As the fight world awaits the potentially explosive collision between Francisco Vargas and Miguel Berchelt for the former’s WBC Super-Feather strap in Indio, California this weekend, Glynn Evans revisits times past when things got a little messy between feuding Mexican maestros.
Carlos Zarate v Alfonzo Zamora, Los Angeles, April 1977
In what was probably the most widely anticipated bantamweight bout ever, these gargantuan hitting Mexico City gymmates attracted a live crowd of almost 14,000 to LA’s Inglewood Forum and split a then division high $250,000 purse… for a 10 round non-title fight!
[Photo credit: The Fight City]
Billed as ‘The Battle of the Z-Men’, the principals had combined stats of 75 wins, no losses, with just one victim making it to the sanctuary of the finish line. WBA champ Zamora, a frighteningly aggressive and free swinging left hooker had iced 29 straight at a ratio of 3.3 rounds apiece while stringbean WBC titlist Zarate, a more measured but equally chilling hitter with either mitt, had wiped out 45 of 46 before the final gong. Political infighting between the governing bodies dictated that neither belt was up for tender.
Zamora, a 1972 Olympic silver medallist, predictably stormed out like a train and had the four inches taller Zarate wobbling like a weeble in an opening round that was briefly interrupted by an enthusiastic fan who invaded the ring to embark on a spot of impromptu shadow boxing!
However, Zarate, the more cultivated operator, soon sussed a way to slip inside the wild man’s winging blows and he executed clinically; dropping Zamora in rounds three and four (twice) before the carnage was curtailed.
Lupe Pintor v Carlos Zarate, Las Vegas, June 1979
Nine challengers had swiftly perished courtesy of Zarate’s combustible fists when he obliged another Mexico City sparhand Lupe Pintor at Caesar’s Palace.
The 24 year old ‘Cuajimalpa Cricket’ learned to rumble whilst living rough in the capital’s unforgiving barrios after fleeing a violent father. However, despite 38 wins in 42, Pintor entered as a prohibitive underdog.
[Photo credit: The Fight City]
The challenger was dumped in round four and sliced open in round 11 but stoically stumbled past the finish post where, to the astonishment of all, he was gifted a 15 round split decision and the WBC belt.
Two judges had Pintor in front by a single point while a third had him adrift by a dozen! Ring magazine put Zarate ahead by seven rounds, the Associated Press by nine! The dethroned champion, still just 28, retired in disgust and remained thus for seven years.
Pintor, a wonderful warrior in his own right, successfully retained eight times then added the WBC super-bantam strap prior to joining Zarate in the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Erik Morales v Daniel Zaragoza, El Paso, September 1997
Zaragoza, a 1980 Moscow Olympian was just three months shy of his 40th birthday and making a fifth defence of his fourth reign on a WBC throne.
Morales, conversely, was an unknown 21 year old with 26 straight wins, including 20 early. Son of an ex-pro, legend has it that he was born inside a Tijuana boxing gymnasium.
[Photo credit: Izquierdazo]
Six thousand turned up to the US-Mex border town to witness a changing of the guard. After seven rounds, wise old sage Zaragoza was ahead on all cards, schooling the sprightly tyro with cuffing southpaw right hooks and looping left counters.
But El Terrible’s sheer youthful exuberance proved too great to repel and, by the 11th – the 580th and final round of Zaragoza’s career – the ancient champion had been clumped to his knees, waving a glove of surrender. A new star was born and set to radiate for more than a decade.
Erik Morales v Marco Antonio Barrera I, Las Vegas, February 2000
Seven weeks after the world celebrated the new millennium, one of the ring’s all-time great trilogies commenced at the Mandalay Bay hotel...and there were arguably even more fireworks.
Bad blood had been brewing from a heated spar between the pair five years prior. Defending WBC king Morales, three inches taller and now 35-0, entered as the bookies favoured nap but Barrera matched him combo for combo, bomb for bomb throughout the 36 minutes of educated but disturbingly intense savagery and appeared to have made the more telling connects.
[Photo credit: ESPN]
Two of the judges disagreed though and a battle for the ages – voted Fight of the Year by Ring magazine –was stained by controversy. ‘I can’t fight the judges and Morales,’ moaned ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ afterwards. ‘I’d rather be knocked out than robbed like this.’
Rather petulantly, the WBO simply re-instated the defeated Barrera as their champion and the pair got to see a lot more of each other in the years to come!
Marco Antonio Barrera v Erik Morales III, Las Vegas, November 2004
The unbridled violence that the antagonists mustered towards each other had roots in personal loathing.
Marco Antonio, a one-time law student was reared in middle class Mexico City suburbs whereas Morales hailed from the roughest streets of Tijuana. In 2002 they exchanged ungloved fists at a fractious press meet to promote their second slightly more sedate and technical affair at featherweight. When the bell sounded, Barrera formally atoned though, this time, Morales had some cause to feel aggrieved with the judiciary.
In this rubber match at the MGM Grand, the jury again failed to return a unanimous verdict but handed Barrera a well-received majority for what many viewed the finest performance of his 74 fight career.
Billed as ‘Once and for All’ and conducted up at super-feather, the ‘Assassin’ dispensed a cultivated yet callous beating that left his nemesis sporting shades for several subsequent weeks. After thirty-six shared rounds, their animosity has cooled and today the new ‘best friends’ rake in royalties by doing public speaking engagements together!
Juan Manuel Marquez v Marco Antonio Barrera, Las Vegas, March 2007
By the time of the 26th and final world title fight of his 22 year ring innings, Barrera had morphed from an incorrigible warmonger into a crafty counterpuncher but he was unexpectedly taken to school by the mercurial ‘Dinamita’ here.
[Photo credit: HBO]
Though five months older, the three time world featherweight king was the fresher and more famished when the 33 year olds belatedly crossed paths for Barrera’s WBC Super-Feather strap at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Marquez, who bragged that he drank his own urine as a source of protein and vitamins, broke into the seven figure purse bracket by countering Barrera silly over 12 absorbing and sometimes dramatic rounds.
Though a knockdown inflicted from a clever Barrera counter in round seven was ignored by the ref, it would have been insufficient to overturn wide scores in favour of master craftsman Marquez who later confirmed his pedigree by landing further world titles at 135 and 140lbs.
Israel Vasquez vs Rafael Marquez, Carson, March 2008
These Mexico City gunslingers shared 28 gory rounds and far more stitches during a ferocious four fight rivalry that was synonymous with Mexican ring malice.
[Photo credit: MyBoxingFans]
The third of these bloodbaths attracted an outdoor crowd of 8,000 to the Home Depot Center and, unlike the other three, required the services of the judges. Like their second brawl seven months prior, it gained recognition as the Ring’s Fight of the Year. The fourth frame, in which defending WBC Super=Bantam boss Vasquez was felled by a brutal right hand, was decreed the magazine’s Round of the Year.
However, the champ, dubbed ‘Magnifico’ manfully took his lumps and, on this night, exhibited the greater will to collect the tightest split decision after 12 rounds that were not for the squeamish.
The spoils would have been shared had Marquez not copped a yellow card for straying south in round ten. Regardless, he levelled the sequel with a conclusive third round kayo in their final encounter 26 months after.
Watch Francisco Vargas v Miguel Berchelt live on this Saturday.