When boxer extraordinaire Joel “El Cepillo” Casamayor enters the boxing ring against the wizard from Mexico City Juan Manuel Marquez, you’ll be seeing a rare event, almost as unique as a solar eclipse.
It’s rare to find an elite Cuban boxer tangling with a Mexican fighter the caliber of Mexico’s Marquez but that’s what you’ll see when they meet on Saturday Sept. 13, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
During the 1950s and 60s there were Cuban boxers as abundant as the sugar cane that grows on that island nation, fighters who boxed just as sweetly. Magnificent fighters like Kid Gavilan, Luis Rodriguez, Jose Napoles and Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos brought their smooth as rum style to North America.
No wonder many call it the golden age of boxing.
“El Feo” Rodriguez had beautiful footwork, smooth combinations and worked wonders against the likes of Emile Griffith who he beat for the world title and monsters like Bennie Briscoe and Curtis Cokes. There was nothing ugly about his boxing pedigree. Against Mexico City fighters Alvaro Gutierrez and Alfredo Cota he scored two knockouts over each of the fighters.
Both “Mantequilla” Napoles and Sugar Ramos moved to Mexico after Fidel Castro took over the island and both made the Aztec country their second home. While in the tequila drinking country the two Cubans burned through dozens of opponents including Mexicans and Americans.
Napoles fought the day after the Cuban revolt and for another year and three months. But when professional boxing was banned he moved to Mexico City and fought numerous local fighters. After losing two bouts to Tony Perez and Alfredo Urbina, he never lost to a Mexican fighter again though engaging in more than two dozen bouts against boxers from that country.
Ramos was equally effective fighting out of Mexico. For years his power jab and overall style proved dominating, until he met Mexico’s Vicente Saldivar who came out of retirement, then moved up a division to challenge the great Cuban boxer. Saldivar was the first elite Mexican champion to beat the great Sugar Ramos by win or decision, in 1964. It came by a knockout in their featherweight world title match in Mexico City.
Battle of the Gulf of Mexico
Less than 100 miles separate the two countries in the Gulf of Mexico but it’s not easy to find many Cuba-Mexico wars. They’re scarce events.
Casamayor’s loss to Jose Luis Castillo was the last match between elite boxers from those two boxing nations. That fight was fought at close quarters and had more elbows, head butts and rabbit punches than the referee could keep up with.
“We’re ready for Casamayor and any tactics he chooses,” said Marquez, who prefers to box from the outside. “We’ll leave that to the referee.”
Don’t expect Cuba’s left-handed slippery eel of a fighter Casamayor (36-3-1, 22 KOs) to repeat his last fight where he was knocked out of the ring but survived a slugfest before knocking out Michael Katsidis.
No, don’t expect that at all.
Casamayor, who is the Ring Magazine lightweight world champion, faces Mexico’s king of counter-punching Marquez (48-4-1, 35 KOs), a master of the perfect punch and the perfect stance. He’s downright anal when it comes to fighting in the ring.
“I’ve changed my style recently for the fans,” said Marquez, 35, who often in the past would wait until his opponent left an opening or tilted too far to his right. “If people want more action then I’m going to give more action.”
A few months back, in Los Angeles, it was kind of fun to see the Cuban boxer meet the usually grim fighter from Mexico City. There was the ever-present smile and friendly chatter of Casamayor alongside Marquez’s face and attitude that only a mortician could love.
Casamayor, 37, who has a reputation as a dirty boxer among his peers, entered a small room that day where hundreds of boxing gloves were being signed for dignitaries and celebrities. Marquez was already in the room looking stern as ever. Only six people were inside the room.
The Cuban boxer opened the conversation by saying how much he respected the fighter and his esteemed trainer Nacho Beristain. Finally the Mexican stone face relented and he began to speak in friendly tones.
After a few minutes the two fighters were beginning to end their conversation when Marquez said: “We’re going to have a good clean fight.”
Without a hitch Casamayor answered: “Of course.”
Don’t expect that friendliness to continue. The Cuban boxer is downright snarly before a match as he proved to surprised boxing fans trying to get his autograph hours before his last fight at Morongo.
“He gets that way before all his fights,” said Luis DeCubas Jr. who works in his corner during bouts.
In this fight you’ll see the best of Cuba and Mexico in the ring when Casamayor and Marquez clash for the Ring Magazine lightweight title.
“Mexico has great warriors and I’m a great warrior,” said Casamayor. “This is a fight that will bring the best out of me.”
Cuba versus Mexico, a rare event indeed.