No, he wasn’t yet on all the lists when people argued best Mexican boxer of all time. Julio Cesar Chavez was, however, a popular, accomplished fighter when he stepped into the ring to challenge Edwin Rosario at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 1987.
Chavez won the WBC junior lightweight title with a stirring knockout of Mexican countryman Mario Martinez three years earlier.
He had made nine defenses of his title – including a knockout of Roger Mayweather and decisions over Rocky Lockridge and Juan LaPorte.
Pound-for-pound, the native of Culiacan, Sinoloa was one of the best in the world.
However, his forthcoming bid to unseat power punching WBA lightweight champ Rosario that night 36 years ago was seen as treacherous, maybe even reckless.
Yes, Chavez was the betting favorite – but that might’ve been solely because of his undefeated record (56-0) and loyal following.
For even his most ardent supporters had to believe that moving up from 130 to 135 pounds to challenge a monster swatter like Rosario – coming off a second-round blast-out of the respected Livingstone Bramble – was the most dangerous assignment of his career.
What followed was arguably the most dominant big fight performance of the last 50 years.
Chavez beat on Rosario like a snare drum, closing the distance, cutting off the ring and bludgeoning the Puerto Rican’s body.
It was a clinic on inside warfare.
And when Rosario’s big punch did land, Chavez paid it no attention and continued working “Chapo” over.
When referee Richard Steele finally ended the massacre in the 11th round, Rosario looked like a gargoyle – a puffy, thoroughly beaten mess.
He wore a look that matched that of the fans in the crowd and the viewers on HBO: “Where did THAT come from?”
It was the night Chavez made the transition from good to god, from “JC” to “JC Superstar.”
Every major fight thereafter became an event.
In Mexico, on the borders and in places where the Mexican population was considerable – California, Texas, Arizona, New York, Illinois – his fights became religious happenings.
America had Muhammad Ali. Now, Mexico had Julio Cesar Chavez.
Best Mexican Boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Bigger Than Ali
It’s hard to describe the impact Chavez fights had on Mexican and Mexican-American populations after the Rosario fight. The reaction was visceral.
The best Mexican boxer Chavez would walk into the ring with the bright red headband, the sequined robe with the Mexican flag on one lapel and the Virgen de Guadalupe on the other.
All while mariachis blared behind him. The hair on the back of the neck stood tall like a Mexican soldier.
The goosebumps swelled. And maybe the eyes welled a little too. And that was even before the Mexican national anthem began to play, providing a royal introduction to the ultimate Aztec Warrior:
“Mexicanos, al grito de Guerra….el acero aprestad y el bridon…y retiemble en sus centros la tierra…al sonoro rugir del canon….”
Once in the ring, Chavez would bounce around, looking as comfortable in the squared circle as in his own living room.
He’d scan the crowd, smile that boyish grin and loosen his jaw as he was introduced to adoring crowds in L.A., in Las Vegas, in New York, and even abroad in Paris and Monaco.
Then Jimmy Lennon Jr. would bellow:
“From Culiacan, Sinoloa, Mejico….El Gran Campeon Mejicano…..Julio. Cesar. CHA-vez!”
Then the man would pump a single glove into the air. And go to work.
That introduction became a familiar refrain through the late 80s and early 90s, as Chavez became a Mexican superstar of mythical proportions.
He had a son, Julio Jr, in 1986.
After defending his lightweight title twice in 1988 and 1989, Chavez moved up in weight again, this time from 135 to 140 pounds.
He took on Mayweather again in an L.A. grudge match.
You see, Mayweather – the uncle of you-know-who – had been reborn after his first loss to Chavez as a knockout artist of Mexicans – six, to be exact.
Down went Rene Arredondo (TKO 6) to win the WBC 140-pound title in 1987. Down went Mauricio Aceves (TKO 3) in 1988. Down went Rodolfo Gonzalez (TKO 12) also in 1988.
Mayweather began calling himself the “Mexican Assassin,” and took to wearing a sombrero into the ring (something his nephew mimicked 18 years later vs. Oscar De La Hoya).
Chavez and Mayweather met in an anticipated rematch in 1989 at the Great Western Forum, and Chavez issued a prolonged beating this time (the 1985 fight was a second-round KO for Chavez).
Constantly advancing, and forever digging his famous left hand to the body, Chavez was a steady train.
Mayweather did his best in trying to stymie the onrushing locomotive.
He even bounced a few vicious right hands off of Chavez’s granite chin. JCC responded by smiling. Eventually, he wore Mayweather down, stopping him in the 10th.
When the defending champ refused to come out of his corner to start the 11th round, Chavez pounded his own protective cup, beckoning Roger to come out.
He didn’t. The Chavez legend grew and grew.
Meldrick Taylor Fight Grows Chavez Legacy
And a year later, he officially became an icon when – hopelessly behind on points to the undefeated phenom Meldrick Taylor – he dropped him in the final seconds of the fight before referee Richard Steele controversially stopped it with two seconds to go.
Everyone paid attention to the knockout.
But it was Chavez’s surgical tactics that preceded the knockout punch that kept him unbeaten at 69-0.
With 25 seconds to go, JCC landed a right that staggered Taylor. But rather than advance, Chavez let Taylor attack – backing up to the ropes as Meldrick pursued.
Once in the corner, Chavez simply slid to his right two times, and found the perfect angle – bang! – to deliver a historic right hand.
Taylor dropped like a shot and whether or not you feel like the fight should have been stopped – Chavez’ patience in the most pivotal sequence of his career was a manual on grace under pressure.
Yes, Chavez was more than a face-first Mexican brawler. Much more.
It looked on the surface like he was an aggressive slugger.
However, he had a sublime nuance to his game that allowed him to move forward, deliver power shots, bend at the waist, move his head subtly and avoid big shots in return.
He cut off the ring like an Aztec Picasso, found the perfect angles and delivered precision shots in deadly combinations.
Between rounds, he sat in the corner, elbows on knees, a stern look on his face – ready to pounce in the next round. Like a lion. “El Leon de Culiacan.”
Two huge wins remained. In 1992, he won the ultimate Mexico-Puerto Rico battle, pummeling overmatched rival Hector “Macho” Camacho for a decision win.
Then, in February 1993, the best Mexican boxer hammered Greg Haugen before an astonishing 132,247 spectators at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. It remains the largest paid boxing crowd ever.
Afterward, Haugen admitted that Chavez’s opponents were probably better than Tijuana taxi cab drivers – the famous quote he’d delivered beforehand.
End Beckons For Lion of Culiacan
Eventually, the end came for the best Mexican boxer. He was outboxed by Pernell Whitaker in the biggest fight of 1993, only to manage an undeserved draw that put him at 87-0-1.
But the curtain dropped for good four months later, when Frankie Randall put him on the seat of his navy blue “Atlantico” trunks, courtesy of a perfect right hand.
The same kind of right hand that floored Taylor and dozens of others. For the first time in 90 pro fights, Julio Cesar Chavez was a loser.
His career continued for another 11 years. But he was never the same. He retired in 2005 with a record of 107-6-2 (85 KO’s).
Chavez and Salvador Sanchez gain the most votes when people debate best Mexican boxer in history.
You can certainly make a case for Sanchez, whose reign as WBC featherweight king (1980-82) was one of the most impressive runs in boxing history.
His smooth, counterpunching style was something of an antithesis to Chavez’s more subtly aggressive approach.
Both were great. And Sanchez’s death in 1982 prevented perhaps the greatest Mexican battle ever.
But those who saw Chavez will never forget the sensation of a JC Chavez fight night.
Whether he was toughing it out with Martinez, brutalizing Mayweather, knocking out Taylor or dominating Camacho or Haugen, the feeling after a Chavez win was a combination of pride, passion and awe.
There never has been – and there never will be – another like him.