Mi Corazon: The Heart of a Latin Champion
Whatever gives a sports fan that euphoric feeling, it’s safe to say there is nothing quite like watching a Latin boxer fight…
“We get into boxing out of necessity, not because we like it.”—Julio Cesar Chavez
One can revel in the beauty of a perfect swing, an unforgettable goal, the smoothness of a jumper or the steel nerves of a Super Bowl quarterback during a last-minute comeback. Whatever gives a sports fan that euphoric feeling, it’s safe to say there is nothing quite like watching a Latin boxer fight. The style is a mixture of elegance, beauty, violence, persistence, but most of all it stems from places that most people will never ever comprehend, prompting Mexico’s former world champion Fernando Montiel to definitively say, “Boxers are forged by blows.”
Every boxer has a backstory, the exposition as to why he entered the sport. Showing an appreciation for every fighter who has stepped into the ring, Alan Swyer’s new documentary, El Boxeo, utilizes numerous voices of boxers, trainers, journalists, historians, and promoters, to not only tell their stories in each individual round, but also to pay homage to a sport that elevated some and destroyed others.
Early on, Swyer juxtaposes footage of Roberto Duran and Alexis Arguello with interviews and helps set the tone for the rest of the film. From Oscar De La Hoya to Ruben Olivares to Julio Cesar Chavez, Swyer taps into the minds of the finest Latin fighters of all time. Devoid of pretense, the fighters dissect the decisions that shaped their lives both inside and outside the ring. While Olivares educates the audience on the perfect hook to the liver inside the ring, Chavez perfectly sums up the reality of most Latin fighters outside of it when he states, “We became boxers out of necessity, not because we liked it.”
Despite the insight from the more notable fighters, it is the collective voice of everyone involved that reveals the true essence and establishes the emotional core of the sport throughout the film. Whether it is the sorrow of hearing Puerto Rican stylist Ivan Calderon lament about growing up in a foster home, or welterweight contender Victor Ortiz discussing the absence of his parents or former lightweight champ Rodolfo “El Gato” Gonzalez revealing, “It felt so bad to see my mother and father not being able to eat a meal,” each vignette provided depth to the film.
Yet, it was the lighter moments that injected life into the nearly two-hour documentary. Fueled by the energy of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, who excitedly talks about Latin fighters and their salsa dancing prowess, the director also brings the audience ringside with Argentina’s Sergio Martinez, who chronicles the Argentinean style and the gifts of Carlos Monzon. Even Sugar Ray Leonard gets into the act when he characterizes the style of the Cuban fighter as “muy bonito.” As with most conversations on the best Latin fighter of all time, the topic reverts back to Duran, when, in one of the film’s high points, Puerto Rico’s Paco Valcarcel tells an unforgettable story involving Roberto Duran and Fidel Castro.
What was a bit hard to accept was the argument that often surfaces in boxing debates that one fighter is perceived as “more Hispanic” than another boxer. If anything, this documentary refutes any testimony that suggests that the obscene measurement has any place in this sport, or any, for that matter. The issue of De La Hoya’s authenticity dominated the Crossover Appeal Round. De La Hoya openly discusses his willingness to identify as a US citizen with Mexican roots. Later, he adds, “I was the American Dream. Then when I fought the great Julio Cesar Chavez, the criticism started flying everywhere.” Conversely, it was difficult to negate what De La Hoya accomplished; talking about how fearless De La Hoya was as a fighter, matchmaker Bruce Trampler says, “He never ducked anybody.”
Even more intriguing than revisiting some of the footage and interviews with the Latin legends was the political discussion that defined Cuba Round Seven. Old footage of Che Guevara and Castro was intricately woven into this round, as interview subjects discussed the Cuban greats such as Teofilo Stevenson, Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles, Kid Chocolate, and Sugar Ramos as well as the impact of the Cold War on the sport and various elements of the Cuban amateur program. Debates raged on regarding Ali and Stevenson, and the success of the Cuban fighters who have defected over the years. In a later round, the discussion turned to the possibility of a Latin heavyweight champion.
No matter where a Latin fighter hails from, there is something uniquely different and beautiful about each one – the way he carries himself, the ring movements, the power, the courage, and the compassion that he shows for his opponents. We, as fight fans, are drawn to them.
In an article the late Jose Torres wrote for Ring Magazine on the emergence of the Hispanic fighter, he said, “First it was the Irish, then the Jewish, the Italian, the black, and, most recently, the Hispanic fighter who sought his way out of the ghetto and fought his way to fame and fortune with the only tools at his disposal, his hands.”
It was, and is, simple. Most of the men featured in the film didn’t love the sport, but they embraced it because they had to. But maybe the underlying point of the film that Swyer wanted to convey was that beneath it all, those Latin fighters made us love them and the sport. And after one hour and forty-seven minutes of going back to the glory days, that’s all that really matters.
Best Rounds: Crossover Appeal and Cuba
Best Interview Subject: Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini
Knockout Fight Footage: Mando Ramos vs. Sugar Ramos
Hits: “Obviously they had a great product to work with.”—Oscar De La Hoya referring to himself and how he was marketed.
Misses: “Oscar was never a great fighter. A great fighter is (Felix) Trinidad.”—Bob Arum
Author of Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran
Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Arguello
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran
Website: christiangiudice.com; belovedwarrior.net
Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/#!/chrisgiudice
Beloved Warrior Page: http://www.facebook.com/BelovedWarriorTheRiseAndFallOfAlexisArguello