Commentary

Tragedy and glory in September

The great Mexican boxing champions once flocked to Los Angeles

Updated: October 14, 2012, 6:00 PM ET
By Rafa Ramos | ESPNdeportes.com

LOS ANGELES -- Sons of poverty, as it should be. Incubated from hunger and from need and from misfortune.

Born in a habitat that is wild, criminal, promiscuous, prone to a degenerative process.

There, they come into this world, grow up, reproduce … and some also die. They are the great Mexican boxing champions.

Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez, perhaps the putative father of most Mexican world champions, described it perfectly, maybe more as a diagnosis, a sentence, a verdict.

"While there is so much poverty in Mexico, world champions will continue to rise," Cuyo said.

He wasn't wrong then. He's not wrong now.

[+] EnlargeGuadalupe Pintor
AP PhotoWorld Bantamweight champion Guadalupe Pintor of Mexico, right, poses with World Super Bantamweight champion Wilfredo Gomez of Puerto Rico during a news conference in New Orleans on Nov. 23, 1982.

And as time passes, those great world champs needed a mecca, a new destiny. Their own Mount Olympus, where they not only would continue to be adored by fellow countrymen, but where they could also aspire to the generous temptation of the dollar.

Los Angeles was, for a long time, the mecca of world boxing.

They are still standing, ancient, battered, wounded, about to collapse … the boxing gyms, the hotels (Alexandria and Olympic), and even the Grand Olympic Auditorium, which once constituted the Broadway of Mexican boxing when it was taking over the world.

They still exude that smell, a mix of liniment, sweat, age, rust. The musk of its own history.

Before the glamorous, perfumed, oligarch apotheosis of Las Vegas, for a boxer to graduate, to be recognized at last it was necessary, it was essential, to thump the table and punch an opponent's face, before a packed L.A. Coliseum. In that coupled, parallel, twin phenomenon, Mexican immigration to the United States turned Los Angeles into the stately home of the Mexican combatant. The parade was endless.

There were tragedies involving those Mexican idols worshiped in the United States. A very memorable one, albeit it took place in Guadalajara, was the one lamented by Jose Becerra after his brutal knockout of Walter Ingram on Oct. 24, 1959.

Becerra would acknowledge later that he went crazy because a platinum blonde, a failed Marilyn Monroe impersonator, looked at him sideways and blurted out in a mocking tone: "That, my paper champion."

The ironic part was that the fight was going to be held in Los Angeles. The poor medical attention in Guadalajara -- he was barely prescribed an aspirin -- paved the way to Ingram's death.

The fight was slated to be a success, since Becerra had provided a boxing concert just three months prior against Alphonse Halimi, and a bantamweight world champion had been crowned in a delirious L.A. Memorial Sports Arena.

But perhaps the misfortune involving a Mexican that had the greatest impact in Los Angeles surrounded Guadalupe Pintor, and it happened during the Mexican national holiday.

The fighter from Cuajimalpa came out fattened-up against Johnny Owen, who was struck down on Sept. 19, 1980, in the fatal round, the 12th, and would not get up again, at the Olympic Auditorium.

Los Angeles hosted some memorable nights, almost all of them over the years during the month of September -- of Kid Azteca, Vicente Saldivar, "Púas" Olivares, Carlos Zarate, "Ratón" Macias, who became authentic idols in two countries, Mexico and the United States, before the era of the ill-fated giant Salvador Sanchez and the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez. But the city also was the setting for tragedy, such as the death of Francisco "Kiko" Bejines, a fighter from Guadalajara, a member of a boxing family with world champion perspectives. Bejines died three days after a fight against Alberto Davila at the Olympic Auditorium on Sept. 1, 1983.

Davila's punishment was added to a harsh, stifling, perverse preparation routine, one of extreme dehydration, on his quest to make weight in the bantamweight division.

Mexican boxing, Mexico's Independende Day in September and millions of immigrants have succeeded in turning the United States -- at one time with Los Angeles as its cathedral, and now Las Vegas as its luxurious coliseum -- into the perfect Roman circus for a common history of glory, drama and festivities.

Rafa Ramos is a columnist for ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com, host of Raza Deportiva on ESPN Deportes Radio. He has covered six World Cups for different print and electronic media. For 11 years, he was a columnist and reporter for Los Angeles' Spanish-language daily, La Opinión. Follow him on Twitter: RafaRamosESPN. Consult his column archive on ESPNDeportes.com.