Saturday, November 26, 2011

Will legendary boxing rivalry ever exist in MMA?


As I watched Mexican boxing WBC super middleweight champion Saul Alvarez defend his title Saturday night against Puerto Rican former titleholder Kermit Cintron live from Mexico, one thing was clearly evident; this legendary rivalry in boxing between fighters from these two proud countries is alive and well. Nowhere will this be more evidently on display than next Saturday night when Puerto Rican WBA super middleweight champion Miguel Cotto defends his belt in a rematch against his Mexican arch nemesis Antonio Margarito.

These two bouts are just the latest in a long line of classic moments and fights between fighters from these two boxing rich Latin nations. I ought to know, as I've been a long time boxing fan who also happens to be Puerto Rican; and unless you are a fan who is either Puerto Rican or Mexican, I don't think you can truly appreciate how big this rivalry really is. It is something that goes beyond just a winner and a loser.

It all stems from pride or as we say in Spanish, "Orgullo." Sure, it is something you learn because you grow up in it, but it is also something that is embedded inside of you because of you're Hispanic heritage; I think it is a Latin trait period as you see it prominently displayed in MMA through Brazilians. To truly understand it, just consider some of my own personal experiences within this boxing rivalry.

In August 1981, Wilfredo Gomez, arguably the greatest fighter ever to be produced by Puerto Rico, took on the late great Mexican legend Salvador Sanchez in a featherweight championship at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. At the time, I was an 18 year old getting ready to start my sophomore year of college and Gomez was like a God to me. So when I saw him take a beating over eight rounds, ultimately losing by TKO, I am not ashamed to admit that tears welled up in my eyes. This may be hard to understand by some, but easy to understand by others.

Seven years later, my pride swelled again in the hopes and anticipation that another late great champion Puerto Rican Edwin Rosario would take away the pain from the Gomez loss as he took on Mexico's greatest champion ever Julio Cesar Chavez. Unfortunately though, from a personal standpoint, the result was the same as Chavez closed Rosario's left eye and forced his corner to stop the fight after ten rounds. However, it wouldn't be considered a rivalry if it were just one-sided.

Alas, in 1999 redemption came when Puerto Rico's Felix Trinidad defeated Mexican/American Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya via decision. How serious was I about that fight? Beforehand I asked my friends who I watched the fight with, who normally drink Corona beer, to drink Heinekens instead so as not to show any allegiance to Mexico in any form that day. That is how crazy this rivalry is; thus, the question is, will this legendary rivalry ever exist in MMA?

Since the sport of MMA is still in its relative infancy, just recently celebrating its 18th year of existence last week, the sport is now just expanding to include fighters from these proud ancestries. Nonetheless, there are fighters of note already in place such as Mexican former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Puerto Rican former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Yet, there aren't enough yet to establish any rivalries.

Alvarez, when he was champion, had been talked about in a proposed fight against Mexican Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and that could have been the beginning of a great one, but it never materialized. Alvarez did defend his title in October 2010 against former UFC cover boy Roger Huerta, which was really the first significant match between a Puerto Rican and Mexican in MMA, but by that time Huerta had lost his luster as a contender, thus it was nothing more that just a title defense.

However, as the sport continues to grow, more and more young fighters of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, who used to automatically turn to boxing back in the day, are now turning to MMA instead. Therefore, it's inevitable that at some point we will have a significant fight between Puerto Rico and Mexico inside a cage instead of a ring; quite possibly Alvarez vs. Melendez one day soon. Yet, till then the question remains, will this legendary boxing rivalry ever exist in MMA?

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