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Puerto Rico Boxing: 5 Most Epic Bouts

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Puerto Rico Boxing: 5 Most Epic Bouts

Puerto Rico boxing—60-plus world champions and 13 International Boxing Hall of Fame Members have come from the 100-mile-long Island of Puerto Rico.

From Sixto Escobar becoming the first champion from the Island in 1934 to Oscar Collazo in 2023, Puerto Rico has been a constant staple in the world of pugilism.

The Island harbors just over three million citizens.

Ring Magazine once called Puerto Rico – boxing's pound-for-pound king, having more world champions per square mile than any other country.

According to the publication, the island nation once sported 1-Ring rated fighter per 570,000 – the best ratio of any in the world.

While Baseball is arguably the most popular sport on the Island, boxing has always been considered a major sport in Puerto Rico.

The Island has produced some of the greatest fighters in the sport's history and has hosted memorable bouts with historical ramifications and significance.

“Puerto Rico has always been sports-minded since the days of cockfighting,” Boxing correspondent Mario Rivera Martino said to Ring Magazine.

“Cockfighting is still legal in Puerto Rico. That was the big sport. Then, when Montanez and Escobar got into the picture in the 1930s, boxing fever took over in a big way.”

Puerto Rico Boxing Star of Today

Seven-division women's boxing champion and Puerto Rico's current most prominent star, Amanda Serrano, is headlining and defending her unified featherweight titles on Saturday, March 2 at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum, known on the Island as ‘El Choli' or the ‘Choliseo' in San Juan, this upcoming March 2.

Puerto Rico Boxing Star Amanda Serrano

NYFights looks back at some of the biggest fights that have taken place on the Island in no particular order.

Honorable Mentions

Hector Camacho (21-0) vs. Rafael “Bazooka” Limon (50-12-2)

August 07, 1983

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Vacant WBC super featherweight championship

Camacho v Limon

When most fans look back on one of boxing's golden ages, the 1980s, they mention the Fab Four quartet of Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Marvin Hagler. They'll also surely mention heavyweight champion and knockout artist Mike Tyson.

In the middle of the decade emerged the loquacious and bombastic Hector “Macho” Camacho, who took the boxing world by storm with his personality and fighting style.

Camacho faced off against Mexican veteran and two-time super featherweight champion Rafael “Bazooka” Limon in his first title opportunity.

In a star-making showing, Camacho put on a virtuoso performance, dominating Limon through to a fifth-round stoppage and the vacant WBC Super featherweight title.

During that time, Camacho had his share of skeptics who felt he was more of an act than a real fighter.

Although Limon wasn't considered to be at his best anymore, the manner in which Camacho dispatched him put the boxing world on notice.

While Wilfredo Gomez and Wilfred Benitez were still active at the time, Camacho's victory over Limon firmly established him as the next star out of Puerto Rico.

Muhammad Ali (49-2) vs. Jean Pierre Coopman (24-3)

February 20, 1976

Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBA Heavyweight Championship

Anytime boxing's most well-known fighter from a global standpoint enters the ring, it will be remembered.

Muhammad Ali defended his WBA championship against Belgium's Jean-Pierre Coopman in the island's first and only world heavyweight title match.

In the aftermath of the ‘Thrilla in Manila,' where Ali went to war in a brutal fight with rival Joe Frazier, Ali took on what was considered a relatively safe title defense against Coopman.

Ali would stop Coopman in five rounds with relative ease.

Ali v coopman

Was easy work for The Greatest

During most of his career and through his second heavyweight championship reign, Ali put the ‘world' in world champion.

It was a non-descript showcase title defense. But due to it featuring boxing's grandest star with the sport's most significant prize on the line, Ali's fight with Coopman deserves mention when discussing fights that have taken place in Puerto Rico.

Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Orlando Salido I and II

April 16, 2011, and March 10, 2012

Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBO Featherweight Championship

Juan Manuel Lopez was once labeled as the heir apparent to be the next face of Puerto Rican boxing in the early 2010s.

The featherweight knockout puncher drew comparisons to Felix Trinidad due to his outgoing nature and the vaunted power he displayed, specifically with his right hook.

However, these notions came crashing down when Lopez met grizzled Mexican veteran Orlando Salido.

In two often underrated clashes, Salido would stop Lopez twice in his homeland. Once as the underdog in their first encounter with a somewhat surprising eighth-round stoppage and in the rematch in the 10th round.

Both fights were competitive, with Lopez exhibiting a massive amount of heart even when he was being pummeled.

Salido’s unorthodox ability to throw combinations with hooks and fire shots in the middle of exchanges led to Lopez taking the majority of punishment.

The two battles between Lopez and Salido are often overlooked in the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry.

Ivan Calderon vs. Hugo Cazares I and Giovanni Segura

August 25, 2007 and August 28, 2010

Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Coliseo Mario ‘Quijote’ Morales, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

WBO and WBA Junior Flyweight Championships

Over the last 25 years the names that are brought up the most regarding popular Puerto Rican fighters are Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

However, the fighter who has fought on the island the most and had his most important fights there is the upcoming International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon.

After 12 defenses of his WBO strawweight title, Calderon moved up to junior flyweight to challenge long-reigning WBO champion Hugo Cazares.

The Los Mochis, Mexico native had experience fighting in Puerto Rico, winning on four separate occasions, including two defenses against Nelson Dieppa.

Throughout most of the first bout, Calderon outboxed Cazares, using his movement to evade most of his foes' attacks.

Cazares unrelenting pressure would pay off in the eighth round when he scored a knockdown on Calderon.

The Puerto Rican stylist would regain control of the fight in the final rounds as Cazares tired down the stretch.

Calderon would win a split decision and a title in a second weight class.

A rematch would take place a year later.

The fight would be stopped in seven rounds due to a severe cut on Calderon from a clash of heads. This time, Calderon would be awarded a technical decision after seven rounds of action.

The 2010 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year between Calderon and Mexico's Giovanni Segura was a classic style match-up between the ultimate boxer and brawler.

The two met in a unification match for the WBA and WBO junior flyweight titles in Calderon's hometown of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The battle between the two was similar to Miguel Cotto's first match with Antonio Margarito, where the boxer on the move, Calderon, eventually succumbed to Segura's power and pressure in eight rounds.

The ending was dramatic as the first loss of Calderon's career.

5. Alexis Arguello (52-4) vs. Alfredo Escalera (40-7-2) I

January 28, 1978

Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel Arena, Bayamon, Puerto Rico

WBC Super Featherweight championship

Of all the Puerto Rican world champions, Alfredo “El Salsero” Escalera remains one of the island’s most underrated.

Escalera was a precursor for Hector Camacho coming into the ring with a band playing the congas and dancing with a boa constrictor.

The Puerto Rican also made 10 defenses of the WBC super featherweight title, making multiple trips and defenses in Japan.

Nicaragua’s Alexis Arguello moved up from featherweight to challenge Escalera for his title and put on a vintage performance in an often-forgotten war.

The fight would be stopped on cuts in the 13th round and be remembered for the amount of bloodshed left by Escalera.

A rematch would occur a year later in Italy, with Escalera again being stopped in the 13th round. Arguello would go on to greater heights, winning more titles; however, Escalera wouldn’t challenge for a world title again.

For those looking for a fight that isn’t as lauded or revered as others in the era, you can’t go wrong with the match known as the “The Bloody Battle of Bayamon.”

4. Jose Luis Ramirez (87-5) vs. Edwin Rosario (24-0) II

November 03, 1984

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBC Lightweight championship

The 1980s was filled with numerous memorable and action-packed fights.

So much so that there were often years that multiple fights could have been awarded the Fight of the Year honor.

One that stands with Hagler-Hearns as the perfect fight to be shown to non-enthusiasts of the sweet science is the rematch between Edwin Rosario and Jose Luis Ramirez.

Through four rounds that featured numerous momentum shifts, Rosario and Ramirez exhibited the best boxing can in just four rounds.

At the beginning of the first round, Rosario dropped Ramirez with a right-hand lead. In the second round, Rosario continued to assault Ramirez and looked close to scoring a stoppage.

Still, by the third, the Mexican veteran of over 80-plus fights rebounded, swinging the momentum in his favor.

By the fourth round, Rosario was gassed, allowing Ramirez to finish off the Puerto Rican power puncher with a salvo of punches as the champion lay face-first in the corner.

The fight won Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1984 and is arguably the most exciting fight in the rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico.

3. Carlos Ortiz (49-5-1) vs. Sugar Ramos (50-3-3) II

July 01, 1967

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBA and WBC Lightweight Titles

One can tell what generation you grew up as a boxing fan in Puerto Rico by who you name as the best fighter to come out of the island.

Some will say Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, or Felix Trinidad.

Buy this pic on Getty dotcom

But, for true boxing historians, the greatest fighter to come out of Puerto Rico is Carlos Ortiz.

Ortiz, a former lightweight and junior welterweight world champion, fought some of the best fighters of his era, including Flash Elorde, Ismael Laguna, and Nicolino Locche.

One of Ortiz’s best wins occurred in Puerto Rico in a rematch against Cuba’s Sugar Ramos.

The first fight ended in controversy when a cut to Ramos forced a stoppage by the Referee Billy Conn. The decision led to the WBC declaring the title vacant as they felt Conn was overly favoring Ortiz.

The rematch would be far less controversial. Ortiz fought fervently, dominating Ramos in all four rounds before the fight was stopped in the fourth.

It was a statement-making performance from Ortiz and would be remembered as one of his best showings.

Ortiz’s rematch victory over Panama’s Ismael Laguna years earlier also deserves mention as one of his finest moments in Puerto Rico.

Ortiz would be the first Puerto Rican fighter inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

2. Wilfred Benitez (36-0-1) vs. Carlos Palomino (27-1-3)

January 14, 1979

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBC Welterweight Championship

Benitez v Palomino, Puerto Rico boxing circa 70s/80s

The man who should be universally recognized as the fifth king, along with Duran, Leonard, Hearns, and Hagler, is Puerto Rico’s Wilfred Benitez.

He was known as the ‘Bible of Boxing’ for his defensive prowess and acumen to make moving out-of-the-way punches an art form.

The 20-year-old Benitez challenged reigning WBC welterweight champion Carlos Palomino, who had already made seven defenses of his title.

Benitez confounded Palomino over 15 rounds using his upper body movement to offset Palomino’s advances, leaving him with little success.

Benitez would earn a split decision over Palomino that should have been unanimous. It was clear that the young fighter was a savant with the demeanor of a veteran at 20 years old.

Benitez’s victory over Antonio Cervantez, making him a world champion at 17, is a record that is likely never to be broken.

That also took place at the same arena as his win over Palomino.

The victory over Palomino was just as impressive, with Benitez showing a level of maturity beyond his years as he further entered the prime of his career.

1. Wilfredo Gomez (21-0) vs. Carlos Zarate (52-0)

October 28, 1978

Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico

WBC Bantamweight Championship

The historic battles between Mexico and Puerto Rico have been highlighted throughout this list. Some had the Mexican fighter coming out on top, and others had the Puerto Ricans raising their hand in victory.

The biggest win for Puerto Rico in the rivalry with Mexico was Wilfredo Gomez's demolition over Carlos Zarate in 1978.

Entering the fight, both Gomez and Zarate had an insane combined record of 73-0-1 with 72 knockouts between them. Both fighters entered undefeated with a guarantee that someone would get stopped.

In front of a raucous and near bloodthirsty crowd in Puerto Rico, Gomez aptly used Zarate's aggression against him, setting up traps for the former bantamweight champion.

In the fourth round, Gomez sent Zarate down, foreshadowing the upcoming end of the fight. Gomez would score another knockdown at the end of the fourth with a right hand, leaving the crowd at a fever pitch.

Gomez didn't sit down between rounds, awaiting the coronation coming his way.

An intense Gomez rushed out to meet Zarate to finish him off.

Another knockdown came that sent Zarate through the ropes, and when the Mexican champion was put down again, a towel from his corner was thrown in to end the fight.

Gomez's victory over Zarate remains among the greatest for any Puerto Rican fighter.

Due to the fighters involved and the stakes at hand, it may be the best of any that happened on the island.