Bobby Chacon. Danny “Little Red” Lopez. Mando Ramos. Genaro Hernandez. Michael Carbajal. Johnny Tapia. Oscar De La Hoya.
Editor’s Note: On August 29, Mexican-born and Los Angeles-based fighters Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares will square off in a highly anticipated 126-pound clash at Staples Center in Los Angeles. In advance of the ESPN-televised fight (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), we asked Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora—a former 154-pound champ and lifelong Angelino—for his perspective on the two fighters and how they’re perceived by L.A.’s passionate Mexican-American boxing community. In the first of a two-part series, Mora explains how and why Mexican-American fans are drawn to certain fighters.
The list of Mexican-American (or “Chicano”) boxing icons runs long. And it’s exceeded only by the list of Southern California fight fans—especially those from East L.A.—who idolize these Mexican warriors.
It’s easy to understand why. For one thing, some of the most memorable fighters to ever set foot in a boxing ring have been of Mexican heritage. Just mention the word “boxing,” and one of the first images that comes to mind is a Mexican wearing colorful trunks and red Cleto Reyes gloves.
But there’s another reason why Mexican fans are attracted to the fight game: Since there are no Mexican action heroes on the big screen, we revere our real-life action heroes on the small screen. Mexicans boxers are known for their courage, bravado, technique, relentless determination, granite chins and, of course, cojones.
Whether you are Mexican, Chicano or of another Hispanic nationality, “mano a mano” is a universal expression understood by all.
What boxer wouldn’t want to be linked to such heroic lineage?
The conflict boils over when a Mexican legend faces a Chicano star, such as when the great Julio Cesar Chavez fought Oscar De La Hoya. That is when battle lines get drawn and La Raza (which I define as Mexican loyalists) will choose sides.
Normally, if you are a Mexican-born fan, you will strictly support the Mexican boxer. That is not always the case with Chicano fans.
The Chicano’s allegiance to a particular fighter can vary and be influenced by such factors as the boxer’s upbringing or a style preference. But one thing all Chicano fans appreciate—and downright expect—is a blood-and-guts war.
They want their fighter to never relent and always press forward, even falling on his shield if need be.
That’s exactly how fighters such as Shane Mosley and Manny Pacquiao were able to cross over with Chicano fans. That is how Kazakhstani boxer Gennady Golovkin—who doesn’t speak fluent English, let alone Spanish—can headline a card titled “Mexican Style” in the heart of L.A.
The truth is, to become a boxing star in the United States, you must earn your badge of honor with Chicano fans. For them, when it comes to choosing sides in the ring, passion and excitement is more important than patriotism. The Chicano fan can be won over.
Which brings me to Saturday’s Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares showdown under the Staples Center lights. Both are Mexican-born and longtime L.A. residents. Both come from similar humble beginnings and boxing backgrounds. Both are multi-division world champions in their prime (with only one loss in 62 combined fights). And both fight with the kind of hunger and heart that appeals to the Chicano fan base.
Given these facts, you would think both Santa Cruz and Mares would be equally popular with all boxing fanatics. But in fact, only one remains unscathed by harsh criticism, and only one is truly adored by the Mexican majority.
Who is that fighter? And what can Santa Cruz and Mares expect when they walk to the ring at Staples Center on Saturday night? Find out in Part 2 on Thursday.
For complete coverage of Santa Cruz vs Mares, visit our fight page.