Why Does No One Remember Joe Kapp, the NFL’s First Mexican-American Super Bowl Quarterback?

Originally published on Remezcla.com

With apologies to Tony RomoJim Plunkett is the most successful Latino quarterback of all time. Plunkett, a Mexican-American from San Jose, won college football’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy, while at Stanford and then, while coached by Tom Flores (another Mexican-American), Plunkett won two Super Bowls with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders (the team moved in 1982). However, a decade before Plunkett and Flores won their first Super Bowl in 1980, there was another Mexican-American quarterback who guided the Minnesota Vikings to a Super Bowl: Joe Kapp.

Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to a Mexican-American mother and a father of German heritage, Kapp explained that while his father was blonde and blue-eyed, the unique Nuevo Mexicano culture made it so that “in northern New Mexico, everyone spoke Spanish. [My father] spoke Spanish better than he spoke English…he spoke street Spanish fluently.” From New Mexico, the Kapp family moved to Salinas, California, living in housing projects with lettuce pickers.

Kapp learned to play football on those lettuce fields, and it was also in those housing projects where Kapp developed a toughness that defined the rest of his life. “If a kid didn’t have machismo in the…neighborhoods…where I grew up, he had it tough,” Kapp explained. “Sometimes the Mexicans would fight the Anglos; sometimes it would be the Mexican and the blacks from Pacoima. They had gang fights going all the time and even an occasional shoot-out or knifing.”

Kapp’s athletic talents led him to the University of California in Berkeley where, besides playing on the basketball team, he quarterbacked the team to a Rose Bowl appearance. After college, in 1959, the NFL’s Washington team drafted him in the 18thround but never contacted him. Thus, Kapp signed a contract to play in the Canadian Football League where he remained for 8 seasons before reaching the NFL.

Growing up in an environment that, above all else, valued toughness, influenced how Kapp played quarterback. He was a barroom brawler, someone who even started fights with teammates. The first fight occurred while playing in Canada; it left him with a scar across the jaw, courtesy of a bottle broken and raked across his face. The gash required 100 stitches and came within a half-inch of severing his jugular. Kapp never pressed charges since, as he explained, “we were teammates and we’d both been drinking, and it was one of those things.” Similarly, in his first year in the NFL—in 1967 as a 29-year-old, third string rookie quarterback—Kapp fought a Viking defensive teammate after each refused to let the other take blame for a loss. As they drank tequila and expressed that blame should fall on them, the disagreement escalated to a fist fight.

Kapp built a reputation based on toughness, and as a player that didn’t allow others to intimidate him.  In football—a sport that values toughness above all—Kapp earned a respect that overcame his actual ability. Further, as a Mexican-American, Kapp served as a uniting force between white and black players. “[When] I got to the team,” Kapp recalled, “there were some parties going on with the Wall Street gang over here and maybe some over here with the black guys…I said, ‘hey man, why don’t we have a party together, you know, I’m a Mexican…I get invited to both, why don’t we all have a party.’” Despite being the team’s unquestioned leader, as a quarterback Kapp was anything but graceful. Still, his play was affective enough to lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl IV appearance.

Leading up the game—where the Vikings were 13 point favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs—newspapers across the country mentioned his unconventional talent. The Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph called him, “Minnesota’s ugly duckling quarterback,” while South Dakota’s The Daily Republic noted that the “mighty Mexican” was an “anti-hero.” Rochester, New York’s Democrat and Chroniclestated “Kapp has been labeled half-passer, half-Mexican and half-collision.” When a reporter told Kapp he didn’t have the classic passing style since his passes wobbled rather than spiraled, he responded, “So I’m not a classic passer. Classics are for Greeks. I’m a winner.”

His ability, or inability, to throw the ball, even led a few reporters to theorize the reason he didn’t throw a perfect spiral was because Kapp did not use the football’s laces. And in their minds, the reason for this was because Kapp learned to pass by “heaving lettuce heads in Salinas, and there are no laces on lettuce.” (Surprisingly for a quarterback who lacked natural throwing ability, Kapp is tied for the record of most touchdown passes in a game with 7.) He is also the only quarterback to have played in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl, and the Grey Cup—the Canadian Football League’s championship—though he lost two out of the three, including the Super Bowl.

In one of the Super Bowl’s biggest upsets ever, the Chiefs beat the Vikings by the score of 23 to 7. The loss included Kapp getting knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. “Do you know what happens when you lose the Super Bowl?” Kapp asked rhetorically. “The world ends. It just stops. There’s been all this build up, all these bruising games, all this study and preparation and strain, and then it ends. There’s not even a fanfare.”

After the Super Bowl loss, Kapp never played with the Minnesota Vikings again. He didn’t show up for the 1970 training camp, despite being on the Sports Illustrated cover which read, “The Toughest Chicano: Viking Quarterback Joe Kapp.” Kapp and Vikings management disagreed on how much he was worth. The team offered him a 3-year contract at $100,000 per season, Kapp asked for $1.25 million over 5 years. Kapp would eventually end up on the New England Patriots before sitting out the 1971 season, again, to protest his contract. In March of 1972, Kapp filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, arguing the league’s “standard contract[s] restricted his freedom in the pro football marketplace.” Kapp became a pioneer in the player’s fight towards free agency.

As most who played close to a half-century ago, Kapp’s name gets increasingly lost in the shuffle. When remembered, it’s usually for negative reasons. Devoid of context, his overall statistics seem mediocre. In fact, before Super Bowl XLVII, Complex compiled a list of the 15 worst quarterbacks to play for the NFL’s championship; they listed Joe Kapp as the worst. His name also gets mentioned when discussing the long-term health effects of football.

Few, if any, get out of playing professional football without long-lasting effects. This was especially the case with Kapp, who played in a different era of football—and society—where there was an added value to toughness; or, in his world, machismo. Recently, he’s been public about his struggles with Alzheimer’s and other symptoms associated with CTE.

Kapp—a litigant in former player’s lawsuit against the NFL that claims the league withheld and downplayed the effects of concussions—will donate his brain to research after his death. But even at his advanced age and declining mental health, Kapp’s personality and toughness remain. At 73-years-old, Kapp got into a fistfight and knocked down a former opponent while on stage at a banquet honoring them. He has also spoken of writing an autobiography; one title he’s contemplated is Fuck You.

Joe Kapp played only 4 seasons in the NFL. He is not as deserving of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as Jim Plunkett or Tom Flores are—who remain outside of serious consideration despite their clear qualifications—but Kapp was a pioneer. Long before the NFL celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and before built themselves a Hispanic fan base in the tens of millions, Joe Kapp became the first Latino quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl, and perhaps more importantly, he help spark the fight against the NFL’s ever-present control of players.

The Forgotten History of “Lou” Castro, the First Latino Player During MLB’s Segregated Era

Originally published on Remezcla.com

Circumstance played a vital role in offering the first Latino an opportunity in professional, modern baseball. On the first day of the 20th century, a Washington D.C. newspaper, the Evening Star, ran the following headline headline: “On the Warpath: American League Declares Hostilities on the National Organization.” The article stated that baseball’s newly named American League sought to compete with the established National League by breaking the sport’s first national agreement and “[deciding] to declare war” on them. The national agreement was a pact between rival baseball leagues calling for the mutual respect of each league’s players and their contracts. When the upstart American League refused to honor and respect the National League’s contracts with their players, and labeled themselves as a professional rather than a minor league, they signed away some of the rival league’s best players by luring them away with higher pay. The most impactful signee was Nap Lajoie who besides being part of the second class inaugurated into Baseball Hall of Fame (behind baseball immortals like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner), he was also the “first superstar in American League history.”

Lajoie switched teams within the same city, going from the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies to its American League counterpart, the Philadelphia Athletics. The National League did not stand idle as the American League signed away their best player. Instead, they took their fight to the courtrooms and before the start of the 1902 season, the Phillies owner sued to regain Lajoie’s services. After several appeals, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled Lajoie’s contract was only effective in the state, meaning that within Pennsylvania, he must either play for the Phillies or no one else. The American League’s executives, intent on keeping its most important player, convinced the Athletics management to trade Lajoie to Cleveland. The American League kept Lajoie but the Philadelphia Athletics lost their second baseman. This is how Luis Manuel Castro came to play for the Athletics.

In 1902, Castro became the first Latino player in baseball’s modern era, and the first to play in what is now Major League Baseball. Born to a wealthy family in 1876 in Medellin, Colombia, Castro and his family moved to the United States due to their home country’s political instability. Castro was 8 years old when he arrived in the United States by boat and settled in New York. He started playing baseball at 17 years old, and was a member of the Manhattan College team, followed by various stops across multiple minor league teams. One the eve of the 1902 season, the Philadelphia Athletics and their legendary manager Connie Mack offered Castro a try-out and eventually signed him to help with Lajoie’s departure.

Despite Castro’s inability to replace Lajoie’s productivity—few in baseball history could—he still contributed to the Athletics winning the 1902 American League pennant. For a player that only played less than half the season, Castro’s likeability earned him an opportunity to make a speech and celebrate at the team’s year-end banquet. There, Castro gave an acceptance speech on behalf of the players before management gave them a watch with a “gold insignia of a [baseball] diamond and bats crossed.”  As part of the festivities, Castro even sang in Spanish.

Castro’s short Major League career—only lasting 42 games in the 1902 season where he batted for a .245 average—may contribute to him not being viewed with the same reverence as another pioneer: Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color line in 1947. While Robinson was a Hall of Fame-caliber player, and Castro was clearly not, there are other reasons for the latter not receiving the same credit as his fellow trailblazer.

There is a mystery clouding Luis Manuel Castro’s history. Some baseball historians have called Castro, “the last, great untold story of baseball,” while othershave even questioned Castro’s status as a baseball pioneer since he, later in life, listed New York City as his birthplace. Various accounts also list Castro by different names. In fact, newspapers rarely used his birth name, “Luis,” and he’s instead referred to by the Anglo version, Louis and the shortened Lou. Years later, while filling paperwork for United States citizenship, Castro filled out the application as “Louis Michael Castro.” In other cases, his nicknames (JudgeJuddJud, and Count) identify Castro without ever using his given name. In his later playing days, teammates even called Castro, the “President of Venezuela”—noting his relationship with Venezuelan President Cipriano Castro. Whether he was the president’s nephew is also unknown, as he claimed a familial relationship but, at other times, also denied one, possibly influenced by Cipriano Castro increasingly becoming dictatorial while president of Venezuela.

Besides possibly being a relative of the Venezuelan President, all the uncertainty involving Castro points to a bigger problem within baseball: their strict desire to keep the color barrier that resulted in contradictory application for Latinos. The result of baseball’s segregationist policies was Latinos straddling baseball’s color line.

Following the American Civil War, African-Americans played on white baseball teams. It wasn’t until 1890 that the so-called “gentleman’s agreement” between owners barred black players from baseball’s white professional and minor leagues. Influenced by Jim Crow laws, the one-drop ruledetermined who was black. But as Latinos’ position within the United States’s white-black racial spectrum has long been unclear, owners determined their place along the racial hierarchy of baseball on a case-by-case basis. In short, baseball allowed Latinos to play baseball not strictly based on their ability to pass for white, but more so on them not being confused with being black. As Adrian Burgos Jr., writes in Playing America’s Gameteam officials “possessed the power to construct whatever racial categories they deemed necessary to distinguish between blacks and other nonwhites while still maintaining a color line that excluded [African-Americans].”

Castro fit the criteria of Latinos allowed to play. He was comparatively light-skinned and came from his country’s elite; most Latinos that played baseball during that time hailed from the upper-class, learning the sport in United States schools. That narrative also fits into the history of using baseball as a civilizing sport. Newspapers often emphasized Castro’s European roots, noting he was of “Spanish descent.” Therefore, by changing his name to whatever variation or nickname he used, Castro could play without threatening the sport’s color line. Conversely, the same choice was not available to Afro-Latinos, and those who wanted to play professionally had to join the Negro Leagues, where they made up “about 10 to 15 percent” of the rosters. Similarly, African-American players banned from professional baseball in the United States found employment in the integrated Latin American leagues across the Caribbean and Mexico.

Being that Castro wasn’t considered black, he likely didn’t face the same harassment as Jackie Robinson and even Minnie Miñoso; a Cuban baseball player who in 1951 became the first Afro-Latino to play in the integrated major leagues. And yet, to a certain extent, whether they intended to or not, Castro and other Latinos that played during baseball’s segregated era helped integrate the sport. Players like Castro—and many Native Americans who also have a rich baseball history and like Latinos, did not easily fit a racial category—may not have broken the color line, but they certainly bent it.

After Castro’s baseball playing career ended, he became the first Latino to “manage a club in Organized Baseball.” Incidentally, at the start of the 2017 season, a year after Adrián González began a push to reclaim part of the Latino identity by including accents on last names, there was only one Latino manager (Rick Renteria with the Chicago White Sox) and one Latino general manager (Al Avila with the Detroit Tigers). While Latinos make up nearly 32% of Major League rosters, they only account for 0.03% of all managerial positions—a problem that for yearsmanyincluding baseball’s commissionerhave noted  but one that continues nonetheless. It also lends credence to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones’s assessment that “baseball is a white man’s sport.”

Jones’s claim comes 115 years after players like Luis Manuel Castro—who died, broke, while in a psychiatric center in 1941, at the age of 64—essentially had to downplay their heritage to fit into a sport that wasn’t ready or willing to accept someone who didn’t pass for “white.”


Canelo Álvarez Played Russian Roulette and Survived

Originally published on Remezcla.com

Gennady Golovkin entered the ring first. He appeared nervous and pensive — his years-long quest to fight the best available opponent had reached its culmination. Among this era’s most avoided boxers, Golovkin had finally found his match in Mexican star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez.

Álvarez, by contrast, looked calm; an emotion lending credence to the “No Boxing No Life” tattoo on his left bicep. For all the criticisms levied against him, no one can say Álvarez fights unprepared, either physically or mentally. Walking toward the ring to the sounds of thousands singing along to “Mexican Lindo y Querido,” Álvarez looked as if, without knowing it until then, he had devoted his entire life to defeating Golovkin—a man who likens himself to a shark in the ocean; both feeling at home and instinctively knowing just what to do.

But in the few first rounds, Golovkin was anything but a predator overpowering his prey. He mostly jabbed, cautiously stalking Álvarez, and in doing so, showed his opponent a respect he hadn’t given to earlier victims. Leading up to the fight, Golovkin warned Álvarez, “there are no survivors in my fights.” The boxers he’d demolished were never the same after losing to the Kazakhstani. But Álvarez was different. And so, Golovkin did not entirely abandon caution as he usually does, instead, measuring his aggression out of fear he’d be counter-punched. Álvarez’s true skills are defensive; they allowed him to slip and pivot away from several of Golovkin’s punches. It is from his defense that Álvarez makes his opponents miss, forcing them into small, split-second openings he exploits—this is what Golovkin guarded against. And as the third round ended, Golovkin fought on Álvarez’s terms; a boxing match based on patience and intelligence. Golovkin wanted and needed a fight rooted in sheer violence.

During moments in the middle rounds, Golovkin and Álvarez each showed what they did best. Golovkin attacked and a few times landed massive power punches. Álvarez absorbed those punches—the same ones that led Golovkin to the highest knockout percentage in the division’s history—and countered with uppercuts, body shots, and hooks that turned Golovkin’s head. At the end of the 7th round, with many of the earlier rounds having an unclear winner, Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez told his fighter to listen for a signal coming from his corner, indicating only 30 seconds remained in the round. The strategy is old and common in boxing, clearly designed to steal rounds. Calling for a fighter to increase their offensive production in the last half-minute of each closely contested round gives judges the impression they did more than their opponent. As the middle rounds ended, Golovkin had turned the fight in his favor, but he also appeared tired, fighting with his mouth open and gasping deeply for air between rounds.

Before the 10th round, as it seemed Golovkin was dominating and about to put the fight out of reach, Álvarez’s trainer Eddie Reynoso told his fighter, “these are for all your life, son. Three more perfect rounds, son. Speed, move with defense, stop him with your left, and don’t stay on the ropes, especially with your hands low.” Álvarez, doing as told, increased his punch output but despite landing impressive punches, couldn’t keep Golovkin from coming forward. Golovkin is a suffocating fighter, cutting off the ring expertly so that no matter which way his opponent moves, he is inescapable. At times, absorbing punches from Álvarez that would have felled any other boxer, Golovkin appeared unbeatable, almost inhuman. And yet, Álvarez managed to win back a few rounds, though the knockout he sought eluded him. When the bell rang at the end of the 12th round, both fighters raised their hands, each assured they’d won.

The announcer read the scorecards, the first from Adalaide Byrd who scored the fight a ridiculous 118-110 for Álvarez. A visibly bruised Golovkin stoically listened to a score that awarded him just two rounds despite his long stretches of dominance in the ring. The second judge scored it a close but defensible 115-113 for Golovkin. The final judge scored the fight even at 114-114 which resulted in a split decision. Officially, no one won though at the end; the crowd cheered for Golovkin and booed Álvarez.

The decision was not a complete robbery, more like a gentle taking of something that likely belonged to Golovkin. But although the draw blemished his perfect record, Golovkin retained his titles. It was more damaging, at least in terms of perception, for Álvarez. Golovkin becomes the fourth fight—at least—where judges have given Álvarez the benefit of doubt in every close round and saved him from a loss (Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, and Miguel Cotto were the previous three). The draw also continues to feed into the ever-growing perception that Álvarez is a protected fighter, which sadly, diminishes the credit he should receive.

Álvarez, like no other boxer before him, neutralized most of Golovkin’s advantages. “We found out that [Golovkin] isn’t the monster they said he is,” said Álvarez after the fight. At times, Álvarez willfully leaned his back against the ropes, tempting Golovkin into throwing punches. At other times – because Álvarez is a defensive boxer whose style is closer to Floyd Mayweather Jr. than Julio César Chávez – he backpedaled and moved away from Golovkin. Many, including the obviously biased Abel Sanchez, claimed Álvarez ran.

After the fight, Álvarez said he won 7 or 8 rounds—he did not. Golovkin said he won and the result would have been conclusive had Álvarez engaged in a fight against him—but why would Álvarez do that to ease his own beating?

Álvarez did not win but for one night, against a boxer who’d been called a “killing machine” and a “young middleweight Mike Tyson,” he played Russian roulette and survived a fight that lived up to the hype.



Who is Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez

Originally published on Deadspin.com

Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez may be the world’s most popular boxer, and yet he has a problem: He lacks credibility among the sport’s largest fan bases, Mexicans and, increasingly, Mexican-Americans. Questions about Álvarez’s boxing skill extend beyond these two groups, but since he is Mexican, attempting to understand why he lacks credibility must start here, among his fellow countrymen and those with whom he shares a heritage.

As the best boxer from a country obsessed with the sport, Álvarez should not lack for credibility. There was a time when fans would have lauded a boxer of Álvarez’s accomplishments, when he may even have amassed a cult-like following. With a good part of his it remaining, though, it seems Álvarez will go through his career without the respect given to past Mexican champions. He will not be shown the same reverence Julio César Chávez was; his technique will not be viewed with the same appreciation as that of El Finito López; and fans won’t romanticize him as with Salvador Sánchez who died tragically, aged 23, in a car accident. Nor will they, I suspect, remember Álvarez as fondly as Mantequilla Nápoles, who, though born in Cuba, became a Mexican citizen and so ingrained in the country’s culture that he even starred alongside the iconic luchador, El Santo, in the movie Santo y Mantequilla Napoles en la Venganza de la Llorona. Among near-contemporaries, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Márquez, or Érik Morales will all be better respected than Álvarez.

Instead, Álvarez will have a divided legacy. There will be those who see him as a genuine talent continuing the proud Mexican boxing tradition, and those who see him as a fraud, created by Televisa and propped up and protected by Oscar De La Hoya. The latter opinion is influenced by more than watching him fight, and has largely to do with Álvarez’s continual presence in Mexican tabloids. We also cannot discount Álvarez’s close association with De La Hoya, who has his own complicated history with Mexican and Mexican-American fans and has used his own career to guide his protégé’s—a model emphasizing mass appeal by attracting casual boxing fans.

On Saturday, Álvarez will face Gennady Golovkin, his toughest opponent and one of the latest reasons why his credibility is questioned. Alhough not quite Mexico’s Great Usurper, Golovkin, for a fighter from Kazakhstan, has attracted a surprising amount of Mexican and Mexican-American fans, marketing himself as a “Mexican style” fighter whose ringwork is based on “attacking instinct and body punching.” In contemporary times the style has been associated with Julio César Chávez, and it was taught to Golovkin by Abel Sanchez—his Mexican-American trainer, who has contributed to questions over Álvarez’s boxing credibility. At one point, when it appeared the fight would never happen, Sanchez said Álvarez had to face Golovkin “or he is not Mexican.”

This growing divide between Álvarez, and the Mexican and Mexican-American fan base is not new. But it is also not as simple as some claim. “You have two types of different Mexican fans,” Ernesto Amador, commentator for Univision Sports, told the New York Times. (Univision is the parent company of Deadspin.) “Those who live in the United States know their stuff and appreciate the efforts. He is an idol. But in Mexico, his critics know nothing about boxing. They drink two beers and think they are experts.” This assessment oversimplifies the problem, simultaneously turning Álvarez into a Mexican-American boxing idol and ignoring Mexico’s rigid class hierarchy—a historical problem that makes Álvarez a 21st-century conundrum borne out of centuries of bullshit. It is this class divide—which is complicated, even contradictory, in its application—which influences how we see Álvarez.

At just 27 years old, Álvarez is entering the prime of his career, making this the halfway point of a still evolving story; an intermission recap of who should be Mexico’s next great boxer—and may well be—but one who has yet to inspire the same devotion usually accompanying that unofficial title. Álvarez is the first Mexican boxing superstar of a new era, where instead of knowing just about his boxing and filling in the rest, the public knows too much about the rest and allows it to influence how he’s viewed inside the ring. He is also the first Mexican boxing superstar to belong just as much, if not more, to the United States—an export built for popular consumption and one that, detractors say, lacks substance.

In an intimate, dark arena where only the ring stood illuminated—the type that in both geography and importance stands thousands of miles away from the glamorous side of boxing—Canelo Álvarez began his professional boxing career. It was the kind of place where a sober, introspective mind might wander and begin understanding criticisms made against the sport. A quiet, inner question of “Maybe boxing is human cockfighting” could be made louder by thinking about Álvarez following a long history of Mexican boxers by beginning his career at an obscenely young age. While he was not as young as Alberto “Baby” Arizmendi, whose career began at 13, this was also not the 1920s. It was 2005 and Álvarez, fighting grown men, was 15.

In Mexico, where one may box to escape more so than for sport, fighting as an amateur for too long is counterproductive. The point is to make money first; if one has the appetite and toughness to learn on the job, then technique comes. Álvarez was no different. Thus, he threw wide, looping punches. His defensive posture was more instinctual than practical. And yet, despite it being his first professional bout, there was a fluidity to his fighting, a natural result of learning how to defend himself long before he ever entered a ring.

Álvarez’s red hair and freckled skin had inspired his peers to label him with feminine, unflattering nicknames like “Canela” or “Canelita.” Álvarez fought back, maybe inspired by his older brother, Rigoberto, who was the first Álvarez family member to box. While neither red-haired nor freckled, Rigoberto, like the other Álvarezes, is fair-skinned, so much so that during his fighting days, his nickname was “El Español”—the Spaniard, a nickname whose history in Mexico can be villainous and with a specific class connotation.

In 1519, when Hernán Cortés led a successful Spanish expedition into New Spain—what later became Mexico—there was a clear class divide, with the Spanish on top. And while there was a hierarchy among indigenous people, with those who helped the Spanish overthrow the Aztecs near the top, Spaniards controlled the important aspects of society. The class divide became forever muddied when Cortés’ translator, Malintzin, called Doña Marina by the Spanish, birthed their child. Mexicans call her La Malinche or La Chingada—the fucked one—noting her role as a violated woman. From this dual betrayal comes the birth of Mexicans. We are all children of the fucked one.

As Octavio Paz argued, the phrase “Hijos de la Chingada” serves multiple purposes in everyday Mexican life. It acts as a curse and sorrowful acknowledgment of the past when said in anger; when yelled in joyful enthusiasm, it becomes a cry toward uniting all birthed by the violated Eve. In New Spain, the Hijos de la Chingada fell within the class hierarchy, sometimes higher than others, but always beneath the Spanish.

Despite the history informing the “El Español” nickname, the Álvarezes were anything but high-class. Had this been centuries before, their light skin would have given them an even higher level of class than it does now. Perhaps, if able to fake a Spanish accent—replacing the “ess” sound in the with a “thh”—few would question them had they claimed birth on the Iberian Peninsula. But this was a different time, and under the current societal hierarchy, the Álvarezes were paleteros.

Paletero essentially means an ice cream man, which is the Álvarez family business. But a paletero is more than that, and no English word can capture the entirety of what the Spanish word connotes. Lost in translation is the low social class implied with paletero. It is a word evoked as an extreme example a parent may use to make a point or offer a warning to their child. “Has caso en la escuela o serás paletero”—pay attention in school, or you will end up as a paletero.

Álvarez won his first fight along with the many more that followed. As he did, the nickname that once infuriated him, became cheers of adoration but this time, said in the masculine form. And where he boxed, chants of “Ca-ne-lo! Ca-ne-lo!” accompanied him. By 2008, he signed a four-year deal with promoting company, All Star Boxing. The following year, just four years into his career, Álvarez signed with Televisa, the largest media company, not just in Mexico, but across all the Spanish-speaking world. Among the things Televisa produces and exports are novelas—Mexican soap operas—where the rag to riches storyline is among the most common.

For better and worse, signing with Televisa became a turning point in how people perceived him. But for the time being, Álvarez—the youngest son of the paletero from a nowhere townwas doing the improbable, almost impossible: skyrocketing through Mexico’s rigid class structure and on the verge of becoming a household name across Mexico.

To say Televisa is state-influenced media would be an understatement. The PRI is a political party, born out of Mexico’s revolution, that increasingly turned conservative and corrupt as it maintained power for over 70 years, until the 2000 elections. Televisa, in turn, depended on the PRI for its licensing and infrastructure development. Further, the Azcárraga family that controlled Televisa were unabashed members of the PRI.

“We’re from the PRI, we’re members of the PRI,” said Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, the company’s chairman of the board. “[W]e don’t believe in any other party. And as members of our party, we will do everything possible to make sure our candidate wins.” With this mindset, Televisa and the PRI became intertwined, with the former projecting the latter’s ideas, ignoring their political opponents, and providing them with favorable news coverage along with attempting to spin their failures. This became clear during the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre that occurred days before Mexico hosted the summer Olympics.

On October 2nd, students and others protesters demonstrated against the government’s corruption and authoritarian measures. They also argued the money spent on the Olympics should have been spent elsewhere—on infrastructure, housing, or education. The protesters gathered in Tlatelolco at the La Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The plaza reflects three cultures and periods of Mexican history, containing the remains of an Aztec temple, a church built by the Spanish intended to replace Aztec temples, and a large housing complex built by the Mexican government that replaced Spanish rule. With opening ceremonies 10 days away, police and military attacked the protesters—opening fire from helicopters and nearby buildings. Televisa defended the government’s actions and since the government had no interest in investigating a massacre they authorized, the exact number of deaths is unknown. Some estimates claim the number as high as 3,000.

Allegedly, hours after the massacre, Jacobo Zabludovsky, opened his news program by saying, “Hoy fue un día soleado”—today was a sunny day. Zabludovsky was Televisa’s main newscaster and the default figurehead for what they symbolized. He is Mexico’s version Walter Cronkite, without the credibility. Zabludovsky is so reviled he even inspired a song from Mexican rap/rock band Molotov called “Que no te haga bobo Jacobo”—don’t let Jacobo bullshit you. Few in Mexico deny the connection between Televisa and the PRI. It remains the most powerful media company in Mexico, but it has also become common knowledge that it is bullshit, just one of the many things in Mexico one knows of and must maneuver through.

This is the history that came with Álvarez’s four-year contract with Televisa. A contract that paid him 250,000 pesos per month (equivalent to $19,230 in 2009 when the peso hovered around 13 per US dollar). Besides having exclusive Mexican television rights to his fights, Televisa could also feature Álvarez on their contest shows and novelas. The deal was also Televisa’s attempt to stay relevant in Mexican boxing. Its main competitor, TV Azteca, owned the rights to televise Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s fights—a boxer who advertisers and television saw as more marketable than Álvarez, due to his being the son of the boxing national hero.

Rafael Mendonza, who represented Álvarez during his early career, explained what was at stake for the two television rivals. “If Canelo loses Televisa loses, their [boxing] business is over and TV Azteca wins; but if Julio Cesar Chavez loses TV Azteca loses and Televisa wins.”

With their history and all Televisa stood to gain, or lose, those who saw each one of his heavily promoted fights questioned Álvarez’s credibility. There was an assumption that Álvarez was nothing more than a product, formed and pushed by Televisa. In the eyes of many, Álvarez was a made-up fighter, created for the masses—a light-skinned protagonist, in the same way the leading roles in novelas go to those with “European” features. Here, the blonde and light-eyed leading actor became a redhead. Álvarez had become famous. People across the country knew his name but didn’t know if, as a boxer, he was any good or worth the hype.

In the years after his Televisa contract, Álvarez increasingly found himself in legal disputes and tabloid fodder that further turned public opinion. The first of them began when he signed with Golden Boy Promotions in January 2010. “I really think today is a historical day for Golden Boy,” said Oscar De La Hoya, owner of Golden Boy Promotions. “We believe Saúl is going to be a star. He’s already a big attraction … in Mexico and we’re going to do everything we can to help him become a champion and a star in the United States.” Álvarez was just excited, stating that working with Golden Boy promised to help him reach his full potential as a fighter and extend his success into the United States.

Everyone appeared joyful except for All Star Boxing, Álvarez’s former promoter, which claimed to still have the Mexican star under contract. All Star Boxing offered to settle with Golden Boy Promotions for $5 million but believing it an attempt to extort them, De La Hoya’s company refused. All Star Boxing filled a law suit against Álvarez and Golden Boy Promotions in 2011.

That same year, Álvarez was back in the news for his conduct outside of the ring. Archie Solís—a flyweight boxing champion at the time—claimed that on an October morning, while doing his roadwork, Álvarez attacked him. “I was about to finish my route,” Solís recounted. “[Álvarez] called me, he threw me and began yelling, ‘Why are you with my woman?’… I don’t even know her.” Solís suffered two breaks on his jaw along with the loss of several teeth. Due the injuries and the multiple surgeries that followed, Solís couldn’t box which led to IBF stripping his title due to inactivity. Solís also claimed people associated with Álvarez threatened him and his family’s life, even warning they would decapitate them. Solís sued Álvarez for $9 million.

Two years later, in 2013, former lightweight titleholder Javier Jauregui died. Jauregui was the type of champion that gets lost in the sport’s spectacle. For every Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez that gets backed by multibillion dollarcorporations, there are countless Javier Jaureguis. They are the boxers whose career earnings will only be a fraction of what Álvarez makes in endorsements—who, when betrayed by age, arrivesat the realization they can’t afford to stop doing one of the few things they know how to do. So, they must sell their services as a sparring partner to let others practice technique on their body. Jauregui, at 40 years old when he died, was Álvarez’s sparring partner.

According to TV y Novelas, who claimed to have spoken with someone inside the camp, Jauregui’s death came from a sustained barrage of punches during a training session—essentially, they said, Álvarez beat his sparring partner to death. Álvarez and his camp vehemently denied the accusation and wanted Televisa, which owns the magazine, to condemn the accusations. When this did not happen, Álvarez ended their business partnership. His handlers claimed they had no long-term contract with the television company and were free to negotiate others, including TV Azteca.

Álvarez and Televisa made amends. “Yes, the thing with the magazine happened,” Álvarez’s manager said, explaining the reconciliation, “but like we say, ‘talking is how people understand each other’ and we came to an agreement, we will continue to hold events on Televisa through Canelo Promotions.”

All’s well that ends well for those who have it all. And in Mexico, as with other countries, often those who have it all are aprovechados.

An aprovechado is a disparaging term. It roughly translates to a person who takes all possible advantages for themselves, even unfair and unnecessary ones. An aprovechado is a bully that takes from everyone else, even when they don’t need to and usually done at the expense of those with far less. Few like or root for aprovechados since they have few scruples and think foremost of their own interest.

Hernán Cortés was an aprovechado; the United States have historically been aprovechados in their dealings with Mexico and Latin America as a whole; the PRI—and most other Mexican political parties, including drug cartels—are aprovechados, as are those who run Televisa. If what All Star Boxing, Solís, and TV y Novelas say about Álvarez is true, then he, too would be an aprovechado. In Solís’s case, it would mean that Álvarez sucker-punched a man he outweighs by about 50 pounds. Critics who rightfully claim Álvarez often fights opponents out of their weight limit, may see the accusation as fitting.

In 2015, a Miami jury ruled that Golden Boy Promotions owed nothing to All Star Boxing. They also ruled that Álvarez owed his former promoter $8.5 million. That same year, Álvarez and Solís reached an out-of-court settlement.

In the winter of 1963, Mexico City hosted a boxing convention. Representatives from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States attended, intent on reforming and unifying boxing across the globe. The convention culminated with the creation of the World Boxing Council—the first global boxing sanctioning body. Though 11 countries officially founded it, the WBC’s main founders were Mexican, and the organization very much remains associated with that country, where it yields a large amount of influence. Unsurprisingly, as PRI’s vast influence extended beyond media, one of the driving influences behind creating a boxing organization was Adolfo López Mateos, the Mexican president who portrayed himself as a sportsman. López Mateos also began the tradition of presidents meeting publicly with boxers.

Since its founding, the WBC has found itself embroiled in allegations of corruption—ironic, since one reason given for its creation was to protect Mexican boxers from being exploited in the United States. Other allegationsagainst the WBC and José Sulaimán—its president for close to 40 years—include nepotism, favoritism, and overall incompetence. Álvarez was among the fighters who enjoyed this alleged favoritism—at least for a time.

In a remarkable television show, broadcast on Televisa and set up as a court hearing debating Álvarez’s merits, Juan Manuel Márquez and his legendary trainer, Nacho Beristáin, questioned why the WBC not only ranked Álvarez so high but also placed him against inferior opponents. Incredibly, Sulaimán responded by calling Márquez “jealous” and “envious” before all but admitting ticket sales and television ratings—essentially popularity—justified Álvarez’s ranking. Before the television show ended, Álvarez challenged Márquez to a fight and thanked “Don José” for the confidence he had shown in him.

Sulaimán died in 2014. One obituary, noting the power he wielded, described him as “respected, feared and hated in just about equal measure.” A month after his death, the WBC unanimously elected his son, Mauricio Sulaimán, to succeed his father as president of the organization. With the younger Sulaimán leading it, the relationship between the organization and Álvarez appeared as strong as ever. In keeping with their history of creating belts, including for last month’s Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, the WBC even presented Álvarez with an honorary Diamond belt. Then things fell apart.

The problems began after Álvarez defeated Amir Khan—another opponent fighting out of his weight limit. After the fight, in which Álvarez said in his animated post-fight interview he’d fight Golovkin immediately since he didn’t “fuck around,” Sulaimán and the WBC gave him a 15-day deadline to make that fight. Álvarez, who had to be in Miami to defend himself in the lawsuit brought by All Star Boxing, said he refused to let an “artificial deadline” pressure him into a decision. So instead of agreeing to fight Golovkin, Álvarez vacated the title. The WBC immediately recognized Golovkin as their undisputed “middleweight champion of the world.”

Without throwing a single punch, Golovkin became the WBC’s champion while the relationship between the organization and Álvarez disintegrated. Álvarez claims the WBC made it appear as if he was afraid of Golovkin.

The WBC, possibly recognizing it may have overplayed its hand by alienating the most powerful boxer in Mexico, and maybe even the world, has attempted to remain a part of Álvarez’s career. Earlier this year when he faced Julio César Chávez Jr., the WBC created a belt for the non-title fight—they named it the Adolfo López Mateos Huichol belt.

The Huichol—or Wixarika, in their own language—are an indigenous group within Mexico that and were among the most resilient against Spain’s incursions, including Catholicism. They used rebellions as part of this resistance to keep their culture and customs alive. Today, one thing the Huichol are known for is their colorful art, which made for a beautiful, albeit fake, WBC belt, which Álvarez immediately rejected.

Explaining his decision to not accept the belt, Álvarez stated, “[Sulaimán], on his own, began the Huichol belt. And in my mind, I thought, I knew that he was going to say, ‘He does not want a belt made by Mexicans.’ That is exactly what happened.” Álvarez went on to state that as he highly respects the Huichol, his decision to not accept the belt had nothing to do with them, as Sulaimán insinuated. Rather, his decision came from being against the WBC. “[Sulaimán] made it seem like I was the bad guy, that I didn’t want to accept a Mexican art. That is completely false.” Álvarez further added, “It is not that I am being disrespectful to the Huichol in not wanting the belt. I want nothing to do with the WBC.”

In keeping with his claim of not wanting anything to do with the organization, Álvarez says if he beats Golovkin this weekend, he will not accept the WBC belt.

The WBC presented the Adolfo López Mateos Huichol belt to the former president’s granddaughter. In the ceremony, she accepted the belt while offering advice to Álvarez: “Do not lose sight that boxing is a sport; that people admire you, children overall. Try to set an example for them. That they, along with yourself, learn to choose their battles as it is not always worth the effort to fight them all.”

A sports museum in Mexico City has scheduled to display the Adolfo López Mateos Huichol belt—another relic whose history will eventually be distorted. It’s doubtful the museum placard will read, “Este cinturón queda como símbolo del momento cuando uno de los de abajo le dijo a los de arriba que chinge a su madre.” (This belt remains as a symbol of the moment when a member born of the lower classes told those above them to fuck off.)

Instead, it will be coopted and used as a symbol for something else, something that those above us, who can’t even imagine what life is like for those below them, will never question if true.

The WBC has again attempted to work their way into Álvarez’s career by making another Huichol belt that’ll go to Saturday’s winner. But unlike the Cinco de Mayo version of the belt, the WBC will not end up having to donate it, as oddsmakers favor Golovkin against Álvarez, who if he wins, will accept their belt. Golovkin will be the second toughest opponent that Álvarez will face, the first being Floyd Mayweather Jr., whom he fought in 2013.

When Álvarez fought Mayweather, he was a 23-year-old facing a boxer 13 years his senior. Mayweather, the one fighter who has ever been the A-side against Álvarez, took every advantage, including setting a 152-pound weight limit, five pounds over the first proposed weight limit, which Álvarez said was “physically impossible” to make. Asked about the catch weight, Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather’s manager, responded, “They’re the ones who said they would fight at a lower weight … we can’t help it Álvarez has idiots for managers, but we’re going to take every advantage they give us.”

Leading up to the fight, Álvarez’s critics suspended their doubts. Sure, they still saw him as a protected fighter, but the fight was Álvarez’s chance to show that all hype is not without talent. It showed Álvarez would test himself against the toughest opponent. And even if he had taken the fight years before he was ready, he’d at least account himself properly against the generational talents of Mayweather. If nothing else, Álvarez—as those who have nothing to risk like to demand of boxers they watch from comforts of not being punched—would “go out on his shield.” Right?

Mayweather dominated Álvarez, neutralizing any size advantages he may have had. It did not help that Álvarez’s and his trainers based their fight plan on trying to outbox one of the best pure boxers of the past quarter century.

Part of the supposed problem with Álvarez, both in the Mayweather fight and how he’s now perceived, has to do with his style. He is not the stereotypical “Mexican warrior” that often gets fetishized. (Though there is no exact definition of what that is, it is one of those things we know when we see it. Álvarez is not it.) This shouldn’t be a criticism of Álvarez, whose style makes him an under-appreciated defensive fighter, but it is, since he doesn’t perfectly fit the “Mexican fighter” mold.

A counterpuncher relies on their opponent to make mistakes. But when they face a quick, defensively-oriented boxer—like Mayweather—a counterpuncher appears lost, almost as if they are following their opponent, begging to get punched then too slow to respond with one of their own. Álvarez, like most counterpunchers, won’t engage in an all-out brawls on his own; it’s just not who he is as a fighter. His measured style played right into Mayweather’s hands and as he and his corner men appeared inept, the doubts and questions over Álvarez became that much louder.

It did not help that almost 80% of Mexican households with a television tuned into Televisa to watch Álvarez get humiliated in the worse way possible. It appeared as if he didn’t even fight back: too slow to catch him and the wrong style to give Mayweather problems.

These are the doubts revolving around Álvarez since he fought Mayweather, a fight which he says, made him a better boxer by learning to fix his mistakes. Whether fixing these errors is enough to earn him a victory on Saturday, is a different matter as Mayweather and Golovkin are completely different boxers.

Gennady Golovkin is among the most feared boxers of the past decade. Golovkin can humiliate Álvarez, even though he is likely years past his prime when, as HBO Sports executive vice president and boxing head Peter Nelson said, “Just being able to go over six rounds with Gennady Golovkin became a badge of honor.” Golovkin has the highest knockout percentage in the history of middleweight title holders. He has knocked out 23 of the last 24 opponents he’s faced, with the only exception coming in his last fight against Danny Jacobs, a fight in which Golovkin claims to have intentionally looked vulnerable since Álvarez would not have fought him otherwise. And now that Golovkin has the fight he’s been wanting for years, he warns, “There are no survivors in my fights.”

Álvarez and Golovkin are opposites of each other. The former has had every advantage while Golovkin slowly built a reputation, fighting for years in Germany as a relative unknown before debuting in the United States in 2012. Golovkin, eight years Álvarez’s senior, is likely past his prime, even hinting at possible retirement. And though he has a promotional deal with Jordan Brand, Golovkin lacks Álvarez’s name recognition among casual boxing fans. Still, hardcore boxing fans laud Golovkin while that same group will always view Álvarez with a suspicion arising from the assumption that what is popular lacks substance. At the center of the differences between Álvarez and Golovkin, is an issue of style—boxing’s Mexican style, which Álvarez has rejected while Golovkin has fully embraced.

The Mexican style revolves around aggression. Punching output—specifically body punches—takes precedent over any defensive consideration. It is Mexican machismo applied and practiced inside the boxing ring that’s built on one simple belief: “I am tougher than you.” This maxim of violence results in a boxer willing to take a punch or two to land one, confident their durability it is enough kill their opponent’s confidence.

Ironically, Álvarez, the Mexican boxer, has all but rejected the Mexican style, even stating no such thing exists. This claim is akin to blasphemy for the many Mexican and Mexican-American boxing fans who see the style as a representative of the boxing-obsessed heritage. Conversely, Golovkin has embraced Mexican style, claiming he is the sort of fighter hailing from United States’s southern neighbor.

“This is more than a fight. It’s a real Mexican fight.” Golovkin recently stated. “I love fighting Mexican style. I love Mexican food and eat it every day. I love the Mexican tradition. I am surrounded by it. I have many Mexican friends. I have Mexican blood.”

In any other realm, Golovkin’s statement would be offensive. That he would say that he is an honorary Mexican because he likes the food and has Mexican friends is as ridiculous as someone claiming they can’t be racist because they have black friends. And yet, this is boxing, where Mexican style is a compliment, not an implication that a group of people are inherently violent and aggressive in a way that makes them good at fighting.

Rather than overt aggression, Álvarez’s best chance at beating Golovkin—a fight he too claims he’s wanted for years—comes from relying on his intelligence and patience. Blindly engaging Golovkin, which is what an idealMexican style boxer would do, is reckless which is not who is Álvarez inside the ring. Against a boxer like Floyd Mayweather, this technique was worthless but against an attacking Golovkin, Álvarez will have greater success. Whether that success will equate to victory depends on how much of a Mexican style boxer Golovkin really is. One thing to attack inferior opponents; quite another to abandon all pretense of defense against a counterpuncher like Álvarez.

Like any country’s historical timeline, Mexico’s is one of trying to fix the fuck-ups created by the solutions meant to fix earlier fuck-ups. Few events symbolize this better than what began on September 16, 1810, when after almost three centuries since the Spanish arrived, Miguel Hidalgo, a priest, called for independence. Hidalgo was a criollo within the Spanish casta systemthat stratified the population. With it being a colony, criollos were light-skinned Spaniards born in Mexico. Criollos were above other castas—Indians, mestizos, and Africans, along with different variations that mixed into one another—but not at the top. That spot was reserved for the gachupines, or “native Spaniards who had exploited and oppressed Mexicans for 10 generations.” The gachupines controlled the most important positions across Mexico—positions that Hidalgo and his fellow criollos wanted the opportunity to obtain.

At dawn, Hidalgo rang the church bells to signal a call to mass. There, in his Grito de Dolores—a war cry from the Dolores village, near Guanajuato—Hidalgo called for independence, telling the Indian and mestizo population to rise against the gachupines. “My children, a new dispensation comes to us today,” cried an impassioned Hidalgo, “Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.” Hidalgo and his largely Indian and mestizo army rose in arms and fighting with mostly sticks, stones, and machetes, demanded freedom—what that meant to each one of their castas varied.

By late October, Hidalgo and his army were at the outskirts of Mexico City, ready to attack the seat of Spanish power. There, lay the city that used to be Tenochtitlan. The city that fell to Cortés and the Spanish in 1521, destroyed and whose ruins covered by what became Mexico City. Hidalgo and his army of Hijos de la Chingada, who carried with them a banner of the Virgin de Guadalupe, were on the verge of exorcising the Spanish aprovechados—at least symbolically. In theory, they were a few battles away from claiming a certain level of victory and since every other combined casta outnumbered the gachupines, maybe even force the Spanish into recognizing their independence. But Hidalgo’s attack never came and instead, he ordered a retreat.

With momentum lost, Hidalgo and his dwindling number of followers found themselves on the defensive. By early 1811, Spanish troops captured Hidalgo in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Brought back to Mexico City, the gachupines first tried Hidalgo under the Inquisition, then excommunicated him, and finally, executed him along with fellow conspirators. Their bodies drawn and quartered, with their heads cut off and displayed to dissuade against future rebellion. But Hidalgo, though dead months into the quest for independence, inspired others.

Eventually, after more than a decade of fighting, in 1821, Spain recognized Mexico’s independence. But little changed, at least, not enough to stave off a revolution a century later that in part, hoped to address the large class divide. And like the fight for independence before it, that revolution became nothing more than ideals inspiring high expectations, followed by betrayals that amounted to new bosses replacing the old ones.

The night before Álvarez and Golovkin fight, the Mexican government will pay homage to Hidalgo. As is customary, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto will hold his country’s flag while reciting the names and places pivotal to independence. For that moment, his lack of credibility will be secondary. But not forgotten. No one will forget a secret unit within Televisa which gave him favorable coverage while orchestrating smear campaigns against his opposition, affected his winning the presidency. Or that the people’s perception of him as a made-up president, created by Televisa, gets enhanced by his marriage to Angelica Rivera who besides facing her own allegations of corruption while first lady, is a former beauty queen and leading actress who starred in novelas for, of course, Televisa.

But most importantly, no one will forget that of the millions celebrating, there will be 43 missing students who are not. These students—all studying to be teachers—stand out above so many others, including young women, who disappear, partly because instead of properly investigating, Peña Nieto and his administration have attempted to “whitewash events, evade responsibility and sabotage an effort at finding the truth.” With the stonewalling, the very real possibility exists that just like the exact number of victims of the Tlatelolco Massacre, we will never know what happened to the 43 students, beyond knowing their disappearance came after policemen stopped their bus.

Nos Faltan 43 but Peña Nieto will still end the festivities by unironically saying, “Long live national independence!” followed by three “Viva Mexico’s.” Reenacting Hidalgo’s call to mass, Peña Nieto will toll the bells before enthusiastically waving the Mexican flag while tens of thousands—maybe more—watch in person and millions more watching across Mexico and even the United States.

The next day, boxing will also pay homage to Mexican independence, not because of its history but due ti economic reasons. For the last several decades, boxing in the United States remains relevant on the backs of its Latino audience. With Mexicans and Mexican-Americans making up a substantial part of this fanbase, September 16th weekend is one of boxing’s two major boxing weekends. Álvarez, who has become the face of these two weekends, will enter the ring as an underdog with enough cheers to drown out the boos.

Despite his many critics, Álvarez is popular and skillful. In the United States, where he is much more admired among Mexican-Americans than he is in Mexico, there is a relatability to Álvarez. Like most of us, Álvarez left home and the people closest to him in order to make a living. And even if subconsciously, we can relate to the criticisms made against him: That he—and we, as Mexican-Americans—are somehow less Mexican because we live in the United States, caught between two cultures of which we are not fully a part of, is part of the outsider’s experience. Questions of identity grow even louder when back in what used to be home as they assume we’ve changed. Álvarez is the first Mexican boxing superstar who is perceived as having left Mexico, if not physically, then symbolically. This criticism blinds many into thinking he is but a television creation.

Even if Álvarez wins, which I expect he will, critics will remain. Enrique Peña Nieto won’t be among these critics as he will likely, again, host Álvarez as an honored guest of the presidency. But so far as his critics are concerned, they will—with reason—claim Álvarez and/or his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, avoided Golovkin for years and in letting him age, increased their likelihood of winning. And though it may have been a sound strategy, it also undermined Álvarez’s credibility and claims to fear no one.

Among those who criticize him are Mexican boxers like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., important Mexican boxing commentators, and the aforementioned Juan Manuel Márquez and Nacho Beristáin—important, even if controversial, names in recent Mexican boxing. Among their criticisms is that Álvarez is arrogant and lacks humility, that he avoided Golovkin for years, that judges have awarded him a few suspect decisions, and that he has let Oscar De La Hoya dictate his career.

Beyond that, fans—who I can only assume feel offended that Álvarez is an affront to the idea of Mexican masculinity—have booed him throughout many of his fights and promotional stops, even throwing beer and trash at him. On one occasion, while sitting ringside for his brother’s fight in Mexico, a few fans heckled Álvarez for not fighting Golovkin. Álvarez sat quietly as they yelled, “YOU ARE AFRAID OF GOLOVKIN, YOU ARE A COWARD!

Álvarez not only hears the criticisms, but understands they will persist. “They will always criticize me,” he explained, “even after beating Golovkin. They will always criticize me, that is for sure.”

In a country with a history of class hierarchy—one that remains very much intact—Álvarez is not the son of a legend, nor is he under the tutelage of a renowned boxing trainer. He is not the relative of a former president, and he is not from Mexico City or any of its boroughs. Álvarez and everyone around him are outsiders.

Like many other places across the world, Mexico is two countries: there is Mexico City and the rest of the country. Inside these two countries are those who have and the rest who lack. And among those who lack are those who mind their class and those who do not. And sometimes, within the ranks of those who do not, some have ambitions so great that a single country can’t contain them. Even fewer of these have the capabilities to accomplish them—Álvarez, an outsider in each scenario, is one of the few.

And despite his history of leaving chaos in places he’s been, the possibility—however slight—exists that there’s more to Álvarez’s problems. He has not minded his place within a hierarchy cemented over centuries and in doing so, Álvarez has gone from a loveable, local underdog to a despised fat cat who subtly flaunts his success. He may well be the sport’s most marketable boxer, and yet, who and what he ultimately is remains a mystery: The next great Mexican boxer? A perfectly marketed mediocre talent? A pawn? An aprovechado? A hero, or even an antihero, who finally stood up to the notoriously corrupt WBC? Or is Álvarez someone, who in fighting his way out a life destined to be a paletero, we should all should aspire to be?

One thing is clear, if Álvarez loses a lopsided decision to a past-his-prime Golovkin, it will confirm what many Mexicans and an increasing number of Mexican-Americans believe: that he was always a complete fabrication—the greatest novela Televisa ever produced, exported to the United States and reproduced by Oscar De La Hoya, who, knowing the market better than most, understood this country was more willing to buy into a fair and freckled skinned, red-headed Mexican than one with real talent but whose shade of brown skin made him less marketable. Someone so obviously a Hijo de la Chingada that they can’t be marketed as more. Someone who never could choose a nickname like “El Español” without being laughed at and so instead, had to rely on the often-used, “El Indio.”



Terry: SMU’s Once Great White Hope

A version of this article was originally posted on SMU History Grad Student Blog

The first time Joe Frazier knocked down Terry Daniels, it appeared he would not return to his feet. It was the type of knockdown that forces spectators to wonder if they’ve witnessed a death in the ring.  For about 5 seconds, Daniels laid motionless and face down. A couple of seconds later and, just as the round ended, Daniels struggled to his feet. And as the bell rang, signaling a minute’s rest, Daniels stood there. He stared at the referee, as if confused, until Daniel’s trainer walked across the ring, placed his arm on his fighter’s shoulder, and guided him back to their corner to prepare for the second round.

That Frazier knocked down Daniels was unsurprising. Ten months earlier, Frazier became the first boxer to defeat Muhammad Ali. Frazier is among the all-time great boxers. Daniels is not. But on a Saturday night in New Orleans, a day before the city hosted the sixth Super Bowl in 1972, Daniels—quietly, the latest version of a Great White Hope—challenged for boxing’s heavyweight championship.

Daniels’s manager, Doug Lord, was largely responsible for the fight. “I told the fight promoters I’ve got a white kid from Dallas,” Lord said. “He’s friends with the Dallas Cowboys, and everyone knows the Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl in New Orleans…They loved it,” Los They bought it.”

Technically, Daniels wasn’t from Dallas. He was from Ohio and moved to North Texas to attend Southern Methodist University. The son of a successful businessman, Daniels was intelligent, young, handsome, and—since it is a prerequisite of any Great White Hope—white.

Leading up to the fight, promoters emphasized the many differences between Daniels and Frazier. Stories that Daniels had been part of his high school choir. Stories that Daniels had been the treasurer of his junior class. In selling Daniels, even noting that he enjoyed reading and that he had wanted major in engineering was deemed worthy of mention.

And each of these things distinguished Daniels from Frazier who although he lived in Philadelphia, was originally from South Carolina. Far removed from Daniels’ life of privilege, Frazier was a sharecropper’s son. But as it pertained to boxing, these differences mattered little once promoters sold the fight. And those who had bought tickets to see a Great White Hope, were on the verge of watching him lose just minutes into the fight.

As the second round began the television commentators wondered aloud if Daniels had recuperated from Frazier’s punches. They noted the obvious—that Frazier had won the first round—when seemingly out of nowhere, Daniels connected with a right uppercut that stunned Frazier.

“Oh! He landed a beautiful uppercut,” one commentator screamed. Maybe Daniels was more than just hype. Maybe he was something almost as romanticized as a Great White Hope. Maybe Daniels was a natural.

Daniels was certainly athletic. Before injuries forced his focus to boxing, Daniels played football and baseball for SMU. As an amateur, Daniels won the local Golden Glove tournaments. Encouraged, Daniels decided to fight professionally. He postponed graduating from SMU and angered his father who had sent his son to Dallas for an education, not to become a prizefighter.

Angry father or not, Daniels fought. By 1972, 3 years into his career, he’d become a local celebrity, accumulating a record of 28 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw—an impressive accomplishment even if against subpar competition. That was what brought Daniels to compete for boxing’s heavyweight title. And as his punch connected in those opening seconds of the 2nd round, Frazier was forced to step back and Daniels attacked.

Hopes die fast in boxing. Within a three-minute round, hopes of a championship, of wealth, of fame, and even, of any future quality of life can disappear. In the 3rd round, any hope for an upset vanished as Frazier brought Daniels back to reality.

Frazier’s left hook kept connecting and Daniels could do nothing to stop it. So again, toward the end of the 3rd round, Frazier’s left hook fell Daniels. The boxer from SMU stood up long enough to fall again, by the same punch, no even 10 seconds later. As Daniels gasped for air, a look of bemusement covered his face. The bell rang and had saved him again.

There was nothing remarkable about the fourth round besides Frazier knocking down Daniels a 4th and 5th time. The latter resulted in Daniels falling back through the ropes, appearing as if he would plummet all the way to the floor. Ringside judges braced to break Daniels’s fall but he remained inside the ring and at least, save some dignity. Finally, the referee stopped the fight.

“Don’t stop, damn it,” Daniels screamed at the referee. He then turned to his manager and screamed some more. “Doug, don’t let them stop it. There’s nothing wrong.” Daniels was likely the last person in the world to realize he never stood a chance.

After the fight, Daniels’s manager implored his boxer to stop fighting. He even begged him. For a while Daniels took the advice. He returned to SMU and earned a political science degree in December of the same year he fought to become boxing’s heavyweight champion—one of sport’s most prestigious titles.

But that title and what it represents can have a seductive appeal on men practicing a sport so inherently tied into ideas of masculinity. “The closer a heavyweight comes to the championship,” Norman Mailer noted, “the more natural it is for him to be a little bit insane. [S]ecretly insane, for the heavyweight champion of the world is either the toughest man in the world or he is not.”

The fight against Frazier gave Daniels a chance to show he was the toughest man in the world. He failed. And whether he was a Great White Hope or not, the loss hurt the same. Six years after fighting Frazier and claiming he had retired, Daniels fought on. He felt haunted by that night in New Orleans when he could have won it all but lost it instead.

“I daydream a lot about that fight,” Daniels explained. “I fantasize about what might have been if I had blasted Frazier in the third round, when he was so confident, with a right hook.”

Daniels fought until 1981. Counting his loss to Frazier, Daniels’s final 32 fights resulted in just 7 victories against 26 losses. In 2004, Terry Daniels left Dallas and returned to Ohio. He lived in a retirement home, suffering from what some call pugilist Parkinson’s.

If Canelo Loses to GGG, He’ll Also Lose His Legacy as the Next “Face of Boxing”

Originally posted on Remezcla.com

On Saturday, in one of the most anticipated boxing fights of the last several years, Mexico’s Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez takes on Kazakhstan’s Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. The winner will become boxing’s middleweight champion across all sanctioning bodies, taking all belts and accolades from their opponent–well, except for the WBC belt that Canelo has already declined. But beyond the belts, Canelo and Golovkin are not fighting for the same things. Canelo is fighting for more; he’s fighting to keep his place as the future face of boxing, an unofficial title that until recently, most within boxing assumed he’d possess.

Historically, boxing’s heavyweight champion has been the face of the sport. But in the last couple of decades, after Mike Tyson and all that came with him, the division’s importance declined and along with it, the sport’s popularity—at least in the United States. Boxing will always have a loyal fan base but as with everything else, relevancy gets built on the backs of casual consumers. Just as during the height of his prowess even non-boxing fans could tell you Tyson was the champion, since then, only the hardcore fans could name the heavyweight champion. As European boxers increasingly controlled the heavyweight division, it became less interesting and allowed boxers from lower weights classes the chance to be considered as the face of the sport. Names like De La Hoya, Mayweather, Pacquiao led boxing during what was “one of the worst eras in heavyweight history.”

Before going any further, it’s important to note that a boxer’s popularity and the financial benefits that popularity brings don’t necessarily equate with skill. Until rather recently, the two most skillful boxers were Guillermo Rigondeaux and Román “Chocolatito” González. Rigondeaux, from Cuba, is a boxer whose style is so tediously technical that promoters have essentially exiled him from fighting anyone of consequence. González, from Nicaragua, did not even get major television exposure until two years ago when his skills were already in decline. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai knocked out Gonzálezthis past weekend while Rigondeaux, as usual, awaits his next opponent. Outside of the hardcore boxing fans and their respective countrymen, neither of them are well-known.

With Mayweather and Pacquiao either “retired” or no longer attracting the same viewership they once did, Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez was pegged as the next boxer to lead the sport. Multibillion dollar corporations back Canelo: Tecate, Everlast, Under Armor, and Hennessy are among the companies who’ve invested in his appeal. Further, he fights on HBO and is seemingly the only boxer keeping the premium channel relevant within boxing, as it gets passed by Showtime. Adding to who’s invested in Canelo is his promoter, Golden Boy, whose present and foreseeable future is tied directly to the boxer’s success.

All of this makes Canelo one of the few marketable boxers in the world, and an important piece towards who controls boxing. All this corporate backing begs the question, however: do corporations back Canelo because of his skill and popularity or is he simply popular because of all the vested interest that companies have in making him the face of boxing? This is boxing’s eternal and existential “chicken or egg” question, and Canelo is just the latest to inspire its asking.

In the long history of Mexican—and to some extent, Latino—boxing, Canelo is different; we will only know if he’s an exception or the new norm by what comes a decade from now. Canelo is a Mexican boxing star who is likely more popular in the United States than in his home country, where the sport is much more popular than in the 50 states. This is despite Canelo not speaking a lot of English, which is generally required to reach the wider audience here. But since boxing heavily relies on and caters to a Latino audience, the effect of Canelo speaking only Spanish matters less than it would if the sport had a wider appeal. There is another thing distinguishing Canelo from earlier Mexican boxers: his dismissal of the fabled Mexican Style.

“I think the Mexican Style does not exist,” Canelo recently stated. “In Mexican boxing there is not only one style…the people think Mexican style is to go and take [punches] and give and take. I don’t think that is a characteristic…” Among some circles, this comment is akin to blasphemy.

In making a point of not adhering to the Mexican Style tradition, Canelo has further alienated many fans. Without explicitly saying it, Canelo is moving away from the overt machismo that’s an inherent part of Mexican boxing. All this feeds into the perception that Canelo is not the rightful heir representing all that Mexican boxing symbolizes. This is, again, something different as in years past a Mexican boxer with Canelo’s accolades would be nearly universally respected. But for as many fans that Canelo has, he seemingly has as many detractors, including boxing fans of Mexican heritage that are rooting for Golovkin—a boxer from Kazakhstan.

There are two main criticisms against Canelo. First, that Canelo has been a protected fighter, first with Televisa and then Golden Boy Promotions keeping him from fighting proper competition and when he did, them having enough influence to sway a few close decisions his way. The second criticism, related to the first, is that for two years, Canelo and/or his handlers have avoided fighting Golovkin—a boxer 8 years his senior—to let him get older and have his boxing skills naturally diminish. Even when Canelo agreed to the fight Golovkin, he received all advantages, including a one-sided rematch clause where if he loses, he can fight Golovkin again but if he wins, Canelo can avoid a rematch and fight anyone he wants.

Even with his critics, until this year, most assumed Canelo would be the boxer leading the sport into the future as the link between the Mayweather/Pacquiao era and the sport’s next decade. Canelo has staked claim to this being his era of boxing (#MiEra), while continually stating he feared no one–presumably as a way of attempting damage control from years of avoiding Golovkin. Everything appeared going as planned…but then, the heavyweight division suddenly became relevant and interesting.

In April, Anthony Joshua, a 27-year-old former Olympic gold medalist, defeated Wladimir Klitschko, the 41-year-old Ukrainian heavyweight who, along with his brother, dominated the heavyweight division for the better part of the last decade. Joshua is from England–the birthplace of modern boxing–where the sport has experienced a spike in popularity over the past several years. Even before the April fight, GQ magazine profiled Joshua, including making a point of his natural gifts despite taking up boxing later in life and claiming that he “isn’t just a boxer; he’s a brand.” Thealready-high expectations soared after Joshua’s exciting victory over Klitschko, with claims his win could “spark [boxing’s] renewed interest in the US [it’s] slipped from public consciousness since Tyson’s heyday.”

Since boxing’s success is inextricably tied to commercial impact, part of the narrative towards Joshua as the future of boxing includes his plans for becoming a billionaire. For as much commercial backing as Canelo has, Joshua has garnered more. Even in public workouts, Joshua appears more like a walking, punching Under Armour billboard. Joshua, who has not yet fought outside the United Kingdom, is so coveted that both Showtime and HBO agreed to share broadcast rights for his fight against Klitschko—an incredible agreement between “bitter premium cable rivals.

Unlike Canelo, Joshua hasn’t faced the same amount of criticism that his Mexican boxing peer has, in part because he fought Klitschko before most expected him to, and beat him after it appeared—for a few rounds—he may lose. Also, much of the English criticism goes to their other heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury; a suicidal, cocaine-snorting boxer who besides being 100 pounds out-of-shape and alternating between retirement and training, has made sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments. By comparison, it is easy to see why some already consider Anthony Joshua a national hero.

Although advertising is not entirely a zero-sum game, Joshua’s increasing marketability has some effect on Canelo. Because he is a heavyweight and speaks English, Joshua will sooner be a household name here in the United States than Canelo will. Canelo must win to keep Joshua from outright passing him in the “who is the face of boxing” conversation. If he loses against Golovkin, Canelo’s marketability will take a massive hit, along with legitimizing many of the criticisms made against him. A loss will mean that Canelo lost to the two best opponents he faced—Floyd Mayweather Jr. being the other, whom he fought to a majority decision loss in 2013.

Of course, the corporations that have invested millions into Canelo will attempt to salvage his career. They will sell a rematch with an even older Golovkin as some redemption. That angle works best, however, when there isn’t a chorus of critics bellowing that a fighter confirmed his assumed fraudulence.

Saturday’s fight is important for both fighters, and for their legacies, but only one of them is fighting for the right to be considered the face of a sport whose popularity is at risk. For Golovkin, Saturday will be the result of years-long quest towards a career-defining fight against the most popular boxer of the current era. For Canelo, however, the result of the fight will decide the next several years of his career and how he’ll ultimately be remembered.