Rafael Mendoza, revered throughout the boxing industry and one of the most prolific managers in history, died from lung cancer Wednesday in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was 80.
Mexico's Mendoza, known as "La Cobra," was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015 and worked in the sport for more than 50 years. He managed or advised 26 world champions.
Among the fighters Mendoza worked with were Hall of Famers Miguel Canto, Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, Daniel Zaragoza, Alexis Arguello and Pipino Cuevas. He also worked with other fighters who won world titles, including Gilberto Roman, Oscar Larios, Chango Carmona, Javier Jauregui and Canelo Alvarez before he became a star.
Mendoza also worked with many promoters through the years, including Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions and Felix "Tutico" Zabala. He also had a close relationship with the WBC, which announced his death Thursday.
"He's one of those guys that if you went to the average boxing fan they would not know him, but if you went to any boxing professional in the world, everybody knew Rafael Mendoza," said promoter Lou DiBella, who was working as a vice president of HBO Sports programming the network's fights when he met and became friends with Mendoza around 30 years ago. "He had an involvement with so many great fighters. He would virtually never have a contract with those guys. He operated with them on loyalty and it lasted years and years.
"He wasn't a guy who would do 20 pages of legally drafted contracts. He did one-pagers and lived by his word. He was an old-school guy and he was genius at being able to identify boxing talent. He would always be able to give an incredibly intelligent view of how fights would play out. While he wasn't 100 percent right about the result, he was usually right about the type of fight it would be."
Born April 20, 1937, in Merida, Mexico, Mendoza was 20 when he began covering boxing for publications in Mexico and later wrote for the sports newspaper ESTO.
When he was 28, Mendoza left sportswriting for a time and went to work as a boxing matchmaker, putting together the fights for various shows in Mexico.
Mendoza later to returned to ESTO and moved to New York, where he worked as the paper's boxing reporter and covered fights around the world.
"When I was working at HBO, he was one of my greatest resources," DiBella said. "He would come to my office, kick off his shoes and we would talk about boxing for hours. He was one of my resources and became my dear friend, a mentor and like a family member. He was incredibly funny and well spoken and colorful. He was like that last breed of characters. The sport of boxing lost a genius and another great character."
Mendoza was fluent in several languages, and in addition to boxing was considered a historian on the life and career of Frank Sinatra.
"He was an amazing storyteller, a brilliant boxing mind and his boxing IQ was one of the highest I ever encountered of anyone," DiBella said. "He was a legend. He worked with fighters and promoters around the world."
Mendoza is survived by his wife, Martha, daughters Macarena and Mariana, and two grandchildren.