Bodyshots, Bravado and Blood: Understanding “Mexican Style”

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

The blood pushes past a glob of Vaseline and spills from a cut over his eye, but he pays it no mind as he barrels forward, trying to corner the man who a few minutes ago was his predator but now has become his prey.  

He steps at just the right angle to cut off the ring, then fires off a left hook to the rib cage, causing his opponent’s hands to drop and his legs to lose their bounce. He seizes the opening with a vicious torrent of punches upstairs, then goes back to the body. One more left hook liquefies the liver, and the helpless victim crumples, doing little more than roll around and make tragedy-mask faces until the count reaches 10.

The ring swells with bodies, and the victor is carried around the ring. The blood is still flowing, but it’s no longer a cause for concern. Now it’s a point of pride, part of the legacy, adding color, quite literally, to the tale of the night the great warrior prevailed in dramatic fashion.

When you close your eyes and picture this scene, whom do you see? Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.? If you’re a tad older, maybe Ruben Olivares? If you’re slightly younger, perhaps Erik Morales?

It’s not the precise “who” that’s important. It’s the “where.”

The great majority of fight fans, when reading the description above, are sure to picture a fighter from Mexico. That’s not to say that a Ricky Hatton or a Micky Ward or a Shane Mosley or a Miguel Cotto couldn’t end a fight in the exact same way. But the notion of the “Mexican fighter” is potent. It is its own sub-genre of boxing.

You don’t have to be from Mexico, or even from anywhere in the Americas, to aspire to “Mexican style,” as a certain Kazakh middleweight has shown us. Perhaps “Mexican fighter” is a stereotype, but it’s the good kind of stereotype, almost always meant as a compliment.

“When I think of a Mexican fighter,” says veteran ESPN and ESPN Deportes boxing broadcaster Bernardo Osuna, “I envision a warrior, a fighter who comes forward, who’s willing to take a punch to give a punch, who, when the chips are down, is willing to do what it takes to win. He’s willing to bleed to score a victory. He’s willing to get up off the canvas to score a victory. There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘Morir en la raya,’ which translates to English as ‘Die on the line.’ That’s how they feel. The Mexican fighter is willing to go that far in order to come away with the victory.”

While the heart and desire that Osuna cites are a key part of the picture, there are also certain stylistic tendencies associated with Mexican pugilists. The approach is built around pressure, around aggressiveness, around body punching, with an emphasis usually on the left hook. There’s no rule against having skill or utilizing defense, but there are unwritten rules about how to employ them. A potshotting jabber who’s always on his toes, circling, bouncing out of danger, doing anything that could be remotely construed as running—that stuff doesn’t fly south of the border.

While the legendary “Lion of Culiacan” Chavez is the most famous purveyor of the Mexican style, he wasn’t the first Mexican to use it at the elite level. That distinction most likely goes to Luis Villanueva Paramo of Mexico City, much better known during a 255-fight career spanning all the way from 1929 to 1961 as Kid Azteca. He scored 114 knockouts among 192 wins, and is said to have influenced such 1960s and ’70s successors as Vicente Saldivar and Olivares, the latter of whom was probably the most beloved Mexican fighter until Chavez came along.

After Chavez elevated the ceiling for star power in the ’80s and ’90s — notably scoring the most iconic and most Mexican-style win in the nation’s history, stopping Meldrick Taylor with two seconds left in the final round while trailing on the scorecards — he helped open the door for a generation that included rivals Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Erik Morales.

Among all those names are many with sublime skills, men who didn’t need to take a punch in order to land one. But they all took their share anyway, and are adored for it.

“I think the Mexican fan feels, if you have a skill set, you can use it, but when it comes down to it and you need to come up with something special, that’s when the Mexican in you comes out,” Osuna says. “When I think of who best embodies what it means to be a Mexican fighter, I would say Ruben Olivares. He was skilled, but that guy would take a shot to give a shot, and he just had a huge heart. If you want to go to a more modern fighter, I’d say Juan Manuel Marquez, especially when you look at the Manny Pacquiao fights. In the first one, he gets off the canvas three times. In the fourth fight, he’s bloodied, it looks like he’s about to be knocked out, and he finds a way to land that one punch.

“The Mexican fight fan respects someone who works as hard as they do. The Mexican fan is, say, a gardener that goes out every morning at 4 a.m. and then works until sundown and comes home to his family. When Marquez gets up off the canvas three times in the first round, that’s representative of the Mexican fight fan. Someone who goes out there and, whatever it takes, however many hours it takes to get the job done, they’re gonna get it done and they’re gonna get it done right.”

All of which begs the question: How “Mexican” are the two men set to square off on May 6 in the biggest all-Mexican showdown since … well, maybe ever, if you’re looking at the size of the event and fighters’ purses? Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are the two biggest boxing stars Mexico currently has to offer, but they also have their detractors on both sides of the border.

About Chavez, who didn’t come from an impoverished background and was literally born marketable, there are doubts about whether he works as hard as those blue-collar fans demand. About Canelo, there are questions about his willingness to take on all comers — specifically, that “Mexican-style” fellow, Gennady Golovkin.

And neither Chavez nor Alvarez has had a signature Mexican-style victory yet, that dramatic win achieved via heart and relentlessness in the face of adversity. On May 6, fans of all nationalities will tune in, hoping to see the battle of Mexico’s two biggest stars settled in as Mexican a style as possible.

1000 Fights: Pacquiao-Hatton

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Oliver Goldstein

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

May 2, 2009

It’s quite something to go back and watch the HBO broadcast of Manny Pacquiao’s 2009 dismantling of Ricky Hatton. For a fight that is so much a part of this generation’s psyche, that May 2nd night looks curiously out-of-focus today, near and yet far, like an overexposed photograph. This was a time before Pacquiao and Mayweather were inextricably linked to one another, when Freddie Roach and Alex Ariza were still partners, when Floyd Mayweather Sr. trained Ricky Hatton, and when the late Emanuel Steward still sat ringside with Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant. With Oscar de la Hoya then newly retired, it was the start of an era now almost finished.

More: HBO Boxing Insiders Pick from 1000 Fights

These things are forgotten, of course, or at least tilted sidewise by the single event that mattered that night. Down twice in the first, Hatton had continued to charge like a dizzy bull through the second, rearing into Pacquiao’s range with his chin up high and hands askew. With 20 seconds to go, his face puffy and red, Hatton followed Pacquiao clockwise, took a jab, reset, took a swift combination, and reset again, before the punch that had his name on it all night crashed him suddenly to the canvas, where his head bounced back with such force that his arms involuntarily followed after, flung back, before settling lax at his sides, unmoving, undone.

The moment itself is betrayed by writing, just as it is betrayed by instant replays, and betrayed by YouTube. As the suddenness of the knockout is replayed a thousand times, and replayed a thousand more, now seen from this angle, now that, that same suddenness itself recedes further into a locked past: Pacquiao’s knockout of Hatton is a fact robbed of its sensation.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

And yet it’s also the reason you keep watching, the reason you go to the fights, or catch them on television: because there’s nothing like that feeling when you know instinctively what’s happened, that Ricky Hatton has been divorced from his consciousness in the craziest knockout in years, without yet being able to assimilate such information: there he is, there, and Kenny Bayless is waving his hand and people are storming the ring and all the vain hopes you had of him getting up, of the fight continuing, all the hopes before the first bell, when Hatton, usually a bundle of nervous energy, shifting about on his feet like a kid on a Pogo stick, had stood taut with fear, his skin stretched out across his body in a gesture to the end still to come, all the hopes between first and second round, when you might have thought he was recovering, but when in fact he had turned away from Floyd Mayweather Sr, confused and hurt, and listened instead to his chief second, Lee Beard — all those hopes are gone. It’s 6 in the morning in London and Manny Pacquiao has knocked out Ricky Hatton in Vegas. Try going to sleep now.

Boxing does mostly messy endings, whether in fights or careers, and true to that fact Ricky Hatton returned to be stopped once again in 2012. It’s easy to understand why he did so, the Pacquiao knockout being the sort that haunts an entire career, re-coloring all the events that preceded it, and becoming in turn the single highlight that a lifetime is known by. But as a specific moment, it remains for me the most solemn, most shockingly definitive, the most statuary, to paraphrase Frank O’Hara. Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton. Try sleeping now.

Common Opponents: How Did Floyd and Manny Fare Against Five Shared Foes?

By Eric Raskin

CLICK to enlarge

As opposite as they may be in many ways, from their personalities to their fighting stances, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather actually have quite a bit in common. They’re both rich and famous beyond any expectation they ever could have had. They’re both guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famers. They’ve both been boxing professionally since the mid 1990s and are now in the back half of their 30s. They’ve both held alphabet titles in every weight class from 130 to 154 pounds (with Pacquiao boasting a few lighter ones as well), and they’ve both held lineal titles in four divisions.

And they’ve both prevailed in fights against Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley.

After May 2, we’ll be able to compare Mayweather and Pacquiao based on direct evidence. Until then, the best we can do is infer based on indirect evidence. In other words, a comparison of their performances against common opponents is our most telling source. So here we’ll tap that source, analyzing all of the fights in question and determining whether Pacquiao or Mayweather gets the edge for each common opponent. (The opponents are listed in chronological order based on their first fight with either Mayweather or Pacquiao.)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Mayweather and Pacquiao's common opponents on the HBO Boxing Podcast.

OPPONENT: JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ

Pacquiao’s Results: Marquez proved to be Pacquiao’s toughest, trickiest rival, and it isn’t close. They fought four times, producing three Fight of the Year candidates, three controversial decisions, and one of the greatest knockouts of all-time. In their first fight, Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in the opening round, but Marquez called upon remarkable guts and guile to battle his way to a split draw. The second time around, Pac-Man won a split decision in another grueling fight. The third fight was less fulfilling for all involved, as Pacquiao won a controversial majority decision in a slightly slower paced bout. And in the fourth fight, Marquez finally got into the win column with a one-punch knockout in the sixth round, just when Pacquiao seemed on the verge of finishing him off.

Mayweather’s Result: Not nearly as much drama here. In his first fight back after a 21-month “retirement,” Mayweather schooled a puffed-up Marquez, a second-round knockdown powering him to a near-shutout decision win. Mayweather’s critics will point out that he chose not to pursue a knockout in the late rounds, but as sterling boxing displays against elite opponents go, this one is tough to top.

Edge: Although the pudgy version of Marquez that Mayweather fought in 2009 was probably a lesser fighter than the versions Pacquiao fought before or after, you still have to give the overwhelming edge to “Money.” Pacquiao had life and death with the guy for 42 rounds en route to a record of 2-1-1 that could arguably have been 1-3 or even 0-4; Mayweather never had to shift beyond second gear.

OPPONENT: OSCAR DE LA HOYA

Mayweather’s Result: This was the event that pushed Floyd from star to superstar, but his performance inside the ring was more “acceptable” than “exceptional.” Neither man succeeded in landing many clean punches and it was in could-go-either-way territory for about eight rounds, until the aging De La Hoya began to tire and stopped jabbing. Mayweather pulled away to win a split decision that probably should have been unanimous.

Pacquiao’s Result: Oscar had lost fights before, but never like this. Nineteen months after his close defeat to Mayweather, De La Hoya dropped back to welterweight for the first time in seven years and walked into the buzzsaw that was prime Pacquiao. Some predicted Manny, who fought at junior lightweight earlier that same year, would be too small, but instead he turned out to be too fast and too accurate, drubbing “The Golden Boy” for eight rounds until De La Hoya surrendered in the corner, never to fight again.

Edge: Mayweather fans can rightly argue that Pacquiao took on an older De La Hoya who ruined himself making weight. But that case isn’t strong enough to outweigh the fact that Pac-Man annihilated a fighter Mayweather eked past. And for what it’s worth, Mayweather was a slight favorite to beat Oscar, whereas Manny was perceived as a substantial underdog. The edge goes to the guy who exceeded expectations and finished the job, not the guy who met expectations and heard a scorecard in his opponent’s favor.

OPPONENT: RICKY HATTON

Mayweather’s Result: As a follow-up to his win over De La Hoya, Floyd kept the PPV train rolling with a battle of unbeatens against the beloved British “Hitman” and scored a rare knockout. It took Mayweather a few rounds to adjust to Hatton’s swarming, energetic, mauling style, but once he did, it became one-way traffic, culminating with a check-hook that propelled Hatton WWE-style into the turnbuckle pad. A few punches later, Mayweather had a 10th-round TKO win.

Pacquiao’s Result: Hatton had rebuilt from the Mayweather loss with lopsided wins over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, only to get wrecking-balled by probably the best version of Pacquiao we’ve ever seen. Pac-Man dropped him twice in the first round, and just when it seemed like Hatton was starting to get his legs back, the Filipino iced him with a perfect left hand with one second remaining in round two.

Edge: Again, Mayweather fought Hatton first and a case could be made that he softened the Brit up. But that doesn’t fully account for the violent mismatch Pacquiao-Hatton turned out to be. It was largely stylistic—Mayweather is not a seek-and-destroy fighter who blows people out in two rounds—but you still have to give Pacquiao the edge. Watch his KO of Hatton again if you need convincing.

OPPONENT: MIGUEL COTTO

Pacquiao’s Result: Riding the momentum of destructive wins over De La Hoya and Hatton, Pacquiao took on the younger, stronger Cotto and danced through the danger to detonate and dazzle. The first few rounds featured sensational back-and-forth action, but Pac-Man took over with knockdowns in both the third and fourth and doled out a frightful beating until the fight was stopped 55 seconds into round 12.

Mayweather’s Result: While he won by comfortable scores of 117-111 (twice) and 118-110, the fight was anything but comfortable for Money May. Cotto’s aggression and fearlessness, combined with Mayweather’s seemingly heavier legs, made for an entertaining 12-round chore for the usually untouchable pound-for-pound king. Nevertheless, Floyd finished strong, hurting Cotto in the 12th to put an exclamation point on a hard-earned victory.

Edge: Since Pacquiao got to Cotto first, you can’t chalk this one up to Floyd softening up the Puerto Rican badass. You can, however, wonder if Cotto was fighting at too low a weight and hadn’t yet shaken off the effects of his infamous TKO loss to Antonio Margarito. So it’s up for debate whether Pacquiao or Mayweather beat the better version of Cotto. What isn’t up for debate is that Pacquiao beat him up far more convincingly. It’s another verdict in favor of Pac-Man.

OPPONENT: SHANE MOSLEY

Mayweather’s Result: “Sugar Shane” produced the scariest moment of Mayweather’s 47-fight career, but the rest of the production belonged to Floyd. Mosley hurt him with a pair of right hands in round two, the second one causing a pronounced knee dip. Mayweather proceeded to bite down and take the older man apart over the remaining 10 rounds to win a lopsided decision. Despite being hurt, Mayweather chose to play the role of aggressor, and it suited him so well that we were left to wonder why he employs that approach so rarely.

Pacquiao’s Result: This was one of Pacquiao’s most disappointing performances, as he carried a washed-up Mosley for 12 uninspired rounds after it seemed an early knockout win was there for the taking. Manny dropped Sugar Shane in round three, only to let him off the hook and settle for a shutout decision win. The fight is remembered more for the amiable boxers touching gloves excessively than for any glove-on-face contact.

Edge: Although you might think Pacquiao has the edge based on Mosley scrambling Mayweather’s brains briefly in round two, the edge actually belongs to Mayweather for the way he responded to that moment of peril. He beat a less cooked version of Mosley and, for the most part, looked better doing it.

Relive All the Action of Pacquiao-Bradley Fight Week

By Eric Raskin

Fight week is a steady build, with interviews, press conferences, and analysis on top of analysis leading toward the moment when the fighters touch gloves on Saturday. But something happens on Friday night where the steady build ends and the spike in excitement takes everything to the next level. Nowadays, the signifier that fight week is winding down and fight day is all but here is the airing of the final episode of 24/7. That’s the moment when it becomes real. The fighters are in place. The weigh-in is complete. The fight is officially on. Now we’re all just watching the clock, wishing the hands would turn a bit faster.

How will you pass the time in the final hours before Pacquiao-Bradley? How will you occupy your mind to take the edge off the anticipation? You can relive not just that final episode of 24/7, but the first, second, and third, as well. And you can celebrate everything that happened during fight week.

You can watch the fighters’ arrivals and hear what they had to say when they got to Vegas. You can look back at each man’s previous fight. You can focus on Pacquiao and what’s changed for him lately, or on getting to know Bradley. Or you can strike a balance and explore what’s at stake for each warrior, both the legendary Pacquiao and the undefeated Bradley.

If it’s strategic insight you crave, there’s no shortage of that. You can enjoy a visual breakdown. You can hear what legendary trainer and neutral observer Emanuel Steward has to say, or what legendary trainer and not-at-all neutral observer Freddie Roach has to say. You can go inside the mind of one of one of Pacquiao’s most famous knockout victims, Ricky Hatton. You can check out the CompuBox stats, or go one step farther and see what Inside HBO Boxing bloggers Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney had to say about those stats. And if you think this one’s going to go the distance, you can step up your knowledge of how to score a fight right with Harold Lederman’s help.

And if it’s predictions you want, check out who the media tabbed to win when they gathered at the final press conference. Or read what the fans are saying, from those picking Pacquiao to those predicting the upset.

The clock keeps ticking, slowly but surely. Before you know it, the undercard will be underway. And then, finally Pacquiao and Bradley will step into the ring. Fight week will be over. It will be fight time.

How Powerful Is Manny Pacquiao's Left? Ricky Hatton Knows.

By Ricky Hatton (as told to Richard Fletcher)

Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Manny Pacquiao is obviously a big, big hitter. With people like myself and Miguel Cotto, who move straight down the middle, there's always a chance you can walk on to that left-hand shot, and it was sadly the case with me.

There was always a chance, with my style, that I could have outmuscled him and outpunched him and mauled him, like I did Kostya Tszyu and a few others. I'd always been aggressive, I always went for the knockout--and that proved my downfall, really. He wasn't even looking at me [when he landed the knockout punch in the second round]. I think he just knew where I was, he winged it over and that was that.

His short left is very good. He's had many successes with it. I've always been a little bit reckless, but I got a little bit over-reckless in that fight. You can't do it at that level. With someone with a left hand like Manny Pacquiao's, you can't go in like that. I think a lot of people have learned that with Pacquiao because the fighters who are a little bit more cagey and a little bit more safety-first tend to have fewer troubles. With Manny Pacquiao, there's every chance he can knock you out.

Timothy Bradley can do a little bit of brawling and boxing. He can have a little bit of a fight, but he's a very well-schooled all-rounder. He's a very capable boxer, a very talented fighter. I think he'll come in and fight a cagey fight and I think he'll give Manny a few problems. I don't think he'll win, though. After the third Juan Manuel Marquez fight, Pacquiao will want to come back and destroy somebody. Timothy Bradley might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Brothers In Arms: Ricky Hatton on Brother Matthew

As Matthew Hatton prepares to take on Mexican phenom Saul Alvarez this Saturday for the vacant WBC light middleweight title, we caught up with another fighter who knows what Matthew is going through, his brother and former welterweight champ Ricky Hatton. Here's what Ricky had to say:

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