MEXICO CITY – Despite the lull in action evident in last month’s much-hyped bout between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Mexico continues to produce electrifying champions and prospects who engage in thrilling fights.
Take, for instance, Moises Flores. The super bantamweight champ will face Cuban sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux in a unification bout on Saturday in Las Vegas. With 17 knockouts in 25 bouts, Flores embodies the Mexican style of boxing with an aggressive strategy and a puncher’s mentality.
Here are five Mexican boxers to keep an eye on in the coming months:
Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), junior featherweight/super bantamweight, 122 pounds
Born: Guadalajara, Jalisco, on Nov. 17, 1986
Dan Rafael’s ESPN ranking: No. 5
Next fight: Saturday vs No. 1 Guillermo Rigondeaux, WBA and IBF super bantamweight titles
Despite being proclaimed only the WBA interim super bantamweight champion, Flores is looking to legitimize his status as one of the division’s top boxers. In order to accomplish the feat, Flores will battle Cuban sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux for both the WBA and IBF belts on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Flores has faced three previously undefeated fighters in his last three fights, coming away with the win in each contest. On April 18, 2015, Flores took the WBA belt by defeating Oscar Escandon via split decision. Five months later, Flores' first successful defense came after knocking out Luis Cusolito. In Flores' most recent bout, last June in Namibia, he defeated Paulus Ambunda to claim the International Boxing Organization world super bantamweight title.
Miguel Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs), junior lightweight/super featherweight, 130 pounds
Born: Merida, Yucatan on Nov. 17, 1991
Dan Rafael’s ranking: No. 3
Next fight: July 15 vs No. 4 Takashi Miura, WBC world super featherweight title
Berchelt is next in line to capture the hearts and minds of boxing fans, assuming he can keep his spectacular knockout percentage (90.3 percent ) as high as it is now. The WBC super featherweight champ is nicknamed El Alacrán (The Scorpion), which should give some indication as to his punching prowess.
After working his way up in a talented division and earning the belt, Berchelt savaged previously undefeated countryman Francisco Vargas on Jan. 28 for the WBC world super featherweight title, and will next face Japanese titleholder Takashi Miura in his first true defense.
Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs), featherweight, 126 pounds
Born: Huetamo, Michoacan on Aug. 10, 1988
Dan Rafael’s ranking: No. 1
Next fight: likely Sept. 9 vs Abner Mares, WBA featherweight title
When the stakes are high, that’s when Santa Cruz has been at his best. The WBA featherweight champion has fought with a title on the line for his last 14 bouts, besting Abner Mares, Cristian Mijares and Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton, among others.
Santa Cruz exacted revenge on Frampton in January after Frampton handed Santa Cruz his first pro loss in July 2016. However, it’s not yet certain whether the rivalry will spawn a third fight. “I’ll start getting ready and fight whoever it is,” Santa Cruz told the Los Angeles Times.
Talk of a rematch against Mares later this year could create one of the most highly anticipated fights of the year after their first bout ended in a split decision in favor of Santa Cruz.
Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs), featherweight, 126 pounds
Dan Rafael’s ranking: No. 3
Born: Guadalajara, Jalisco, on Nov. 28, 1985
Next fight: likely Sept. 9 vs Leo Santa Cruz, WBA featherweight title
Mares roared onto the scene by capturing the WBO’s bantamweight title in only his 14th pro fight. As he moved up in weight class, Mares endured his first two losses to Mexican greats Jhonny Gonzalez and Leo Santa Cruz, but has still managed to add to his belt collection by capturing the WBA featherweight title in his last fight, against Jesus Cuellar in December 2016.
Though not yet official, Mares and Santa Cruz are likely to tangle again later in 2017. Mares has said he plans to keep boxing for just three more years.
Carlos Cuadras (36-1, 27 KOs), super flyweight/junior bantamweight 115 pounds
Born: Guamuchil, Sinaloa on Aug. 24, 1988
Dan Rafael’s ranking: No. 4
Next fight: Sept. 9 vs Juan Estrada, WBC super flyweight title
Hailing from Sinaloa, the same state where Julio Cesar Chavez was born, Cuadras embodies much of the same fearlessness that makes Mexican fighters so attractive to the sport’s fan base.
The former WBC super flyweight champion produced a strong challenge to Roman Gonzalez in September, but fell short as the Nicaraguan star bloodied Cuadras and took the belt after the Mexican fighter prevailed in six successful title defenses.
After bouncing back with a win in March, beating David Carmona by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden, Cuadras will face fellow Mexican Juan Estrada after the WBC mandated the bout in April. “I think he’s the only one left for me to hit,” Cuadras told ESPN Mexico after the announcement.
Others to watch:
Gilberto Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs) is the first Mexican-born super middleweight champ in history, claiming both the WBO and NABF belts. He’s been mentioned as a potential contender for Gennady Golovkin.
Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs) is one of Mexico’s newer champions, picking up the WBO featherweight belt by besting previously undefeated Miguel Marriaga in their title bout in April.
Rey Vargas (29-0, 22 KOs) captured the WBO super bantamweight belt in the U.K. in February by defeating Gavin McConnell.
Juan Estrada (35-2, 25 KOs) will face Cuadras, moving up in weight class after picking up two titles at the flyweight level. The all-Mexican bout will feature 52 combined knockouts when the boxers fight on Sept. 9.