After yet another dominant performance, this time against the likes of formerly undefeated champion at middleweight Caleb Plant, the question of where Canelo Alvarez ranks all time is again front and center. With his only loss coming at the hands of the great Floyd Mayweather, Canelo has since trailblazed through the sport of boxing notching impressive wins in his belt that have resulted in him becoming the face of boxing as well as the pound for pound king. Phrases like “greatest Mexican boxier of all time” are often attached to the 31-year-old, and many boxing fans and personalities have proclaimed the same thing, but have we overlooked other legendary Mexicans of the sport? With Mexico being at no shortage of legendary boxers, are we sure that Canelo has already laid claim to the mantle of the best?
At just 31 years of age, Alvarez has already amassed a fairly impressive resume. With 60 total fights, Canelo Alvarez has become the undisputed champion at super middleweight, a champion in four different weight divisions, and is recognized by most as the pound-for-pound best in the world as well as the man to beat at any weight he is at. Canelo has wins over 17 different former champions, and is still looking for more, but is all that enough to elevate Canelo to the top spot amongst all of Mexican boxing?
To start, we can look at the 5ft 3in featherweight terror that was Vicente Saldivar. Hailing from Mexico City, Saldivar accumulated a record of 37-3 with 27 of those wins coming by way of knockout. Saldivar started his rise to greatness with an upset victory over Ismael Laguna who was 34-1 at the time of their meeting. Saldivar then moved onto conquer Sugar Ramos who boasted a record of 45-1-3 less than 4 months later earning himself the WBA and WBC featherweight titles. Saldivar then defended these titles 7 times against fighters such as Raul Rojas (23-0) and Jose Legra (107-6-4). Saldivar also never shied away from rematches as he met with the U.K.’s Howard Winstone (53-2 at their first meeting) on 3 different occasions, beating him every time. Mitsunori Seki (54-8-1) also fell multiple times to Saldivar, once by decision and once by T.K.O. After his third win against Howard Winstone, Vicente Saldivar decided to briefly retire, and in that time 2 standout fighters rose to the top of the featherweight division. One of them being the previously mentioned Jose Legra of Spain, and the other being Australia’s Johnny Famechon (56-4-6). So, what did Vicente Saldivar do? He came back and beat them both…back-to-back.
What about the heralded Miguel Canto, “El Maestro”, a man who didn’t have much on his punches but could box like one of the masters. Only 16 of his 61 wins came by K.O, meaning he depended purely on his elite skill in the ring. After winning the WBC flyweight title, Miguel Canto then rattled off 14 consecutive title defenses, the best 4 opponents Canto faced in that span had a combined record of 156-13-8 and were some of the best the division had to offer at bantamweight. Miguel Canto was a boxer’s boxer and should be remembered as such.
Speaking of legendary Mexican bantamweight fighters, another standout was the man with the terrifying power, Carlos Zarate. Carlos Zarate was a fighter that possessed unmatched power, so much so that he is the only fighter in history with to separate streaks of 20+ consecutive knockouts. In 70 total fights, 66 were wins and of those wins, 63 came by way of knockout. If you do the math that is a K.O. percentage of roughly 90%, a K.O. percentage that is higher than other legendary power punchers such as Earnie Shavers (83%), George Foreman (89%), and current world champion Naoya Inoue (85%). Rodolfo Martinez (42-3-1), Knocked out; Alfonso Zamora (29-0), knocked out; commonwealth champion (50-3-5) knocked out. To carry such power, especially at such a small weight, is what makes Zarate a standout Mexican warrior that should be remembered.
I would also love to point out another legend in the great Ruben Olivares. Ruben Olivares had a record of 89-13-3. Far from a fighter with a perfect record, Ruben Olivares’ career is not one to scoff at as he may be the best bantamweight on this list. Ruben Olivares cleaned house in a bantamweight division that was absolutely stacked, some might say it was the best the bantamweight division has ever had to offer. Guys like Salvatore Burruni (94-8), Octavio Gomez (20-1), Takao Sakurai (25-1), and Jesus Pimentel (76-6) are all on Olivares’ resume. If you look at Ruben Olivares’ record at bantamweight, Ruben Olivares was almost flawless going 69-2-1. Those 2 losses came against Chucho Castillo (who beat him in their first rematch, Olivares would win again against Castillo 2 fights later.) and Rafael Herrera in his last fight in the bantamweight division. It should also be noted that for a brief time, Ruben Olivares was ranked near the top in the featherweight division as well but would later be beaten by Alexis Arguello. All this combined makes Ruben Olivares one of the most notable names in Mexican boxing history.
Finally, no list of great Mexican fighters would be complete without talking about the late great featherweight star, Salvador Sanchez. A fighter who by the age of 23 had already captured the featherweight title and then successfully defended it 9 times over the course of 2 and a half years. Sanchez’s knockout victory over the undefeated Puerto Rican, Wilfredo Gomez, garnered him Fighter of the Year honors alongside Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981, the same year he knocked out the “hitman” Thomas Hearns. Fighting professionally since the age of 16, Sanchez has many notable fighters on his resume, including multiple members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame such as Danny Lopez, Azumah Nelson, and the aforementioned Wilfredo Gomez. Wilfredo Gomez is respected by many as the best Puerto Rican boxer ever, and Azumah Nelson get similar respects as one of the greatest African boxers of all time. Sanchez’s resume is littered with notable fighters of his time like Nicky Perez and Juan Laporte. Sanchez also demonstrated rarely seen consistency in the ring by fighting 5 times or more for the first 5 years of his short 7-year career. Again, all of this by the age of 23. Salvador Sanchez was blazing through the boxing ranks at a rarely seen pace and was rumored to be on a collision course with Alexis Arguello before his untimely death. It is in the opinion of many that Salvador Sanchez would have gone on to have many great fights with guys like Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez, and many liked his odds in those scenarios, but who knows. “What could have been?” is a question that will be forever attached to the legacy of Salvador Sanchez, and it leaves us with much to consider. However, what Sanchez did leave us with was a short, but legendary hall of fame career that deserves mentioning when talking about great Mexican fighter.
With all of this being said, it could very well be that Canelo is still the greatest Mexican boxer in history, his resume is indeed nothing to scoff at considering he has several impressive wins over some top-level competition. On top of that he is a multi-division champion as well as the first undisputed super middleweight champ in the 4-belt era. He has been arguably the best in the sport consistently for what seems like ages. However, I think his career still leaves something to be desired, his recent wins over undefeated champ Caleb Plant and Bill Joe Saunders were dominant to say the least, but really did little to add to his overall legacy. Fights like the one against Kovalev and Avni Yildirim had similar effects. Alvarez also has two wins that many fans and boxing critics alike would consider questionable; Erislandy Lara and Gennady Golovkin. Couple all of that with his one loss to Floyd Mayweather, his positive drug tests for P.E.D.s, and his perceived avoidance of fighters like David Benavidez; there may be a case against him.
The 32-year-old Canelo Alvarez is still writing his story in the sport of boxing and is somehow continuing to improve even after all this time; he is again taking a step up with his recent announcement that he will be targeting cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu, some call this fight a cherry pick, while others view this as a significant challenge. Whether or not this fight will add to the greatness of the future hall of famer Canelo Alvarez, only time will tell.
Thank you everyone for reading, let me start by saying that I am well aware that I did not include many of the great Mexican fighters both former and contemporary. This post was not meant to be a list of great Mexican fighter as much as it was meant to point out a few of the lesser known ones. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and I would love to hear them as well as what I should write about next. Please leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org