The Legend of Pajarito Moreno
His final record was an astounding 60-12-1 with 59 kayos (undoubtedly the single most telling factor in defining Ricardo’s legendary status)…
“For me the Mexican bantamweight revolution started in the fifties with Raul (Raton) Macias, Jose (Toluco) Lopez, Ricardo (Pajarito) Moreno, German Ohm and Jose Becerra. Macias, Lopez, Moreno and Becerra were national idols. The little known Ohm’s popularity was a rung below the other three, but he still had his moments.”—Dan Cuoco, President of IBRO
Early Years (1954-1956)
Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno Escamilla was a Mexican professional boxer in the super featherweight division who never fought as an amateur and turned professional at age 17. After moving to Mexico City, he worked as a parking lot attendant before becoming a boxer. He toiled in the sport from June 1954 until August 1967. Those familiar with the California and Mexican boxing landscape in particular knew who he was. But as his fame grew, fans everywhere would soon learn that he was one of the all-time great punchers. In fact, he eventually would be ranked number 76 on the Ring’s’s list of 100 All time Greatest Punchers.
Style-wise, he was a smaller version of Pipino Cuevas and was a wide open hooker with bricks in either hand, and like Cuevas he had little regard for defense. Though not as tough as Pipino, he was equally enjoyable to watch because when Pajarito fought, fireworks were always in the offing. Taking it one step further, a comparison to heavyweight bomber Bob Satterfield would not be far off the mark, though Bob did have a bit more regard for defense.
Parajito (which means Little Bird) won 19 of his first 20 fights as a pro and all of his wins came by kayo. His only loss was in his fifth pro bout in which a supposedly more experienced Nacho Escalante outpointed him in six rounds, but little information could be found about Escalante until I discovered that this was his debut outing. In reality, Moreno was the more experienced boxer. Nacho finished his career with a 33-33-2 record.
One of Moreno’s early knockouts one stood out as it came against Americo Rivera (3-7-1) who would pull off a gigantic upset against Jose “Toluco” Lopez in 1955. Toluco was another fighter of legendary stature. Rivera would also KO Otilio Galvan (93-34-4) in 1955 and then outpoint Luis Castillo (91-67-12) and Humberto Carrillo (64-15-8) so his record was misleading to say the least.
The First Test (1956)
On January 22, 1956 Pajarito was matched with another rock solid prospect, 21-year-old Memo Diez, the then-Mexican and North American Flyweight Champion. Diez had won the titles by knocking out another Memo—Memo Sanchez in 10 rounds. He also won the North American Bantamweight Title by knocking out and retiring the well-known Keeny “El Sereno” Teran in three rounds. The ranked Memo was no slouch and this fight would show just how good Moreno was; it was a test of sorts.
As a huge crowd at the El Toreo de Cuatro Caminos in Mexico City roared its approval, Diez beat the less experienced Moreno over 10 action-packed rounds although Moreno hurt Diez on several occasions but could not finish him
First Big Win (1956)
After winning two more fights, Moreno was ready for his next big test against—this time against the highly ranked Cuban national flyweight champion Oscar Suarez (45-3-3), who himself had beaten Memo Sanchez and Memo Diez, among others. Moreno delighted his Mexico City fans as he sedated Suarez in two destructive rounds. Curiously, shortly after this blowout loss, Suarez gave the great flyweight champion Pascual Perez all he could handle before succumbing in the 11th round of their title fight in 1966. Pajarito then ran off another string of kayos with the most impressive being a third round destruction of Henry “Pappy” Gault (66-18-2).
Mexican fighters now dominated The Ring’s bantamweight ratings. According to Dan Cuoco who had done a significant amount of research on the subject, the Mexican bantamweight revolution was clearly in full force. As Dan relates, “By October 18, 1956 Mexican fighters dominated five of the top ten spots in The Ring’s bantamweight ratings. Raul Macias was ranked number one, Moreno number six, Jose (Toluco) Lopez, number seven, German Ohm, number nine and Fili Nava, number ten.”
The United States
On January 29, 1957, in El Paso, Texas, Pajarito knocked out Jessie Mongia (32-8-1) in two rounds in what would be his first fight in the United States. Then on February 12, he sedated one Tommy Bain in three rounds in Hollywood; on April 1, he did the same to Tunisian bantamweight Gaetano Annaloro in San Francisco. He also had become the ninth ranked featherweight with a record of 29-2-0, with 28 kayo wins.
On May 28, 1957, another massive and enthusiastic crowd came to see the ultra-exciting 20-year-old Moreno take on 23-year-old Jose Luis Cotero (33-13-5) at Gilmore Field in Los Angeles. The atmosphere vibed electricity when both combatants entered the ring. The fight promised to be a thriller and did not disappoint. Pajarito got first blood as Cotero suffered a deep gash over his right eye and later under his chin. Referee Mushy Callahan looked to stop the fight but reluctantly, though unfortunately for the Little Bird, let it continue. This put Cotero in desperation mode and he responded by going all out with vicious volleys and finally caught Moreno with a flush shot upstairs that ended the seven rounds of extreme but thrilling violence.
Moreno bounced back six months later with a sixth round bloody stoppage of rugged and well-known Ike Chestnut at the fabled Olympic Auditorium. In still another demonstration that traditional logic does not apply to boxing, Ike’s most recent victim had been against none other than Pajarito conqueror Jose Luis Cotero. With this win, Ricardo earned a number six ranking and a title shot at the newly crowned featherweight champion Hogan “Kid” Bassey on April 1, 1958.
Bassey Fight (1958)
Moreno met the great Bassey before still another monster crowd in Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. As soon as the bell rang a wild brawl ensued, instigated by the Kid’s bull rush. Moreno quickly rattled, hurt and cut Bassey, but the slick Nigerian who possessed superb foot movement survived and quickly changed tactics, fighting more circumspectly. Soon he was controlling matters and began battering Pajarito seemingly at will with long and well-leveraged rights; one potshot after another. Finally a hard right hand caught the dazed Moreno flush on the chin and that was that. Though Moreno struggled in vain to get up, referee Tommy Hart finished the count with two seconds left in the round but he could have counted to 100. Bassey’s first title defense had been a violent one that featured non-stop aggression against a pressing and always dangerous opponent.
Later in 1958 and after two quick KO victories, Ricardo fought future champion Davey Moore in Los Angeles and was waxed in the first round, and that brutal loss essentially ended Moreno’s run as a serious title contender.
The End (1967)
In 1961, Moreno won a DQ against unknown Teddy Rand and then ran off 21 straight KO wins with the DQ being his only career victory that wasn’t a knockout. He fought on until 1967, but every time he moved up in competition, he was knocked out. It seemed his chin had a susceptibility that was in inverse proportion to the crunching power in his fists. He was KOd by Claudio Adams (44-7-6) in 1961 and finally, after suffering four out of five defeats to solid opposition including two consecutive KOs at the hands of Raul Rojas in 1967 and a KO to Silverio Ortiz in his last fight on August 13, 1967, the 30-year-old Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno Escamilla retired.
His final record was an astounding 60-12-1 with 59 kayos (undoubtedly the single most telling factor in defining Ricardo’s legendary status), but he himself was stopped nine times. As a chill-or-be-chilled type, he was one of the most exciting fighters to ever enter a boxing ring and that too contributed to the legend. However, many of his rabid, almost cult-like fans overlook the fact that on balance, Moreno’s level of opposition was not particularly compelling. Many of his early opponents were making their debut and it appears the first one with a pulse was Jorge Herrera (20-19-4) whom Moreno iced in two in 1954. Jorge’s final mark was an old-school 45-48-6.
Fall from Grace
Later, Moreno starred in two films and supposedly had a relationship with Miss Universe contestant and actress Ana Bertha Lepe and others. Reportedly, he had an unhealthy yen for alcohol and women, was duped by “movie star weasels” (are there any other kind?), and whatever wealth he had was stolen during his days with the Mexican jet set while cocaine and alcohol played a role as well. This article titled “Ricardo Pajarito Moreno, otro ídolo del boxeo que terminó en desgracia” (from LaJornada, June 26, 2008, by Carlos Hernandez and Jorge Sepulveda) details in Spanish the Little Bird’s fall from grace: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/06/26/index.php?section=deportes&article=a24n1dep
For many years it was reported that he had died in 1978 at the age of 41. But further research revealed that he was driving a cab in Mexico City and eventually died of effects brought on by alcoholism and depression at the age of 71 at a rehabilitation center in Durango. He is buried in his home town of Chalchihuites in El Panteón Dolores. This confusion in dates also added to his legendary status among aficionados. But again, it could be asked if his fans were so rabid, why did it take them so long to determine when he passed away?
And one that is not quite so flattering: