Ranking the 10 Greatest Argentine Fighters in Boxing History
When Sergio Martinez climbs into the ring at Madison Square Garden this Saturday to face Miguel Cotto, he'll get a loud and vivid demonstration of the pride and passion that Puerto Rican fans bring to the sport. Few things I've experienced in sports have been more memorable than the sound of 20,000 voices singing the Puerto Rican national anthem in unison before Cotto gets ready to do battle in the historic venue.
But Martinez represents a great national boxing tradition as well. From Luis Firpo to Martinez, his Argentine countrymen have provided the sport some of its most exciting moments.
Martinez definitely has his place among the greats from his nation. But it's an entire list full of legends.
10. Luis Firpo
Known as "The Wild Bull of the Pampas," Luis Firpo is a boxing figure whose legend far surpasses his actual ring accomplishments. But his legend is so immense that it's enough to supplement his resume and earn him inclusion on this list.
He is the first name that well-informed boxing fans think of when they think of Argentina, and no article on the nation's boxing history could be complete without mentioning him.
A big and athletically powerful fighter, Firpo would have been a handful in any era. In the 1920s he was a phenom. After debuting in North America, he won 12 straight fights, including victories over Bill Brennan and Jess Willard, to earn a shot at heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
The showdown between Firpo and Dempsey remains among the most celebrated fights in heavyweight history. It was perhaps the most violent two rounds in the history of the sport. Dempsey dropped the charging bull seven times before finishing him off, but along the way Firpo managed to knock Dempsey completely out of the ring.
An indication of Firpo's lasting popularity throughout Latin America is the fact that a football team in El Salvador is named for him.
9. Justo Suarez
Justo Suarez is a figure somewhat like his near contemporary, Luis Firpo. His mystique is bigger than his resume. But, like Firpo, the lightweight "Little Bull of Mataderos" was an important national hero for Argentine boxing fans.
He grew up in a large and desperately poor family and by age nine was already working in a slaughterhouse to help support the family. He emerged from the streets as a popular brawler but began to add technical finesse to his approach as his professional career blossomed.
Suarez became the Argentine lightweight champion, and his fights packed stadiums and brought out European royalty and Argentine political leaders. At the time of his death by tuberculosis in 1938, he had begun to emerge as a popular attraction in the United States and was cementing his status as a world-title contender.
The only two losses of his career appear to come after the dreaded lung disease had started to afflict him.
8. Santos Laciar
One of three flyweights on this list, Santos Laciar was an elite 112-pound world champion in the 1980s. In 1981 he captured the WBA version of the belt by knocking out Peter Mathebula in seven rounds.
At the time, Carlos Monzon had recently retired, and Victor Galindez had died tragically, so Laciar's ascent made him an instant hero to Argentine boxing fans. He dropped the belt to Luis Ibarra in only his second defense but would reclaim the belt in 1982 by stopping Juan Herrera with a Round 13 TKO.
Laciar would defeat Ibarra in a rematch and hold the WBA flyweight title for three years, defending it often, before vacating it to move up to 115 pounds. In 1987 he became a two-division world champion by beating Gilberto Roman for the WBC super flyweight belt.
7. Oscar Bonavena
Luis Firpo is the more famous Argentine heavyweight, but Oscar Bonavena has the better resume. Fighting in the division's golden age of the 1960s and 1970s, he was a top contender who gave some of the best fighters of all time extremely difficult work.
Bonavena went the distance twice with Joe Frazier, knocking Smoking Joe down twice and losing by split decision in their first bout. He gave Muhammad Ali a battle before losing by Round 15 TKO. Bonavena also went the distance with world champions Floyd Patterson and Jimmy Ellis and against hard-punching contender Ron Lyle.
Among the fighters he beat were top contenders Zora Folley and George Chuvalo as well as European champion Karl Mildenberger.
6. Horacio Accavallo
Standing just 5'1", Horacio Accavallo was a flyweight star in the 1960s who retired as the reigning WBA champion.
In 1965 he was the No. 1 contender for the title, but Salvatore Burruni vacated rather than face Accavallo, who had already knocked him down and defeated him via 10-round decision. To secure the vacant belt, Accavallo traveled to Tokyo and beat Katsuyoshi Takayama by split decision.
Accavallo lost just twice in more than 80 fights. His first defeat came early in his career, and he did not lose again for nearly a decade, until moving up to face undefeated bantamweight Kiyoshi Tanabe late in his career.
5. Sergio Martinez
That current WBC and lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez could have accomplished so much in his career is especially amazing when you consider that he did not even take up the sport until age 20. Prior to that he had been an excellent soccer player and cyclist.
His natural athleticism has been a major weapon in his arsenal, as his tricky, southpaw style and explosive power have made him one of his generation's most dangerous fighters. His single-shot KO of Paul Williams in 2010 is one of the most iconic knockouts of recent years.
At age 39 and with multiple surgeries in the past few years, he looks like he could be reaching the end of his remarkable run. But he has been the top middleweight fighter of this century.
4. Victor Galindez
A physically powerful and relentless fighter, Victor Galindez held the WBA light heavyweight title for most of the second half of the 1970s, which was one of the division's most competitive eras. He captured the belt in 1974 from Len Hutchins.
Galindez recorded victories over Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and two each over Richie Kates and Yaqui Lopez. He dropped the belt to Mike Rossman by Round 13 TKO in a war and then won it back by forcing Rossman to retire in his corner following Round 9 in the rematch.
Galindez lost the title to Marvin Johnson in another classic fight in 1979. In 1980 he died racing stock cars at age 31.
3. Pascual Perez
At just 4'11", Pascual Perez was the first world champion from Argentina. He was an Olympic gold medalist in 1948 as well and fought as an amateur for an extended period of time before turning professional.
He won the flyweight world title in 1954 and held it for six years, defending it nine times while fighting 20 more times in nontitle fights. He was somewhat unusual for an Argentine fighter in that he traveled abroad to fight regularly.
In the Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, Teddy Atlas rates Perez as the fourth-best flyweight of all time and Bert Sugar places him second.
2. Nicolino Locche
Nicknamed "The Untouchable," Nicolino Locche had a style that ran counter to the come-forward brawling that is most often associated with Argentine greats. He ranks among the top defensive wizards in boxing history.
But he was no runner. He most often stood directly in front of an opponent and used his otherworldly reflexes to evade punches with his hands hanging at his side. Locche once won all 15 rounds on all three judges' cards against Antonio Cervantes, a Hall of Famer.
The only fault Locche had as a fighter was his lack of knockout power. In 136 fights he had just 14 stoppages.
But regardless of that, he was truly elite. In their Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, Teddy Atlas ranks him as the second-best junior welterweight of all time, behind only Aaron Pryor, and Bert Sugar lists him as third, behind Pryor and Julio Cesar Chavez.
1. Carlos Monzon
Carlos Monzon held the undisputed world middleweight title for seven years in the 1970s, defending it 14 times. A methodical ring general, he broke down opponents and brutalized them over rounds. While nothing about him seemed dazzling, his complete package made him among the great fighters of all time.
He was a major celebrity in South America and led a violent and turbulent life outside the ring. He was arrested numerous times for physically assaulting paparazzi and was sent to prison in 1988 for beating his girlfriend to death. In 1995 he died in a car accident while on a weekend furlough.
Personal failings aside, Monzon is unquestionably the greatest fighter to ever come out of Argentina. He is in any educated debate about the greatest middleweight of all time. In their Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, Bert Sugar ranks him fourth, behind only Mickey Walker, Stanley Ketchel and Harry Greb, and Teddy Atlas places him behind only Ketchel and Greb.