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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Mexican Independence Day fight tradition

By Salvador Rodriguez

Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar
Julio Cesar Chavez, right, fell short against Pernell Whitaker but helped establish a fight tradition.

LAS VEGAS -- It was exactly 20 years ago this past Tuesday that Julio Cesar Chavez headlined the main event in a Mexican Independence Day celebration at San Antonio's Alamodome, before 60,000 fans, on a mission to become the first Mexican fighter in history to become a four-time champion.

Chavez was unable to achieve the feat, of course, and his draw against Pernell Whitaker in a welterweight title bout that night initiated a series of mishaps for Mexican boxing in the month of September -- although it didn't stop the country's top fighters from becoming staples at stateside shows celebrating the national holiday.

After the Whitaker draw, Chavez went on to star in four more major events around the annual September festivities. He bested Meldrick Taylor in 1994, defeated David Kamau in '95 and fell to Oscar De La Hoya in '98, all in Las Vegas, before bowing out in a technical defeat to Grover Wiley after suffering a fracture hand in 2005 -- Chavez's final fight.

In a gradual, symbolic passing of the torch, it was De La Hoya who took over as the ringleader of boxing's Mexican Independence Day celebrations. He outpointed Hector Camacho in Las Vegas in 1997, the year before his clash with Chavez. And in a blockbuster that remains one of the most significant editions in boxing's Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry, De La Hoya saw his September winning streak ended by Felix Trinidad in a majority decision in Las Vegas.

"The Golden Boy" renewed his participation in the September ritual in 2002, defeating Fernando Vargas in a battle between Mexican-Americans, but in 2003 he dropped a decision to Shane Mosley in their rematch, and a year later was knocked out by Bernard Hopkins -- all in Sin City.

In 2005, Erik Morales took up the mantle from De La Hoya, but on a night of surprises, 'El Terrible' lost to Zahir Raheem in a duel that was supposed to be a tune-up Morales' second war with Manny Pacquiao. He bounced back with a September triump in 2010, knocking out Willie Limond in Mexico City, and a year later won an interim junior welterweight title by topping Pablo Cesar Cano in Las Vegas.

Also headlining Mexican Independence Day events in recent years, all of them staged on the Vegas Strip, were Marco Antonio Barrera -- against Robbie Peden in 2005 and Rocky Juarez in '06, both unanimous decision wins -- and Juan Manuel Marquez in a spectacular knockout of Joel Casamayor in 2008 and a 2009 points loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has a history of raining on Mexico's Independence Day parades.

And what of the new guard? Last year Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez brought Las Vegas to a standstill with fights at the Thomas & Mack Center and MGM Grand on the same night. Chavez came up just short of a thrilling last-minute knockout, but lost his middleweight belt and undefeated record to Sergio Martinez. Alvarez, meanwhile, overwhelmed Josesito Lopez in a hail of body punches for a fifth-round TKO. That performance helped lead him to the doorstep of this year's most important night for Mexican boxing -- and maybe the highest-profile night the sport has seen in a decade.

Canelo won't be the favorite on Saturday, but win or lose, he seems poised to become a mainstay as Mexico's next September superstar.