Colombian Boxing Today: Boom or Rebirth?
By Jaime Castro-Núñez - In Colombia boxing is practiced since 1898, when Andrés Gómez-Hoyos opened a gym at prestigious University of Cartagena with implements brought from England. Intrigued by the novelty, young students started to train, but they quit since the emerging sport did not seem to be an option for life. From 1900 to 1921 the boxing fever disseminated throughout the country and most Colombians paid attention to big fights, like the one between “The Manassa Mauler” Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in New Jersey.
Article posted on 03.04.2009
Only four days after that encounter, light heavyweight Rafael Tanco fought in Bogotá Belgian Rene van Hoorde in front of 4,000 spectators. That was the first professional bout held in the country. From 1928 to 1970 people saw many good-quality boxers, such as lightweight Fernando Fiorillo, the first Colombian who fought in New York; bantamweight phenomenon Jhon Bill; hard-hitting Jerónimo Triviño; Cartagena-born Fortunato Grey; Eligio “Mochila” Herrera; Montería’s Cipriano “Barbulito” Zuluaga; Mario Rossito, and Bernardo Caraballo, the first Colombian boxer who fought for a world title.
On October 2, 1964, Bernardo Caraballo defeated in Bogotá Manny Elias of Tucson, AZ, which gave him the chance to dare Brazilian bantamweight champion Eder Jofre. An exquisite stylist himself, Caraballo was at that time Colombia’s greatest pugilist. Caraballo and Jofre met in Bogotá on November 27, 1964. The bout was televised live and started with the champion trying to terminate actions ASAP. The dream came to an end 2 minutes and 50 seconds into the seventh round, when Joffre released a left hand that ended all hopes. Six months later, in Maracaibo, Venezuela, another Colombian, light welterweight Mario Rossito, lost his opportunity against Carlos Hernández. In 1967 Bernardo Caraballo had a second moment, this time against Japan’s Masahiko Harada. He traveled to Tokyo only to return empty-handed. The 60´s closed with Antonio “Mochila” Herrera and Enrique “Quique” Higgins, both failing to become Colombia’s first world champion.
The country entered into the boxing world scenario on October 28, 1972, in Panama, when 140-pounder Antonio Cervantes “Kid Pambelé” dethroned Alfonso “Peppermint” Frazer, thus becoming Colombia’s first champion ever. During his first reign “Pambelé” successfully defended the belt 15 times against opponents like Nicolino Locche, Benny Huertas, Lion Furuyama, Shinichi Kadota and Alfonso Frazer. He lost it to Wilfred Benítez in Puerto Rico by split decision in 1976, and recaptured it two years later in Venezuela against Carlos María Giménez. He kept it until 1980, when Aaron Pryor ended Pambelé’s unquestionable world supremacy. Other Colombians who won titles in the 70´s were middleweight Rodrigo “Rocky” Valdés and Ricardo Cardona. Even though the country crowned three champions during the 70´s, Pambelé was by far the most celebrated. The puncher was so popular that even prostitutes stopped work in order to watch him fighting. It is said that in certain occasion Nobel-prize winner Gabriel García-Márquez was received in Madrid by fellow Colombians with the following exclamation: “Colombia’s most important citizen has arrived!” García-Márquez turned his head and asked: “Where is Pambelé?” That epoch represents the birth of Colombian boxing…
The eighties entered with erudites believing the country was ready to become a visible force in boxing. The following list shows the seven champions the country had during the 80´s:
Prudencio Cardona. 112 pounds. WBC.
Miguel “Happy” Lora. 118. WBC.
Fidel Bassa. 112. WBA.
Baby “Sugar” Rojas. 115. WBC.
Tomás Molinares. 147. WBA.
Elvis Álvarez. 112. WBO.
Juan Polo-Pérez. 115. IBF.
Without question, former bantamweight title holder Miguel “Happy” Lora was the most important of the seven. Lora fought Wilfredo Vásquez, Enrique Sánchez, Alberto Dávila (twice), Antonio Avelar, Ray Minus, Lucio “Metralleta” López and Raúl “Jíbaro” Pérez, who defeated Lora in Las Vegas, NV. These seven champions, along with featherweight prospect Robinson Pitalúa (who tragically died in Miami in 1985 at 21), were in possession of good boxing skills, some power, and most important, the ability to solve problems while fighting. Lora, for example, managed to get a close-decision victory over Vásquez during the first defense of his title after being dropped in the fourth. On April 25, 1987, in Belfast, Dave McAuley was clearly outpointing WBA flyweight champion Fidel Bassa, until the champ came up with a vicious uppercut that put the challenger out for good. Fifteen months later, Tomás Molinares knocked out Marlon Sterling to claim the WBA welterweight crown.
Colombian champions during the 80´s were solid, three-dimensional fighters who gave the country a new status. Gone were the times when Colombian boxers used to lose even before stepping into the ring. If Cardona, Lora, Bassa, Rojas, Molinares, Álvarez, and Polo-Pérez did not achieve more, it was basically due to lack of discipline. They, nevertheless, started a “boom” that was supposed to transform “The Land of the Coffee” into a force, a real boxing force. That was the state of things at the beginning of the 90´s, when more long-lasting champions were anxiously expected. If the kings of the 80´s were for real, their legacy needed to be kept alive in the 90´s. Here is the list of Colombian titlelist from 1990 to 1999.
Luis Mendoza. 122 pounds. WBA
Elvis Álvarez. 112. WBA
Rafael Pineda 140. IBF.
Amancio Castro. 140. IBC.
Rodolfo Blanco. 112. IBF.
Rubén Palacios. 126. IBO.
Jorge Eliécer Julio. 118. WBO.
Wilfrido Ruiz. 130. IBC.
Harold Grey. 115. IBF.
Francisco Tejedor. 112. IBF.
Harold Mestre. 118. IBF.
Harold Grey. 115. IBF.
Antonio Pitalúa. 140. IBA.
Mauricio Pastrana. 108. IBF.
Jorge Eliécer Julio. 118. WBO.
Mauricio Pastrana. 108. IBF.
Mauricio Pastrana. 112. WBA.
Kermin Guardia. 105. WBO.
Ener Julio. 140. WBO-IBO.
Ilido Julio. 115. IBO.
José Sanjuanelo. 108. IBO.
Mauricio Pastrana. 115. IBO.
Irene Pacheco. 112. IBF.
As it is clear in the list, 17 Colombians captured 23 world titles in 9 different categories. Even though that represents an appreciable growth in the amount of champions, those numbers are somehow deceiving. First, note that 40% of all belts were in minor, non-prestigious entities. Second, they were ephemeral champions with only one or two successful defenses. Exceptions to that were Luis “Chicanero” Mendoza, who defended his belt four times and Irene “Mambaco” Pacheco, six. Third, of the 17 only 5 stand out: Luis Mendoza; Olympic-medalist Jorge Eliécer Julio; top-contender Antonio Pitalúa; Monteria-born Mauricio Pastrana and Irene Pacheco. The rest went to retirement without money and glory. Champions during the 80´s worked hard in order to make of Colombia an emerging boxing force, but in the 90´s the country lost its emerging status. Now let’s take a look at the champions from 2000 to present.
Newton Villarreal. 140. IBO.
Mauricio Pastrana. 118. IBA.
Ener Julio. 140. WBO.
Beibis Mendoza. 105. WBA.
José García. 108. IBO.
José Sanjuanelo. 118. IBO.
Óscar León. 122. IBA.
Miguel Barrera. 105. IBF.
Kermin Guardia. 105. WBO.
Beibis Mendoza. 105. WBA.
Daniel Reyes. 105. IBF.
Mauricio Pastrana. 118. IBA.
Mauricio Pastrana. 115. IBA.
Carlos Maussa. 140. WBA.
Fulgencio Zúñiga. 160. IBA.
Juan Urango. 140. IBF.
Ricardo Torres. 140. WBO.
Alejandro Berrío. 168. IBF.
Fulgencio Zúñiga. 168. IBO.
César Canchila. 108. WBA.
Daniel Reyes. 105. WBO.
Juan Urango. 140. IBF.
Cecilia Braekhus. 147. WBA/WBO.
The first five years of the present decade came up as a continuation of the previous one: more fragile champions. Carlos “The Apostle” Maussa, for example, got just lucky against Vivian Harris to become WBA light welterweight titleholder. Maussa was destroyed by “The Hitman” Hatton in the first defense. The case of former IBF minimum king Miguel “The Hurricane” Barrera is different. He had everything to sparkle: charisma, skills, power, and intelligence. In late 2003, while defending the crown for the second time in Tijuana, BC, Mexico, against Edgar “Tun Tun” Cárdenas, Barrera was easily winning the fight until the tenth stanza, when the challenger connected with a right hand that sent the champion to the deck. He tried to rise, but collapsed back to the canvas. Barrera was taken to a hospital where he underwent brain surgery to relieve a blood clot that had formed on the left hemisphere. He retired for good and the same belt he lost to Cárdenas, returned to Colombia five months later with Daniel “The Olympian” Reyes.
Commencing 2005 no changes were visible for the second part of the decade. On September 24, 2005, however, something unexpected occurred. An unbeaten, tough kid from Magangué fighting out of Barranquilla took a dangerous fight on a two-week notice. Ricardo “Mochuelo” Torres traveled to New Jersey to meet WBO light welterweight super champion Miguel Cotto. Not knowing who he was or how many rounds he could stay in front of the Puerto Rican idol, Larry Merchant wondered: “Who knows what we have here.” Merchant got his answer 1:99 seconds into the first round, when Torres hurt Cotto with a vicious left hook. Only 24 seconds into the second and another left hook by Torres made it clear: “This guy has a tremendous punching power!” Eventually the Boricua made the fight of his career surviving a life-and-death challenge from Torres. That night a new era started for Colombian boxing: the hard-hitting era. Colombian fighters were labeled as “pure bangers,” “exquisite hard-hitters,” “knockout artists,” “heavy-handed kids,” “mad sluggers,” “bone-crushers,” “neat punchers.”
That is why today, when boxing fans talk about Colombian boxers, think of just hard-hitting warriors, which does not necessarily mean they are one-dimensional. Any boxer must be judged in three different dimensions: BOXING SKILLS, PUNCHING POWER and INTELLIGENCE, which is the ability to solve problems up in the ring. Based on those three dimensions, I have categorized all Colombian pugilists fighting today in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe, into three groups: Class-C, Class-B and Class-A.
It is a group composed of low-quality, aged folks who fight just for the check. They have experience and are supposed to give some kind of trouble to rising stars. Whenever they fight, please expect a defeat, mainly by KO. They will be, indefectibly, knocked out because their mission in the game is to help others improve their records. Since they are not competitive, I will not waste any time on them.
It represents the most diverse group. In this bag you will find former world champions, title challengers and current/former regional title holders. They are in possession of some power and skills, but hardly will they be either respectable contenders or sound champions. Such is the case of Epifanio Mendoza (28-7-1, KO´s 24), who gave Jeff Lacy hard time but lost to inexperienced Beibut Shumenov; Dionisio “Mr. KO” Miranda (19-4-2, KO´s 17), recently floored out by Giovanni Lorenzo; cruiserweight José Luis Herrera (17-5-0, KO´s 16); former IBF super middleweight champion Alejandro “Ñaco” Berrío (28-5-0, KO´s 27), who lost the belt in his first defense against Lucian Bute, and California-based Samuel Miller (18-3-0, KO´s 18).
On October 27, 2007, in Panama, 122-pounder Feider Viloria (22-4-1- KO´s 15) captured both WBC Latino super bantamweight and WBA Fedecentro super bantamweight titles, but seven months later lost his biggest fight against Óscar “Chololo” Larios for the interim WBC featherweight title. Viloria has won only two of his five bouts outside Colombia, being one of them against Renán Acosta, in Panamá, last March 24th, when he claimed the WBA Fedelatin belt. 29-year-old José “Mochuelito” Torres was once believed to be a star in the making, but indiscipline seems to be his best friend and today, even in his own hometown, experts believe Torres wasted his best years. To support that theory, they point at his 2008 extremely poor performance: 1 victory and 2 loses. Raúl “El Tendero” Pinzón (16-2-0, KO´s 15) was brought to Puerto Rico in 2007 after 14 consecutive victories to face Euri González for the vacant WBO Inter-Continental welterweight title. He lost by MD and he has not won a single fight outside Colombia.
Newly crowned WBO Latino super featherweight champion Likar Ramos (19-2-0, KO´s 14) has not made his US debut yet, but I believe he will be outclassed by any US/Mexican/Puerto Rican opponent. If we ever see again former titlist Daniel Reyes fighting, it will be against a prospect in need of a former champion on his resume. Only money will make him fight again because during the bout against Manuel Vargas, the 36-year-old veteran showed he has nothing left in the tank. Ronald “El Indio” Barrera (26-5-1, KO´s 16), the brother of former champion Miguel “The Hurricane” Barrera, is tough and talented, but his chance of becoming a world champion seems to be reduced due to aging. Barrera, who is challenging Mexico’s Raúl García for the IBF minimumweight title, has never been stopped and three of his five loses have came by decision. The Barrera-García fight will take place in Mexico this coming April 11th.
Now let’s take a look at Class-A fighters, top contenders who have both won and lost to the best in their respective divisions. These boxers are calling the attention of the experts basically because they are huge punchers. In order to compare them among themselves, I have categorized PUNCHING POWER in High, Medium and Low; SKILLS in A, B, C, being A the highest, and INTELLIGENCE in Notorious and Average. Here is the list. Other thoughts, comments or opinions are very welcomed.
Santander Silgado. 190. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Fulgencio Zúñiga. 168. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Edison Miranda. 168. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Joel Julio. 154. Punching Power: High. Skills: A. Intelligence: Notorious.
Richard Gutiérrez. 154. Punching Power: High. Skills: A. Intelligence: Average.
Cecilia Braekhus. 147. Punching Power: Medium. Skills: A. Intelligence: Notorious.
Juan Urango. 140. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Ricardo Torres. 140. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Liliana Palmera. 140. Punching Power: Medium. Skills: A. Intelligence: Average.
Antonio Pitalúa. 135. Punching Power: High. Skills: A. Intelligence: Average.
Breidis Prescott. 135. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Yonnhy Pérez. 118. Punchinh Power: High. Skills: A. Intelligence: Notorious.
Franklin Teherán. 118. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
César Canchila. 108. Punching Power: High. Skills: B. Intelligence: Average.
Carlos Támara. 108. Punching Power: Medium. Skills: A. Intelligence: Average.
It is the author’s opinion that at the present time Joel Julio, Yonnhy Pérez and Cecilia Braekhus are the most complete fighters Colombia has. Despite of the fact that Julio (34-3-0, KO´s 3) lost to James Kirkland in San José, CA, I believe he is a solid fighter. I do not pretend to take anything away from Kirkland because he clearly won, period. However, I agree with Lenox Lewis when he said that Julio seemed not to be well-prepared for that fight. Contrary to Kirkland, right from the beginning Julio looked slow, tired and somehow out of shape. I still have high regards for the Monteria-born, but only time will tell. For us observers, the Joel Julio case is a wait-and-see game. For the boxer, it is a matter of regaining confidence and training, hard training, a lot of hard training. On the other hand, bantamweight hot prospect Yonnhy Pérez (18-0-0, KO´s 13) is without question Colombia’s best hope for another world title. In fact, Pérez will have his championship chance should he defeat South Africa’s Silence Mabuza next April 18th in Johannesburg. I am honored to mention Cecilia Braekhus in this article because she is Colombian by birth, but some might disagree since “First Lady” grew up in Norway. Nowadays she trains and fights out of Bergen, Germany.
Other athletes, such as Silgado, Prescott, Teherán, Canchila, and Támara are still learning and have the potential to shine in the near future. Zúñiga, Miranda, Urango and Torres are experienced men who have room for improvement, but probably feel comfortable with what they already have. Miranda and Urango, for example, are net bangers. They do not bother themselves with the job or fine movements. They love that one, big punch that will smash the opponent’s jaw. At 39, lightweight Antonio Pitalúa is willing to catch his last train next April 4th in Texas when he meets undefeated knockout master Edwin Valero for the vacant WBC lightweight crown. In 2007 Monteria-born light welterweight cute contender Liliana Palmera challenged WIBA’s light welterweight queen Duda Yankovich, but failed to take the belt home. On May 9, 2009, Palmera will face beautiful Chris Namus of Montevideo, Uruguay, for the vacant WBC female light welterweight title at Palacio Peñarol in Montevideo.
More Colombian pugilists will land on European/Canadian/US/Mexican soil this year and commentators must be able to identify whether they are coming to fight for themselves or to serve as “carne de cañón” for rising stars. The fact that they arrive with impressive, somehow inflated records do not EXCLUSIVELY mean they have had poor opponents, which in general I testify is true. Cotto, Pavlik, Segura and Khan assumed just that and all of them either kissed the canvas or were severely punished. Cotto (against Torres) and Pavlik (against Zúñiga) overcame difficult situations and at the end proved how great they are, but Segura (against Canchila, first time) and Khan (against Prescott) had to eat pure leather. Therefore, next time you see “one of those Colombians coming out of nowhere,” don’t laugh. Wait a couple of rounds and then move the tongue with some precaution. After all, isn’t smarter to wait and see? Let’s us see Prescott and Canchila a couple more times and then give your judgment, a wise one.
Finally, and before closing this article, I will leave you with an open question: Are these young Colombian fighters for real? Will these kids enter the elite, become long-lasting champions, sparkle, defeat/lost to Paquiao, Márquez, Adamek, Froch, Santos, Linares, Peñalosa, Calderón and stay enough in the business to leave a legacy? If time answers this question in a positive way, we are witnessing the rebirth of Colombian boxing. Otherwise, what we see today is just a “boom.” The “boom” is good, but a “rebirth” is what boxing needs.
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