In baseball you have the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. In college football, there’s Michigan vs. Ohio State. Soccer features the likes of Celtic vs. Rangers, Manchester United vs. Liverpool and Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. Some rivalries just stick out above other, based purely on the passion they inspire in their fan bases.
The boxing equivalent of this is Mexico vs. Puerto Rico. Both countries have tremendous boxing traditions. Both feature some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable fans. Boxing is hard-wired into the DNA of both cultures.
Based on the quality of the combatants, Miguel Cotto vs. Saul Alvarez would be a huge fight if one of them was an Irishman and the other an Eskimo. But the fact that this is another chapter in the rich history of Puerto Rico vs. Mexico makes it extra special.
In honor of their upcoming pay-per-view this weekend, here are five of the most memorable Mexican-Puerto Rican matchups of all time:
Wilfred Benitez SD 15 Carlos Palomino, 1979: In my opinion, Puerto Rico’s Wilfredo Benitez deserves to stand alongside his contemporaries, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran as the fifth king. Benitez was a boxing prodigy, and one of the best defensive fighters who ever lived. This hard-fought, cagey win over Palomino made him a two-division world champion, at just 20 years of age. Three years earlier, he had become the youngest world champion in history, when he took the WBC super lightweight belt from Antonio Cervantes, at 17. Please note, these weren’t trumped up, manufactured titles won from obscure nobodies. Cervantes was one of the most dominant champions of the first half of the 1970s. Palomino was making his eight defense of the WBC strap when he lost to Benitez.
Orlando Salido KO 8 Juan Manuel Lopez, 2011: At the time, this was viewed as a major upset. Lopez was undefeated in 30 fights and was building toward a showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa. He was widely seen as Puerto Rico’s next major boxing star. Salido was a hard-nosed, fringe contender, with 11 career losses. But Salido demonstrated that his long, grueling apprenticeship in Boxing’s School of Hard Knocks had paid off, stopping Lopez in eight.
Wilfred Gomez KO 5 Carlos Zarate, 1978: These two are arguably the best bantamweight and super bantamweight in history. Their combined record coming into this fight was 73-0-1, with 72 KOs. Mexico’s Zarate was 52-0, with 51 stoppages. He was moving up in weight to face the younger “Bazooka” Gomez, who just plain had too much fire power for him.
Jose Luis Ramirez KO 4 Edwin Rosario, 1984: This one didn’t last long, but it packed in enough drama and action for two fights. Puerto Rico’s Rosario had previously beaten Ramirez for the WBC lightweight belt. In the early going of the rematch, it looked like he was going to beat Ramirez again, as he dropped him in both of the first two rounds. But Ramirez turned things around by rocking Rosario in the third. In Round 4, Ramirez poured on the fire, battering Rosario and stopping him with just seconds left in the round. This was 1984’s Fight of the Year.
Salvador Sanchez KO 8 Wilfredo Gomez, 1981: Gomez had run his record to 32-0-1, with 32 KOs, by the time he moved up to featherweight, to face featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez. Gomez was dropped in Round 1, but fought heroically, for as long as he could. It was a brutal, back-and-forth affair, but Sanchez’s movement and accuracy were simply too good, and he finished the smaller man in Round 8. Sanchez is one of boxing’s most tragic “what-ifs?” He died in a car accident at just 23, already a boxing superstar. It’s hard not to think he would have been the greatest Mexican champion of all time, had he gotten the opportunity.