Mexico’s Bantamweight Sensations of the Fifties
By Dan Cuoco
When you think of Mexican bantamweights the names of Hall of Famers Ruben Olivares and Carlos Zarate quickly come to mind. And if you think further, maybe the names of Raul (Raton) Macias, Jose (Toluco) Lopez, Ricardo (Pajarito) Moreno, Jose Becerra, Jose Medel, Jesus Pimentel, Jesus (Chucho) Castillo, Rafael Herrera, Rodolfo Martinez, Romeo Anaya, Alfonso Zamora and Lupe Pintor ring a bell.
For me the Mexican bantamweight revolution started in the fifties with Raul (Raton) Macias, Jose (Toluco) Lopez, Ricardo (Pajarito) Moreno, German Ohm and Jose Becerra. Macias, Lopez, Moreno and Becerra were national idols. The little known Ohm’s popularity was a rung below the other three, but he still had his moments.
Mexican bantamweights dominated the rankings during the fifties: Raul Macias 1/54 – 11/58; Fili Nava 11/54 – 2/58; Jose (Toluco) Lopez 7/55 – 5/61; Ricardo Moreno 7/56 – 10/56 (he outgrew the class and entered the featherweight rankings) 12/56 – 7/66; German Ohm 11/56 – 2/58; Joe Becerra 6/57-2/61 (he won the title); and, Joe Medel 4/59 – 7/67 (first entered as a flyweight). In the October 28, 1956 Ring Ratings, Mexico had five bantamweights ranked in the top ten: Macias # 1, Moreno # 6, Lopez # 7, Ohm # 9 and Nava # 10.
Mexican fighters are among the most colorful in the history of boxing. They stand and fight and don’t seem to know the meaning of the word retreat. They pack power in their punches and they are not reluctant to keep throwing their heavy artillery. Unfortunately, too many of them don’t just leave their aggression in the ring. More than one good Mexican fighter has had his ring career curtailed because of aggressive activities out of the ring. Here is the story of the best of Mexico’s battling bantams of the fifties.
Raul (Raton) Macias
Raul was born on July 28, 1934 in Tepito a small suburb of Mexico City. His two older brothers Gaby and Jose were professional fighters and Raul learned to fight under their guidance.
Macias started to box when he was eleven years old and at twelve was able to hold his own in sparring sessions with many pro fighters who trained at the gym. He got his nickname Raton, which means mouse in Spanish, when a visitor to the gym saw him dart between the legs of a heavyweight with whom he was boxing.
At 14 Macias began his amateur career and won the junior flyweight title of Mexico. The following year he won the flyweight championship and repeated in 1950 and 1951. In 1951 he also won the bantamweight title, and the Central American bantamweight crown, which qualified him for the Pan-American games held in Argentina, in which he finished third.
In 1952 Raton retained his Mexican and Central American bantamweight honors and was selected to represent Mexico in the Olympic games at Helsinki. He reached the second series before losing.
He turned pro later that year. Unlike most fighters, 18 year-old Raul started fighting main events from the very beginning. He made his professional debut in Culiacan, MX on November 1, 1952 by outpointing Chucho Tello over ten rounds. He beat Tello again in another ten rounder in Culiacan three weeks later. He stopped Memo Sanchez in December and kayoed Giraldo Balco in March 1953 before defeating the highly rated Cuban Manuel Armenteros over ten rounds in his Mexico City debut on April 15, 1953. In his next outing he defeated the veteran Trini Ruiz, over ten rounds.
At this time Edel Ojeda, the Mexican bantamweight champion, announced his retirement and the Mexican Commission launched an elimination tournament to find a successor. Those named to compete were former champion Luis Castillo, the flyweight ruler; Otillo Galvan, the ex-flyweight king; Raul Solis, Baby Rivera, Emilio de la Rosa, Genaro Sarafin, Beto Couary and Raton. There were some protests over the inclusion of Macias, because he only had two pro fights, but after taking into consideration his brilliant amateur record he was included.
Raton advanced to the finals by defeating Galvan and Serafin. In the finals against Beto Couary, Macias turned in a brilliant demonstration of speed and ringcraft to win in a breeze. In only his fifth pro fight he was champion of Mexico.
Macias’ rapid rise continued. In his next three fights he won by decision and kayo over Chilean champion Alberto Reyes and by seventh round kayo over former North American bantam titleholder Billy Peacock. After eight professional fights Macias was the number four-ranked contender in the Ring ratings. At this stage of his career the then 19 year-old wunderkind wasn’t considered a hard hitter. He was characterized as a clever boxer who hit sharply with either hand, and was strong and durable.
Macias continued to hone his skills by taking two decisions over the clever and durable Fili Nava, and winning the North American Bantamweight Title from 1952 Olympic Flyweight Gold Medalist Nate Brooks. His victory over Brooks took place in Mexico City before a crowd of over 50,000 wildly partisan Macias’ fans. Macias easily defeated Brooks with an incessant body attack which beat Brooks into complete submission. Only Brooks’ great heart enabled him to last the 12 round distance. Brooks was nearly kayoed in the seventh round when the bell came to his rescue. He was never the same again, losing his next four fights – three by knockout.
The win over Brooks not only made Macias a national hero but also propelled him into a title fight with newly crowned champion Robert Cohen of France. Only a week earlier in Thailand, Cohen won the title vacated by Jimmy Carruthers by split decision over top contender Chamrern Songkitrat of Thailand. But before he could face Macias, he was injured in an auto accident and was out of action for nine months.
The National Boxing Association (NBA), (now known as the WBA), for reasons that continue to make no sense even today, decided to vacate Cohen’s title during his recovery and sanction a bout between number one ranked Songkitrat and Macias for the vacant NBA title. The NBA title fight received little support from other commissions.
On March 9, 1955, 20-year-old Raul Macias, in only his seventeenth professional fight, won the NBA version of the title with an eleventh round stoppage of Chamrern Songkitrat at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Macias dominated the fight with his long reach and height advantage, taking all but two rounds. He employed an excellent left jab, a thunderous left hook and powerful straight rights and just walked through his opponent. Songkitrat was down four times, three from punches and one from a low blow. The first two knockdowns occurred in the sixth round (the second from a low blow) and the final two in the eleventh round. Referee Fred Apostoli stopped the fight after the second knockdown in the eleventh when it was obvious that Songkitrat was too exhausted to continue. As soon as Macias’ hand was raised in victory, hundreds of his fans scrambled to ringside, battered down reporter’s typewriters, waved the national Mexican flag and tossed sombreros and even a live rooster in the air to acclaim Raul the new king of the bantams. He was carried around the ring on their shoulders in a proud display of emotion.
Raul decided to remain busy and after scoring two knockouts in non-title fights he was surprisingly kayoed by former victim Billy Peacock in three rounds and suffered a broken jaw. The knockout loss was the first time Macias was ever dropped in over 300 amateur and professional bouts.
Returning to the ring, Raul showed no adverse effects and went on a 17 bout winning streak, scoring 14 knockouts. The winning streak included handing highly regarded Leo Espinosa, Juan Cardenas and Dommy Ursua their first knockout defeats – Espinosa and Ursua in NBA title fights and Cardenas in a non-title fight. He also won an easy decision over the ultra tough Tanny Campo in a ten round non-title fight.
Raul was now regarded by most boxing experts as the most dangerous and dominant bantamweight in the world.
Thus the stage was set for Raul to face Alphonse Halimi, a French-Algerian fighting out of France, for universal recognition as world champion. During Raul’s reign as NBA champion, Robert Cohen, rated by all boxing bodies except the NBA as world champion, lost his title to Mario D’Agata, who in turn lost the title in his first defense to Halimi.
On November 6, 1957 the two met before a crowd of 18,385 at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Halimi proved his right to universal recognition as world bantamweight champion by outclassing Macias over 15 rounds. To most veteran observers the fight was one of the finest seen in the division in many years, However, to the pro Macias contingent the fight was disappointing. They had come to see him score a knockout. During the early rounds Halimi turned the battle into a slugfest. Fighting from a half crouch, he kept pressing forward tossing hooks and uppercuts to Macias’ body and head. Halimi was stronger physically and made the most of his strength by maneuvering Macias into close quarters every chance he had. Raul did not back down and met him head on. Both fighters stood head-to-head, tossing punches at each other. Seldom did the referee have to separate them.
The fight was close after 10 rounds. Fearing that he would lose a close fight, Halimi switched tactics from in-fighting to long-range jabbing. His tactics paid off. Raul didn’t win another round. When the decision was announced in Halimi’s favor, Macias’ fans were crushed. Up until that time no Mexican fighter in the history of boxing had ever been held in such high esteem by the Mexican fight fans as Macias. Macias was crushed when his fan’s cheers turned to jeers. He left the ring with a look of disbelief. He was disconsolate. But he was honest and a gracious loser. He said: “The only reason I lost was because Halimi was better. He put pressure on me. I would like to fight him again, to redeem myself and Mexico.” But unfortunately for Raul, the rematch never came to pass.
Raul remained out of the ring for a year and ultimately was dropped from the ratings for inactivity. He returned to the ring 369 days after his loss to Halimi as a featherweight by outpointing Kid Irapuato in Tijuana, Mexico. He followed that victory with knockout victories over Luis Trejo in Leon, Mexico and Carmen Jacobucci in Mexicali, Mexico. On February 28, 1959 he made a triumphant return to Mexico City. Before a record crowd of 16,000 adoring fans he won a ten round decision over Ernesto Parra.
Shortly after the Parra fight, Macias shocked his fans when he announced his retirement at age 24. Although he remained retired he did return for one fight on a special benefit show in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 13, 1962. Fighting a six rounder he kayoed Chocolate Zambrano in five rounds. The win brought his final ring record to 41-2-0, with 25 knockouts.
Jose (Toluco) Lopez
Jose was born Jose Lopez Hernandez on June 21, 1932 in El Oro, Mexico. Like Macias, Jose also started his professional career fighting ten rounders. He was nicknamed “Toluco” after the city of Toluca where he began his fistic career.
Following his graduation from school, he worked as a plaster’s helper, than a journeyman plasterer, but found that he enjoyed plastering opponents better than walls.
He won all 15 of his amateur fights and was state champion in 1953. He made his professional debut just 17 days shy of his 21st birthday against journeyman Baby Garcia on June 4, 1953 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He stopped Garcia in the 8th round. A strong willing mixer, he quickly reached main bout status and by the end of 1954 had established himself as one of the best 118 pounders in Mexico. His record stood at 14-3, with 5 knockouts.
At this stage of his career he was more of a scientific boxer and realized that if he was going to continue to grow and reach the next level he would have to adapt his style. So he adopted a more aggressive style and started to set down on his punches more. His new exciting style started to pay off immediately and he became a tremendous drawing card in Mexico City, La Laguna and the Mexican Provinces.
1955 was his breakout year. When Raul Macias gave up his national title, Jose was matched with Fili Nava for the vacant crown. He came through with a victory. In 29 bouts he had only lost four decisions, and reversed three of those losses. Lopez had stopped 11 and was the seventh rated challenger for the world bantam title by “The Ring.”
Toluco started off 1956 impressively, knocking out Emilio de la Rosa in eleven rounds to defend his national title and Joey Benson in one round. These two victories catapulted him to the number three ranking by “The Ring.” He was riding high. But that was about to change – quickly!
On August 14, 1956, Toluco made his highly anticipated debut in Los Angeles to face Billy Peacock at the Olympic Auditorium. The gallery was sold out a half-hour after going on sale. Mexican fight fans felt that the colorful Lopez was the fighter to avenge Peacock’s recent mastery over Mexican fighters. In previous appearances, Peacock had knocked out Raul Macias in 3, Pimi Barajas in 4, Memo Sanchez in 3 and Kildo Martinez in 6. But Peacock continued his mastery by winning a lopsided decision over ten rounds. Peacock repeatedly nailed Toluco with crushing rights hands. Lopez took every one of those right hands and came back fighting. Lopez put on such a gutsy performance that he received a standing ovation from the crowd when he left the ring. Bud Furillo of the Herald-Express said in his column the next day “Toluco Lopez is the most courageous fighter I’ve ever seen!” All in attendance including the promoter agreed that he would be heartily welcomed back at any time.
Toluco unwisely decided to return to the Olympic just five weeks after his grueling loss to Peacock to meet featherweight Rudy Garcia. The hard-hitting Garcia entered the ring with a record of 35-10-1, 20 kayos. His kayo victims included Harold Dade, Chico Rosa, Gene Smith and Nate Brooks. He held decision victories over Jackie Blair Lauro Salas, Auburn Copeland and Carmelo Costa. Garcia never looked better as he scored a 50-second knockout over Toluco. The echo of the opening bell had scarcely died away before Garcia drilled Lopez with a two-punch combination sending Lopez down for an eight count. Toluco bravely got up and ran into a savage left hook, followed by three hard rights sending him down again, this time for the full count.
The losses to Peacock and Garcia dropped him to the seventh spot in “The Ring.”
The resilient Toluco wasn’t discouraged by the losses. Less than a month after the Garcia loss he was back in the ring again winning a ten round decision over Joel Sanchez in Mexicali. He continued to fight up and down the Mexican provinces winning 19 of his next 20 fights, 14 by kayo. His only loss – a close decision to Havana, Cuba veteran Manuel Armenteros, later avenged. He also avenged his loss to Billy Peacock by beating him twice – by decision in Tijuana and by knockout in Los Angeles. A month prior to his knockout of Peacock he scored the biggest victory of his career when he kayoed Memo Diez in five rounds to defend his national bantam title. The knockout defeat was the first of Diez’s career. Only a year before Diez had been “The Ring’s” number one ranked flyweight before losing his lofty position by upset decisions to Dommy Ursua and Ramon Arias.
Once again, Toluco was ranked the third rated challenger for the world bantam title by “The Ring.” His ring record stood at 46-7-0, with 27 kayos. Of his seven defeats, five had been avenged.
Jose, however, couldn’t handle prosperity. On May 11, 1958 an out of shape Lopez took on lightly regarded Willie Parker in Acapulco. Parker in only his second year as a professional came into the fight with a record of 5-6-1, with no kayos. Two of his six losses had been by kayo. Parker surprised everyone by giving the out of shape Lopez a thorough beating and stopped him in the seventh round. Lopez dropped in the ratings from third to sixth.
Lopez was so embarrassed by his performance he demanded a rematch. He got himself in shape taking on two tune-up fights – winning both by knockout. His rematch with Parker took place before a large crowd at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Lopez turned the tables on Parker by winning an easy ten round decision.
Lopez stayed in shape and ran off another string of impressive victories culminating with a third round knockout of 23-year-old hard-hitting Mexican prospect Carlos Cardoso on December 3, 1958.
On February 1, 1959 Lopez returned to California to face Horace (Boots) Monroe for the North American Bantamweight Title. The 21-year old Monroe was the hottest prospect in California. His ring record was a gaudy 20-1-0, with 16 kayos. His only loss was a four round decision in his third professional fight – later reversed. He held knockouts over Willie Parker, German Ohm, Willie Lucedo, Roberto Hernandez, Nacho Esclante and Herman Marquez and outpointed Kid Irapuato, Billy Peacock and Joe Medel.
Before a capacity crowd at the Hollywood Legion Stadium Lopez shocked the crowd by stopping Monroe in only two rounds. Monroe got off to an excellent start, utilizing his superior height and reach and employing the long left jab for which he was noted. Near the end of the round, however, Toluco stepped in and nailed Monroe with a hard right and visibly shook him. In round two, Lopez came out quickly and dropped a still dazed Monroe three times before the referee mercifully stopped the fight. The win catapulted Lopez to third in “The Rings” world ratings. Again, he was on top of the world!
Negotiations were underway for Lopez to fight bantam champ Alphonse Halimi at Wrigley Field. While negotiations were taking place, Toluco returned to Hollywood on March 24, 1959 to take on unranked Danny Kid of the Philippines in a tune up fight. Before a near capacity crowd at the Hollywood Legion Stadium, 6-1 underdog Kid employing an excellent left jab and superior ring generalship had the better of the first seven rounds. Lopez realizing he was behind came out for the final three rounds with everything in his arsenal and engaged Kid in an exciting toe-to-toe slugfest. But his rally was too late and he left the ring the loser of a majority decision and a title shot with champion Halimi. The title shot instead went to fellow Mexican Jose Becerra. This was the closest Lopez would ever again get to a title shot. Toluco would remain in the top ten ratings until April 1961 by going 29-5-1-1, with 20 kayos. During that stretch he beat Danny Kid twice by decision and outpointed Eloy Sanchez and Manny Elias. But, he also lost his Mexican Bantamweight Title to Joe Medel by decision on August 1, 1959 and suffered knockout defeats to Medel and Otilio Galvan in 1960. He was dropped from the ratings for good after suffering a seventh round knockout loss to Hector Agundez on April 2, 1961.
In his last two years in the ring (1962-1963) he went 10-7, with six knockouts. His final ring ledger was 99-20-2-1, with 62 kayos. He was stopped seven times.
Ricardo ((Pajarito) Moreno
Ricardo was born in the small mining town of Chalchihuites in the state of Zacatecas on February 7, 1937. He left school to work as a metal breaker at the mines. Later he went to Mexico City where he worked as a parking lot attendant before turning to boxing. He did not fight as an amateur.
A two-fisted slugger with terrific power in either hand he turned professional at age 17 on June 16, 1954 with a first round knockout of Oscar Diaz in Mexico City. He won 19 of his first 20 fights in his first two years as a pro, all 19 of his wins by kayo. His only loss came in his fifth pro bout when the much more experienced Nacho Escalante outpointed him in six rounds. Most of his knockouts were in three rounds or less.
For one so young and with no amateur experience behind him his knockout victories were quite impressive when you consider the caliber of his opponents such as Mike Cruz, Jorge Gabino, Baby Moe Mario, Aurelio Rivero, and Americo Rivera who had just upset Jose (Toluco) Lopez.
By the end of 1955 18-year-old Moreno was considered by many the hardest punching bantamweight in the world. The question on everyone’s mind was whether he could take it as well as he dished it out. In 20 pro fights he had not met any one who could stand up to him long enough to find out.
On January 22, 1956 his management decided to find out just how good their prospect was. They matched him with another hard-hitting prospect, Memo Diez the current Mexican and North American Flyweight Champion. The 21 year-old Diez had won the national title by knocking out Memo Sanchez in 10 rounds in only his fourth professional fight, and the North American Bantamweight Title by knocking out Keeny Teran in 3 rounds in his 14th professional fight. He was also the sixth ranking flyweight in the world.
Before a crowd of over 30,000 fans Diez outpointed the still green Moreno over ten scorching rounds that had the fans on their feet all the way. Although Moreno was clearly outpointed, he hurt Diez on three occasions and only Diez’s great chin and heart saved him from going down.
Two months later Diez shocked the boxing world by knocking out the world’s number one ranked Young Martin of Spain in the first round. Diez would change places in the ratings with Martin and remained number one until he suffered an upset decision loss to Dommy Ursua at the end of the year. Diez’s record prior to the loss to Ursua was 21-5-2, with 13 kayos.
Although Ricardo lost to Diez, the experience proved invaluable. After winning a technical decision over Kildo Martinez and knocking out Alejo Mejia, Moreno was ready for his next cross roads fight. His opponent was Cuba’s national flyweight champ Oscar Suarez, the eighth raked flyweight in the world. Suarez entered the fight with Moreno in Mexico City with an impressive record of 44-3-2, with 18 kayos. Among his victims were Orlando Rodriquez, Dagoberto Fernandez, Memo Sanchez and Memo Diez. It was no contest! Moreno completely overpowered and destroyed Suarez in two rounds. The victory earned Ricardo the number ten spot in the world ratings. Interestingly enough, two months later Suarez gave a good account of himself in exchanging knockdowns with Flyweight Champion Pascual Perez before being stopped in the eleventh round of their title fight.
Ricardo scored four more kayos before 1956 ran its course, the most impressive a third round knockout of veteran Henry (Pappy) Gault in three rounds. By October 18, 1956 Mexican fighters dominated five of the top ten spots in “The Ring’s” bantamweight ratings. Raul Macias was ranked number one, Moreno number six, Jose (Toluco) Lopez, number seven, German Ohm, number nine and Fili Nava, number ten.
Moreno began 1957 by invading the United States for the first time. On January 29 in El Paso he knocked out Jessie Mongia in two rounds; on February 12th in Hollywood he kayoed Tommy Bain in three rounds; and, on April 1st in San Francisco he kayoed Gaetano Annaloro in five rounds. By now he had outgrown the bantamweight class and was the ninth ranked featherweight in the world and possessed an imposing record of 29-2-0, with 28 kayos – the last 10 in a row.
On May 28, 1957 a crowd of over 13,000 came to see the sensational 20 year old Moreno take on the rugged 23 year old Jose Luis Cotero of Los Angeles in Hollywood, California. Like Mike Tyson many years later, Moreno brought the element of suspense and appeal that a savage puncher brings into the ring. The air was full of electricity when Moreno entered the ring. Cotero entered the ring with a record of 32-11-5, with 11 kayos. He had never been stopped.
The fight was a thriller from the opening bell. The fans stood and cheered throughout the fight. Cotero a 10-7 underdog suffered a deep gash over his right eye and his chin was also cut. Shortly after the seventh round began the referee stopped the fight to examine Cotero’s gashed eye and then reluctantly let the fight continue. A desperate Cotero fearing the fight was going to be halted drove Moreno into the ropes with a savage barrage of punches to the head. As Moreno tried to slide along the ropes to avoid the carnage being heaped upon him Cotero caught him flush on the jaw with a thunderous right hand. Moreno went down hard. Moreno was too weary to rise and remained on the canvas for the full count.
Moreno took a well deserved rest and returned to Los Angeles six months later to take on Ike Chestnut the second ranked featherweight in the world. Ike’s record was 29-8-3, with 4 kayos. He had never been stopped. His record in California was an all winning one. He went to the post five times with five victories. His last victim was Jose Luis Cotero whom he outpointed in Hollywood just two months prior. Ricardo earned a number six ranking and a title shot at featherweight champion Hogan (Kid) Bassey when he stopped Chestnut in six rounds.
On April 1, 1958 21-year-old Ricaro (Pajarito) Moreno, Mexico’s “Little Bird” met featherweight champion Hogan (Kid) Bassey before a crowd of over 20, 000 in Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, California. The champion seemed determined for a quick victory and rushed Moreno at the opening bell. It was the kind of tactics Moreno favored. Moreno wasn’t as polished a ring technician as the champion, but one thing he could do was punch, and a wild swinging brawl was just what he wanted. It didn’t take Bassey long to realize he had chosen the wrong tactic. Several times in the round Moreno jolted him with vicious left hooks to the head and body, and late in the round a right hand had the champion skittering backward into the ropes. Bassey also suffered a slight cut over his left eye. Bassey came out more cautiously for the second round and started picking his spots. Realizing he was much faster and craftier than his challenger, Bassey opened up with everything in his repertoire. He repeatedly landed left jabs, straight rights, left hooks and right uppercuts on the onrushing Moreno. Moreno fought back stubbornly. Late in the round a right uppercut buckled his knees. Another uppercut knocked out his mouthpiece just before the end of the round. By the middle of the third round it was obvious that the end was near. Bassey was catching Moreno with deadly combinations and was battering him from one side of the ring to another. Finally a hard right hand caught the dazed Moreno square on the chin and dropped him on his back. Instinctively Moreno was struggling to rise when the referee finished the count with two seconds left in the round.
Later in the year after two knockout victories Moreno met future champion Davey Moore in Los Angeles and was knocked out in the very first round. For all intents and purposes the Moore fight finished Moreno as a serious contender. He fought on until 1967 with moderate success. He was able to knockout some reasonably good fighters from time to time, but every time he stepped up with the better fighters he was unceremoniously knocked out. Finally after suffering two consecutive knockout defeats in 1967, 30-year-old Ricardo (Pajarito) Moreno retired for good. His final ledger was 60-12-1, with 59 kayos. He himself was stopped nine times.
German Ohm was born of German ancestry on May 28, 1936 in Mexico City, Mexico. He was raised in Ciudad Lerado. Leredo is a little town in La Laguna where there are thousands of fig trees. Ohm spent his early youth as a fig planter.
German launched his pro career at age 18 in Gomez Palacio, Mexico on November 11, 1954 losing a four round decision to Chato Campos. Undaunted, German knocked out Jesus Alvarado in Lerdo, Mexico six days later and returned to Gomez Palacio December 9th to knockout Vicente Ramirez in the third round.
Ohm started his 1955 campaign on a sour note by fighting Chino Flores to a four round draw and losing a six round decision to Pinky Ruiz. Even though he hadn’t won either fight he was feeling more comfortable in the ring and won his next five fights, four by kayo, including a six round knockout over Pinky Ruiz in a rematch. Two of his kayos took place in Mexico City where he thrilled hard core fight fans with his exciting style. They saw in German the ingredients that make a fighter sensational – a knockout punch in either hand. It was evident even then that German possessed a devastating left hook and a bone crushing right hand.
German suffered a setback when Luis Gutierrez stopped him in the fourth round of his third fight in Mexico City. Again undaunted, German returned to the ring wars 13 days later and closed out the year with seven consecutive wins, five by knockout. Among his victims were two of Mexico’s toughest second tier bantams Americo Rivera and Angel Iglesias.
Mexico City veteran Mike Cruz was German’s first big test in 1956. He had been in with some of Mexico’s best bantams and had only been stopped twice. And the two fighters to stop him were two of the hottest prospects in Mexico at the time – Ricardo (Pajarito) Moreno and Carlos Cardoso. Although he was stopped by both, Moreno (round 6) and Cardoso (round 5), he extended both of them before succumbing to their numbing power. German wanted to show that he too belonged with the elite and made a good case for himself by knocking out Cruz in the third round. Two more victories followed and on March 22, 1956 German was paired with another fast rising youngster named Jose Becerra. The 19 year-old Becerra had turned professional a year before German and entered the ring with a record of 30-2-1, with 17 kayos. The 19 year-old German was a month younger with a record of 17-3-1, with 13 kayos. Ohm was well ahead on points when the fight was stopped due to severe cuts. Even though he lost, German came out of the fight more determined then ever. He knew he was beating one of Mexico’s best bantams and that the only reason he lost was because of cuts. He now knew he belonged.
A month after the Becerra fight, Ohm was back in the ring and won going away against the veteran Tibico Torres. He followed that victory with three consecutive knockouts over Martin Vasquez, Joe Chamacho and Jorge Gabino.
German was now ready to step up in competition again and on June 30th he won a lopsided decision over crafty veteran Jorge Herrera. His next fight was against another Mexican bantam prospect 18-year old Raul Leanos. Raul had turned pro at age 16 and possessed a record of 20-2-1, with 6 knockouts. His only two losses were by close decision. German journeyed to Leanos’ hometown and destroyed him in two rounds. On July 28th he returned to Mexico City and knocked out tough veteran Babe Rivera in the second round. In and around the La Laguna, Mexico provinces he was now being called the Mexican Teuton. Ohm returned to Mexico City on August 18th to face Arturo (Baby) Ruiz. Ruiz was coming off impressive victories over Jose Luis Mora and Chucho Tello. He proved to be no competition for German and was kayoed in the first round.
German’s winning streak caught the eyes of the editors of “The Ring.” He entered the ratings at number ten on September 21, 1956. The only bantams in Mexico ahead of him now were number one ranked Raul Macias, number four ranked Jose (Toluco) Lopez and number seven ranked Ricardo Moreno.
In September of 1956 German fought twice, outpointing Kildo Martinez in ten and knocking out Avelino Felix in seven. Felix had just come off of a victory over Luis Gutierrez who had stopped German in his eleventh professional fight. Both victories led to his elevation to the ninth spot in the October “Ring” ratings.
The German Ohm – Jose Becerra rematch took place on October 18, 1956 before a packed arena. Ohm was at his best and gave Becerra a boxing lesson enroute to a unanimous decision. The victory was sweetened when Ohm again was elevated in the “Ring” ratings to number eight. Now the only Mexican bantams rated higher than he were number one Macias, and number six Lopez.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Ohm took out Chango Ceballos in nine rounds and then headed into the biggest fight of his career against unbeaten sensation Carlos Cardoso. Cardoso entered the December 8, 1956 Mexico City showdown unbeaten in 26 fights, with 12 kayos. The 20-year old Ohm ended the 21-year old Cardoso’s streak with a unanimous ten round decision. On January 12, 1957 he met Baby Ruiz in a rematch and repeated his earlier victory by blasting Ruiz out again in one round.
Ohm’s fourteen bout winning streak, including his impressive victories over Baby Ruiz, Jose Becerra and Carlos Cardoso, elevated him to the number four world ranking in the bantamweight division. More importantly, he was now the second ranking bantam in Mexico behind number one ranked Raul Macias. And he was only 20 years old.
Ohm did not fight again until October 26, 1957 and was dropped from “The Ring” ratings for inactivity. The Ring’s La Laguna correspondent Miguel Ramirez Aznar commented that German was in Los Angeles under the wing of Frank Sinatra. Be that as it may, Ohm made his U.S. debut at the Hollywood Legion Stadium against Ross Padilla. Ohm, a 4-1 favorite, suffered a severe gash under his right eye that hampered his performance in the late rounds. Padilla walked off with a controversial majority decision and snapped Ohm’s fourteen fight winning streak.
Two months later, Ohm returned to the Hollywood Legion Stadium to take on Hollywood’s latest bantam sensation 20-year old Horace (Boots) Monroe. Monroe was making his main event debut and entered the ring with a record of 11-1, with 9 kayos. Monroe had no problem with German and knocked him out in the fourth round.
On July 17, 1958 German won a ten round decision over Memo Diez in Matamoros, Mexico in what turned out to be his last professional fight. The 22-year-old German disappeared from boxing with a record of 32-6-1, 22 kayos. But for one 18-month period in time, German Ohm was the toast of the La Laguna Mexican Provinces.
Jose Becerra was born on April 15, 1936 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. He was the second oldest of five children (two brothers and two sisters). Jose became interested in boxing through a friend. He started in the Mexican Golden Gloves and had thirty amateur fights winning all but two. Coming from a poor background Jose decided to turn professional to earn a few pesos to help feed the family. At the time he turned professional he had no thoughts of big purses or titles. Boxing was just a means to earn a meager living.
Young Jose came under the tutelage of Pancho Rosales who for over thirty years had been Mexico’s leading developer of ring talent. On August 30, 1953, 17-year-old Jose Becerra made his professional debut with a fourth round knockout victory over Ray Gomez in Guadaljara, Mexico.
Jose quickly established himself as a comer by winning his first eighteen fights (all six rounders) over credible opposition. Most of his fights took place in Guadalajara and he was quickly becoming a favorite because of his damaging punch. Nine of his eighteen opponents were knockout victims.
Jose tasted defeat for the first time when the more experienced Luis Ibarra outpointed him in six rounds on October 3, 1954. 15 days later Jose started another winning streak that saw him go undefeated in thirteen fights, with only a ten round draw with featherweight Danny Bedolla marring the streak. Eight of his victories were by knockout. Claudio Martinez put a temporary halt to Jose’s rise when he outpointed the 19 year-older on February 18, 1956 in Guadalajara.
Less than a month later Jose locked horns with another 19-year-old up and coming bantamweight named German Ohm. Trailing on points, Jose was able to cut Ohm’s eyebrows and escape with a sixth round technical knockout. The fight was the toughest of Jose’s career. Jose won five more fights before being matched with Ohm again. This time he wasn’t so lucky. Since their last fight Ohm had knocked out Baby Ruiz in one round and was rated ninth in the world ratings. The rematch took place on October 18, 1956 before a packed arena. Ohm was better than Jose that night and gave him a boxing lesson enroute to a unanimous ten round decision.
In 1957 Jose hit his stride as a big timer. Early in 1957 Jose ended the winning streak of the veteran Cuban bantamweight Manuel Armenteros, who for many years had been among the top men in the division. At the time Jose defeated him, Armenteros was a big favorite in Mexico, successfully touring from city to city. He followed this victory with two easy ten round decision victories over another up and coming Mexican bantam named Jose Medel. Jose, who was one month shy of his 19th birthday, had turned pro at 17 and had already met and held his own with most of Mexico’s toughest flyweights and bantamweights. He entered the ring with Becerra sporting a record of 20-4-3, with 14 kayos.
His victories over Armenteros and Medel moved him into the world ratings on April 17, 1957. He entered as the number ten bantam in the world. Ahead of him in the ratings from Mexico were his idol Raul Macias at number one and German Ohm at number five.
After going undefeated in twelve fights since his loss to Ohm, Jose came to Los Angeles to fight Dwight Hawkins. The date was November 16, 1957. It was going to be a big night because Mexican ring idol Raul (Raton) Macias holder of the NBA bantamweight title was meeting Alphonse Halimi for the undisputed world title. All of Mexico was worked up over the fight. Thousands of Mexican fight fans made the trek from Mexico. Mexican fight fans living in LA made a Mexican holiday of the event.
Even Jose got caught up by the occasion. Jose found it hard to keep his mind on his own fight that night even though he knew Hawkins was a dangerous, murderous puncher. Macias lost a decisive fifteen round decision to Halimi – and all Mexico mourned. Jose’s fight came on after the championship fight and Becerra too was in mourning. He later said, “I was so upset by Macias’ loss I didn’t care.” An unmotivated Becerra was stopped in the fourth round
Jose stayed out of the ring for three months and came back a much more dedicated fighter. During the next year and a half Jose ran off fifteen consecutive victories, thirteen by knockout to find himself the mandatory challenger for Alphonse Halimi’s bantamweight crown. Among his kayo victims were Dwight Hawkins (ko 9), Willie Parker (ko 2), Little Cezar (ko 4), Jose Luis Mora (ko 3), Ross Padilla (ko 1), Mario D’Agata (tko 10), and Billy Peacock (ko 1). His most impressive victory was when he fought Mario D’Agata, former world bantamweight champion in Los Angeles on February 5, 1959. D’Agata proudly boasted that he had never been floored in his life. D’Agata, like Jake LaMotta before him when he fought Ray Robinson, could continue that boast after the fight. But, Becerra pounded him so relentlessly D’Agata was forced to call it quits in ten rounds. The stoppage was the only time the ex-champion failed to finish a fight in a career that spanned twelve years and 67 fights.
During this eighteen-month stretch, Jose had demonstrated an overwhelming persistency to cause all his opponents to fight his kind of fight. With a damaging right hand and a powerful sneak left hook, opponents were becoming wary because they knew that Becerra could capitalize on any mistake and take them out with one punch. It had been a long time since the bantamweight division had seen such a force as this devastating 23-year-old knockout artist.
On July 8, 1959 Jose prepared to enter the ring for the biggest fight of his life. In the opposite corner was bantamweight champion Alphonse Halimi who had beaten his idol Raul (Raton) Macias 21 months earlier. Becerra had a lot of pressure on him. He wasn’t just fighting for himself; he was fighting for all of Mexico. To add to his pressure, in a meeting with Mexico’s President Adolfo Lopez Mateos Jose had promised that he would bring the title to Mexico.
The title fight was held in the new Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. 15,110 spectators were on hand to witness an unforgettable brawl. The fight was action packed every second of the way.
Halimi got off to a good start by taking the first two rounds with his superior boxing skills. In round three Becerra picked up the pace and tore into Halimi relentlessly. He backed the champion into the ropes where he whaled away with both hands. But Halimi wasn’t champion for nothing. He stood his ground and met Becerra punch for punch. The fight turned into a see-saw battle without a moments let-up. The pace was terrific. Every now and then one or the other would land a hard punch that would bring the already hysterical crowd to their feet. Hopes rose and fell, but champion and challenger remained upright. It was obvious, however, that the fight was not going to go the full 15 rounds.
The end came in the eighth round. After a minute and a half of give-and-take, Halimi hurt Becerra with a hard right to the head. But instead of backing off, Becerra came forward an exploded a left hook, followed by a right hand to the head of Halimi sending him to the canvas. Halimi was on his feet at the count of four. He instinctively tried to protect himself. But Becerra was not to be denied. He attacked recklessly and scored with hard body punches that sapped the last remaining strength in Halimi’s body. Becerra then switched to the head and landed a beautiful left hook followed by a right hand that dropped him on his face for the full count. He didn’t move a muscle as the referee counted him out.
Bill Miller of “The Ring” summed up the emotions of the moment after the knockout beautifully when he reported “That was when the grandfather of all demonstrations took place. Pandemonium broke loose. Frenzied fans screamed hysterically. It was contagious. Even this hardened veteran of ring activity found himself cheering. Later a friend of mine, sports-writer of a Spanish daily published in Los Angeles told me that he had a wire from Guadalajara, Becerra’s home town – a city of 400,000 – that the city had gone stark mad. Thousands of people crowded around radios and when they heard about the first knockdown, people started to embrace each other and weep for joy. When the end came – well, try to picture it: You’ve seen Mexican fans!”
Similar excitement took place in Mexico City, where a few days later Jose received a hero’s welcome.
Tragedy struck Jose on October 24, 1959 in his hometown of Guadalajara. Jose was making his first start as champion in a non-title fight against Walt Ingram. Jose was battering the gallant and brave Ingram so badly that the referee stopped the carnage in the ninth round. While the fans were acclaiming Jose’s victory, the unfortunate Ingram suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to the injuries.
On December 12, 1959 Jose had his first fight since the tragic fight with Ingram and won a ten round decision over Frankie Duran in Nogales, Mexico. Jose wasn’t nearly as aggressive as his previous fights and appeared to hold back when he got Duran in position to land one of his thunderous shots. Still he won rather handily. With a title rematch set for February against former champion Halimi, his handlers knew he would have to show a lot more intensity than he displayed in the Duran fight if he hoped to retain his title.
The Becerra-Halimi rematch took place on February 4, 1960 at the Los Angeles Coliseum before a crowd of 31,830. The fight was shifted from its original local when it became apparent that the arena would not hold the thousands who applied for tickets. Becerra was now the most popular fighter to ever come out of Mexico.
Halimi came out for the first round intent on boxing from long range where he had the advantage. He clearly took the first round with his clever boxing. The second round was following the pattern of the first round when Alphonse caught Jose with a body punch and floored him for a one count. After the second round, Jose, as was the case in their first match, started to successfully trap the challenger along the ropes. But Halimi had learned from his first encounter with Becerra. Whenever Jose tried to get inside, Alphonse either used his speed to get out of harms way or tied the champion up until the referee ordered them to break. The fight turned into another tense and exciting affair but through the first six rounds Halimi clearly had the edge. He was not only outboxing Jose in every round but was successfully trading punches with him when pinned on the ropes.
In the seventh round Halimi was starting to show signs of fatigue for the first time from the torrid pace. Although he was still clearly outboxing the champion he did take a number of punishing left hooks to the head. In the eighth round Halimi missed a long left and before he could get set again, Becerra caught him with two beautiful left hooks that nearly dropped him. At the end of the eighth round Halimi’s corner pleaded with him not to mix it up with the champion. They implored him to box and keep the fight at long range. But Halimi didn’t listen to his corner. He was winning the fight with his combination boxing and slugging and apparently had no intention to change tactics. Becerra’s handlers were telling him that he was behind in the scoring and that he needed to step it up or he was in danger of losing his tile.
Becerra rushed from his corner to start the ninth. Halimi tried to catch the onrushing Becerra with a right hand but missed. Becerra countered with a terrific right to the heart that caused Halimi to wince and followed with a left hook with full leverage that caught Halimi on the chin and dropped him flat on his back for the full count. Nat Fleischer, editor of “The Ring” reported from ringside. ” Mexico has furnished many top ringmen to the fistic world but none more popular than Jose Becerra, world bantamweight champion. Striking with the deadliness of a cobra, the Guadalajara fighter, in a dramatic finish, retained his world crown by stopping Alphonse Halimi, challenger in 48 seconds of the ninth round. One well placed left hook that crashed against the jaw of the challenger, stiffened Halimi’s neck, dropped him like a log on the canvas where he was counted out. Ahead on points on the score cards of all officials and most of the writers, Halimi was well on the road to regain his throne. Then suddenly like a flash, one thunderous smash that came as a shock to the Frenchman’s many rooters, crashed Halimi’s margin and ended a contest that was replete with thrilling fighting and a dramatic ending. Becerra’s single punch momentarily held the crowd, consisting of more than half Mexican rooters, spellbound. Then with a sudden explosion, came a roar of “Viva Becerra”, a rush for ringside, the overturning of chairs and sombreros tossed in the air as the Mexican fans gave vent to their enthusiasm. Pandemonium enveloped the stadium as the Becerra supporters rushed pell-mell all over the arena. It was a sight to behold!”
Jose engaged in two non-title fights before defending his title for the second time on May 23, 1960 in Tokyo, Japan against Kenji Yonekura. Jose retained his title by a close split decision. The fight resembled a track meet as Yonekura kept retreating, slipping punches and occasionally lashing out snappy lefts to the champion’s face. Becerra was the aggressor throughout and kept the pressure on for the full 15 rounds. Many of his punches were short of the mark, but he landed enough to sway two of the three officials.
On August 12, 1960 Jose knocked out veteran Chuy Rodriquez in four rounds of a non-title fight in Tampico, Mexico. 18 days later on August 30, 1960 Eloy Sanchez shocked the world as well as Jose when he kayoed the champion in the eighth round of their non-title fight in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Jose retired immediately after the fight.
There was much speculation about Jose’s abrupt retirement from the ring. Some believed he quit because of his loss to Sanchez. Others believed that Jose lost much of his fire after he killed Walt Ingram. They pointed to the fact that his vaunted hook had been coming across with less assurance since the Ingram fight. And then there were rumors that he retired because of eye problems. The rumor about the eye problems was never substantiated and Jose was too much a man to retire over a knockout loss. The feeling here is that Becerra retired because he just lost the fire in his belly for fighting after the Ingram loss. Jose was a humble man who came from a deeply religious family and never sought the adulation of the crowds that most fighters missed when their fighting days were over.
So like his idol Raul (Raton) Macias before him he walked away from the ring at age 24. Although he remained retired he did return for one fight on a special benefit show in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 13, 1962. Fighting a six rounder he outpointed Alberto Martinez in six rounds. The win brought his final ring record to 71-5-2, with 42 kayos.
Jose Medel was not considered in this article because his significant years were in the sixties. The others set the standards for the excellent bantams that followed. They were colorful, hard-hitting and brave and captured not only the hearts of the Mexican fans, but the hearts of the hard-core fight fans of the fifties that loved action fighters.