Promoters, painters and punchbags

Letter from Mexico City

Boxing analysts here have been jostling for months to get the plum assignments covering the Sydney Olympics, because the most likely medalists for Mexico will be in the ring. Lightweights Miguel Cotto, at 63.5 kilograms, and Cristian Bejarano, at 60kg, along with flyweight Daniel Ponce, at 51kg, make up a trio of tough Mexican contenders who will be shouldering a hefty share of national pride throughout the Olympic boxing tournament.

Boxing analysts here have been jostling for months to get the plum assignments covering the Sydney Olympics, because the most likely medalists for Mexico will be in the ring. Lightweights Miguel Cotto, at 63.5 kilograms, and Cristian Bejarano, at 60kg, along with flyweight Daniel Ponce, at 51kg, make up a trio of tough Mexican contenders who will be shouldering a hefty share of national pride throughout the Olympic boxing tournament.

Their role model is Oscar de la Hoya, 27, a handsome champion from East Los Angeles who won gold for the United States eight years ago. Ask any Mexican and he'll rate 'the Golden Boy' as a local by proxy. De la Hoya's Las Vegas prize fights regularly draw hundreds of fervent Mexican fans from every social strata, and they liken him to the boxing legend, Julio Cesar Chavez - still touted as the Lord of the Ring.

Winning high-profile amateur bouts is probably the best route to a professional career, but, in non-Olympic years, many Mexican boxers choose to embark on the pro circuit very early on - sometimes even swimming the Rio Grande and entering the United States without documents in order to earn dollars by taking on opponents north of the border. Frequently, these inexperienced young boxers turn out to be over-matched and underpaid.

Jose Sulaiman, president of the Mexico City-based World Boxing Council, complains of "countless examples of unethical promoters and agents taking Mexicans to the United States to be exploited."

The perception is that gringo promoters seek out Mexican "cannon fodder" for cut rates, because there is an endless supply of willing young toughs in the lower weight categories bursting out of the barrios, particularly in the sleazy bordertowns near Texas and California. In reality, little money trickles down to those willing to take a beating. But since local bouts can bring the loser as little as $50 (£30), Mexican boxers prefer to go north for glory, glamour and at least 10 times the take-home pay.

Latina women, with carefully padded breasts, are beginning to take up boxing as well, and draw big audiences. But there is growing resentment that unknown Mexican boxers, inevitably billed in the US as 'tough street fighters' who will keep slugging away, are kept misinformed and are purposely mismatched.

When the wealthy fight promoter, Don King, came to Mexico City a few years back and was mugged for his Rolex wristwatch, there was an odd undercurrent of admiration for the plucky pickpocket who pulled it off. The press joked that Mexico City sneak thieves finally had provided a reason for that famous hair to stand on end.

One of Mexico's most prominent young painters, Emiliano Gironella Parra, recently commemorated that visit with a portrait of the notorious promoter. Clutching a stogie with manicured fingers and a knuckle-duster ring emblazoned with a dollar sign, Don King smirks from the canvas, which is framed by gold-toned chains and six pairs of puny brown-skinned pugilists, labelled "made in Mexico". It's the centrepiece of an exhibition "In this Corner", which pays homage to the boxing ring and its larger-than-life characters.

Gironella is gearing up for the World Boxing Council's convention in the Mexican capital next month by linking up with eight other artists and writers who share his passion for boxing. "Like cockfighting or bullfighting, boxing suits the Mexican soul," he says. "We excel at it." Intellectual heavyweights such as the writers Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer have extolled the elemental appeal of boxing as a battle of strength and psyche that strips away anything extraneous. Curiously, professional boxing used to be banned from broadcast on Spanish television because of its brutality, although there was no such squeamishness over weekly bullfights to the death. Yet the art exhibit is due to open late this year in Barcelona and Madrid, presenting boxing as high concept: like a Fight Club with unexpectedly cultured members.

The boxers portrayed by Gironella seem to be punching their way through pain, and their faces strain over muscles bunched like slabs of beef. But the artist also is captivated by the drama of the fighting world, both inside and outside the ropes. One striking painting shows the French singer, Edith Piaf, with white hands crossed like a corpse, opposite the boxing great, Marcel Cerdan. Roses and skulls keep them apart beneath a sketchy prop plane. "They were lovers, in spite of themselves," the artist recounts. "Piaf once dreamt of a horrible airplane crash and cautioned the champion not to fly between New York and Paris. He cancelled his ticket, but his plane landed on schedule without a hitch. So he took the next one - and it crashed. Piaf was devastated."

The work of Alfredo Garcia Revuelta, a Spanish painter in the same exhibit, also draws on fighting legend for a surreal effect: a weirdly blank-eyed boxer has eyeballs on the tips of his gloves that allow him to see where to punch. "It's like the old timer Panama Red," Emiliano Gironella explains patiently to non-aficionado. "He was blind at the end, except for his fists."

All eyes will soon be on three amateur Mexican boxers in Sydney, watching their matches out of passion and pride. Artists and con artists alike will be looking for inspiration.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own