There’s a lot at stake when Abner Mares challenges IBF bantamweight titleholder Joseph Agbeko this Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
The 25-year-old contender from Mexico is vying for his first major title as well as the prestige of winning Showtime’s bantamweight tournament with the same match.
However, more than a sanctioning organization belt and a network trophy is on the line for Mares.
The Guadalajara native who grew up in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif., is in position to one day become part of a long and proud tradition of excellent bantamweight titleholders from Mexico, many of whom made their name in the greater Los Angeles area where he was raised.
“There was a time when the Mexican bantamweights owned Los Angeles,” said veteran publicist Bill Caplan. “They fought at the Olympic [auditorium] every Thursday and at Hollywood Legion stadium on Saturday nights, where the atmosphere was incredible. That bantamweight title was the king of L.A. because there were so many good fighters in that weight class from Mexico.
“A prominent boxing manager, Nacho Huizar Sr., used to sell as much as 10,000 tickets to these fights in Tijuana and other parts of Mexico that bordered the U.S. This was back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s when it was no problem to cross over the border and Mexican fans came streaming over to support their fighters because that was important to them, and why not? Those were great fighters they were cheering for.”
Indeed, Mexico’s 118-pound champions are among the best fighters, pound for pound, that the boxing-rich country has produced.
RingTV.com co-editor Doug Fischer has compiled a list of Mexico’s best bantamweight titleholders with the help of boxing insiders who worked closely with many of the 118-pound legends. This is the first in a series of comprehensive top 10 lists of boxing's best.
NO. 10 RAUL "EL RATON" MACIAS
Record: 41-2, (25 KOs)
Background: Mexico’s first bantamweight champ (as recognized by the National Boxing Association) was one of the most talented and popular ever. Macias capped an excellent amateur career with a bronze medal win at the 1951 Pan-Am Games and a spot on Mexico’s 1952 Olympic squad.
The Mexico City native only lost twice during his stellar professional career: a third-round KO to Billy Peacock (who he had stopped in a previous bout) in ‘55 and a controversial 15-round split-decision loss to Alphonse Halimi. Macias, affectionately known as “El Raton” to his fans, packed arenas in Mexico and in California, where he won the bantamweight title with an 11th-round stoppage of Thailand’s Chamroen Songkitrat (at the Cow Palace in San Francisco) and lost it to Halimi (at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles). He remained a fan favorite and in the public eye after he retired by acting in TV novellas and training fighters.
“Macias was very handsome and very popular with both the men and with the ladies,” Caplan said. “He wasn’t a great puncher, but he was an excellent boxer and he had a crowd-pleasing style.”
Macias died in 2009 at age 74.