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.

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all