julius Caesar.
Honorable Mention: Salvador Sánchez, Juan Manuel Márquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, “Mantequilla” Napoles, “Canelo” Álvarez.
Roberto “Hands of Stone” Durán
I dare say that Durán is not only the best boxer that country has produced, but also its greatest sports idol. Tremendous boxer, he accumulated 70 KO’s in his glorious career of 103 victories and was champion in four different categories. He fought 22 world championship fights for the main boxing organizations. He had unmatched strength and punching power but we shouldn’t think he was just a fighter, his boxing ability was extremely high … perhaps the best Lightweight that has ever existed in boxing history. In 2002, The Ring magazine named him the fifth best boxer of the last 80 years and virtually any list of the best fighters in history places him in the top 10. Duran may be the greatest Latin boxer of all time.
Most important fights: He has several, such as those of Esteban de Jesús, Carlos Palomino, Iran Barkley, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler … but without a doubt the most representative of his career is the one in which he beat “Sugar Ray” Leonard to win the title welterweight world … Leonard arrived undefeated and listed as the best of his time, however Duran was a whirlwind throughout the spectacular fight, in which neither of them asked or gave any quarter … the Panamanian won by unanimous decision. “Manos de Piedra” never turned a tough fight around, as evidenced by the list of rivals he faced.
Honorable Mention: Eusebio Pedroza, Ismael Laguna, Hilario Zapata
He is one of the most powerful fighters, with one of the most powerful punches, in history, perhaps one of the 10 most important. He won 44 fights and lost only 3. He reached the Super Bantamweight Championship and from there he defended it 17 consecutive times… winning all those fights by KO in what may be the most impressive streak of all time… in fact, Wilfredo, after a draw his first fight would win the next 32 by the short way, some of them against rivals of enormous capacity.
Most important fights: When he faced Carlos Zárate in 1978, he was unbeaten in 52 fights and 51 KO’s, however Gómez gave perhaps his greatest display of greatness and knocked him out in 5 episodes. He defeated great fighters like Lupe Pintor and Juan Laporte. Although he fell to Salvador Sánchez, the Puerto Rican showed enormous gallantry and it must be taken into account that it was at a higher weight. His loss to Azumah Nelson, another great and Hall of Famer, is attributed to his desire to knock out when he was up in the score… but so was Wilfredo, a warrior who gave literally everything…his absolute all.
Honorable mention: “Tito” Trinidad, Wilfredo Benítez, Carlos Ortiz, “Macho” Camacho
Countries with less than 20 world titles
Jofre is one of the few Brazilian champions there has been, albeit with a brilliant career. He finished his career with 72 wins from just two setbacks. He was champion from 1960 to 1965, defending his title eight times and being at some point the champion recognized by all the governing bodies of boxing. He went on to accumulate an impressive streak of 50 fights without knowing defeat and won great fights against José Medel, Ricardo Moreno and Vicente Saldívar. He finished his career with 25 consecutive wins.
Eligio Sardiñas “Kid Chocolate”
The analysis of Cuban boxing is complicated by the fact that there have been great amateur boxers who never jumped to professionalism, such as Savón and Stevenson and who therefore had the advantage of not facing the best professionals of their time. Therefore, I lean towards a professional fighter: “Kid Chocolate” who had 136 victories and 10 defeats, retiring in 1938. He is ranked among the best featherweight of all time. He was undefeated during his first 56 fights. He made eight defenses of his title although he was unsuccessful in his bid to become the Lightweight champion. It is worth mentioning that it is difficult to define whether he or “Kid Gavilán” has been the best Cuban boxer.
Tremendous boxer, he was world champion in three different categories. Of great power and precision, Argüello won 62 of his 77 fights by the short route. He lost in his first foray for a title but after that he would score 19 championship wins without a loss, in Feather, Super Feather and Light weights… it’s amazing to achieve that. His KO win over Rubén Olivares to obtain his first title and in so doing, opened the eyes of the world to what would be a great career. He beat other great rivals like Escalera, Castillo and Chacón… his two fights against Aaron Pryor are magnificently historic. From ’74 to ’82 he was practically invincible and without a doubt one of the best of his time.