Garcia vs. Granados and the Origins of the Mexico-PR Rivalry

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A look back at the origins of the legendary Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry ahead of its rekindling Saturday, April 20, when Danny Garcia and Adrian Granados square off in a welterweight showdown on FOX.

When former two-division champion Danny “Swift” Garcia and rugged Adrian Granados meet on Saturday, April 20, they will be adding yet another chapter to what has become the greatest rivalry boxing has ever known.

Mexico vs Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico vs Mexico.

This latest saga has the potential to be viewed by more eyeballs than any of the other installments. Unlike past events in this decades-long rivalry, one that started with dueling bands in a Vegas ring, Garcia-Granados will be televised live from the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on prime-time network television by FOX and FOX Deportes (8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT).  

To get an idea of just when the rivalry heated up, take the 6-local to 116th St. in New York’s Spanish Harlem, hook a right by Lachula Taqueria and head east towards the heart of the neighborhood. Once upon a time, you’d find yourself walking to a mambo beat, or later, when mambo morphed into salsa, bopping to the rhythms of Tito Rodriguez, Machito, or Roberto Roena, sounds that blared out from second-floor windows and corner bodegas.

The echoes of their music are long gone, and the neighborhood isn’t as “Spanish” as it used to be, but, in the middle of El Barrio, on 119th Street, is the Center of Puerto Rican Studies. On the first floor, scanning for boxing articles among their vast collections - La Prensa, El Nuevo Dia, El Mundo - searching for any mentions of a Puerto Rico-Mexico ring rivalry, you can be certain that the greatest modern rivalry in boxing started in the eighties.

Accompanying Wilfredo Gomez into the ring when he challenged Salvador Sanchez in 1981, was Roena’s Apollo Sound band. And when Sanchez made his way down the aisle, he was joined by the Mariachi band La Chapala.

When ring announcer Chuck Hull attempted his introductions, the Apollo Sound members climbed back into the ring and tried to drown out the mariachi music. For nearly a round, the two bands went back and forth in the ring trying to outdo the other. That festive mood ended shortly after, when Sanchez dropped Gomez early in the fight. But the seeds of a great rivalry were planted.

Leading up to that fight, no mention of a rivalry appeared in any of the papers. Pulitzer Prize winning sports writer, Red Smith, called the fight the “best kept secret in boxing.” Most boxing writers were focused on the upcoming Leonard-Hearns match, but Smith felt the lack of attention the Sanchez-Gomez fight received was due to something else.

“Perhaps one explanation is that Sanchez is a Mexican, and the meeting of a Mexican and Puerto Rican is pale competition to the dice and wheel,” he wrote for the NY Times.

It wasn’t until 1987, when Julio Cesar Chavez faced Edwin Rosario, that the AP made any mention of a rivalry. But that night, it was brujeria and not any rivalry that Chavez was focusing on.  

Word had reached Chavez that the Rosario camp had placed a photo of his in a bucket of ice water. Latina mothers tie a strand of red yarn around the tiny wrists of their newborns to ward off the dreaded mal de ojo. The men are told to tie one to the rearview mirrors of their new cars to keep away thieves looking to steal hubcaps or car antennas that, once gone, had you tuned into static during your morning commute.

To counter Rosario’s brujeria, Chavez tied a red headband around his forehead. After that, Chavez continued wearing the headband and the boxing public kept talking about the rivalry.

It’s become the biggest rivalry since the days when promoters went looking for a big white guy to beat Jack Johnson. But this rivalry isn’t based on prejudice nor does it have any social impact anywhere outside of the boxing ring. It’s a selling point for fans and it’s an opportunity for writers to use names like Sixto Escobar and Battling Torres.

For the fighters, it’s become a source of pride. Neither side wants to add another loss to that of their motherlands. And it doesn’t matter that, for the first time in a major match in this rivalry, neither fighter was born in either Mexico or Puerto Rico.

Danny Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs) has probably crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge more times than the Mata de Platanos bridge. He didn’t grow up knocking on a neighbor’s front door with three quarters in his hand so that he could buy a coconut limber from them. And Adrian Granados (20-6-2, 14 KOs) has probably eaten more pizza than he has chapulines, and his passport would say United States of America and not Estados Unidos de Mexico.

None of that matters because, when you have a name like Garcia, even if your father, grandfather, and uncle too, wore American green during the Great Wars, you’ll always be a something-American.

So, whenever anyone wants to talk about the greatest boxing matches between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, don’t hesitate to include the fight between Garcia and Granados on that list because, through their veins runs the same blood. How you rank the great fights from this series is not important. What matters most for the fans is that, for whatever reason, they’re always great fights and nowadays compete favorably with the “dice and wheel.”  

With the Garcia-Granados fight being televised on FOX and FOX Deportes, many more people can tune in to this legendary rivalry. One that got its start with the help of a Mariachi band named after a Mexican city and a salsa band that formed on the day Americans first landed on the moon.   

For a closer look at Garcia vs Granados, check out our fight night page.

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