Following Sandor Martin’s surprise victory over Mikey Garcia at the weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston dips into the past to remember other glory nights in Spanish boxing history.
Sandor Martin’s win over a lacklustre Mikey Garcia last weekend in Fresno probably couldn’t be called the greatest-ever win by a Spanish boxer, but it might have been the biggest upset. (Mikey was a 1/33 favourite.) Martin boxed a smart, hit-and-get-away fight and Garcia couldn’t seem to figure him out.
This got me thinking about Spanish boxers. A quick check on BoxRec showed me that Spain has had only 11 world champions, not including two female champs. But Spain has had quite a colourful boxing history.
My own memories of Spanish boxing include watching Miguel Velazquez win an upset decision over Ken Buchanan in a European lightweight title fight in Madrid back in January 1970. The decision sparked quite a debate in British boxing circles. To those of us viewing the BBC TV coverage on monochrome screens, Velazquez looked a clear winner. He knocked down Buchanan in the ninth round and just seemed to control most of the contest with pressure and harder punching. However, the British reporters at ringside all had Buchanan winning.
“The winner was cut to ribbons — the loser unmarked. And a dispute began”, Reg Gutteridge reported from ringside for Boxing Illustrated. “The entire British press, seated at opposite ringside stations, were unanimous that Buchanan had boxed badly — but had won.”
Teddy Waltham, at the time general secretary of the British Boxing Board, was ringside and said he had no quarrel with the verdict. Italian promoter Rodolfo Sabbatini — a neutral observer — saw Velazquez as the winner. Italian referee Piero Brambilla, the sole arbiter, had Velazquez in front by a score of 72-69. Joyous Spanish fans clambered through the ropes and chaired Velazquez around the ring on their shoulders even before the decision was announced. Gutteridge admitted he was doing some “heart searching” to convince himself he had the right man winning.
“I doubt if Velazquez is good enough for high world ranking,” Gutteridge wrote. But Velazquez did in fact win the WBC title, if controversially, at 140lbs when Thailand’s hard hitting Saensak Muangsurin was disqualified for punching after the bell in Madrid, six years after Velazquez’s win over Buchanan. Saensak knocked out Velazquez in two rounds in a rematch, also in Spain. Velazquez never boxed again.
Pedro Carrasco, who defeated Velazquez in a European title bout in June 1969, won the then-vacant WBC lightweight title in dubious fashion when a Nigerian referee disqualified Mando Ramos for low blows and hitting Carrasco on the back of the head. It was a fight dominated by the Mexican-American Ramos. After an inquiry, the WBC declared the title vacant and ordered a rematch. Ramos and Carrasco fought twice more, in Los Angeles and Madrid, and each time Ramos won by split decision. Carrasco, dubbed a “handsome matador” by Associated Press, retired with a 105-3-2 (66 KOs) record.
Although he wasn’t a champion, rough and rugged heavyweight Paulino Uzcudun, from Spain’s Basque country, took part in big fights in the US and Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. He won a decision over future champ Max Baer in a 20-round bout in Reno, Nevada, in July 1931. “Clubbing, butting and wrestling marked the bout from the opening gong,” AP noted. Probably Uzcudun’s most famous bout was against rising star Joe Louis, who knocked him down for the first time in his career and stopped him in the fourth round at Madison Square Garden in December 1931.
More recently, another Basque heavyweight, Jose Urtain, was a two-time European champion in the early 1970s. Urtain, strong but crude, won his first 24 bouts without being taken the distance, including a number of first-round KOs. Peter Wilson, then the doyen of British boxing writers, travelled to Madrid to watch Urtain challenge Germany’s Peter Weiland for the European title in April 1970. Urtain started with a rush, dropping Weiland in the first round, but then struggled before winning on a seventh-round KO. “If Weiland had stayed down in the first round I would have written that I had just seen the new Rocky Marciano,” Wilson later confessed.
Henry Cooper outclassed Urtain in London but the Basque brawler regained the European title by overpowering Britain’s Jack Bodell in two rounds in Madrid.
Luis Folledo, who boxed in the welterweight and middleweight divisions, was a stylish boxer who compiled 129 wins in a career that lasted from 1958 to 1969. He won two fights in the UK, was world-rated but never even won a European title.
Then there was the southpaw Young Martin, who pulled off what was considered a shocking surprise when he knocked out undefeated Welsh stylist Dai Dower to win the European flyweight title at Nottingham way back in 1955. Dower was down something like 10 times in suffering a 12th-round knockout defeat. Highlights were shown in cinemas on the British Pathe newsreels that were a feature of filmgoing back in those days. “Martin batters him to the canvas again and again,” intoned the newsreel commentator. “Dower keeps coming back but all his science is useless against the superior strength and fitness of the fierce little Spaniard.”
These are just some glimpses of Spain’s role in ring history. And now? Well, Sandor Martin has just sprung one of the year’s big surprises, and on November 13 his always-exciting compatriot Kiko Martinez, a former 122lbs champion, will be looking to do something similar against Kid Galahad in a featherweight title challenge in Sheffield. Sergio Garcia is a world-class 154-pounder (if a little under the radar), and hit-or-be-hit slugger Kerman Lejarraga gave his career a big boost when capturing the European super-welter title last month.
So, the current Spanish boxing scene isn’t looking too bad. Not too bad at all.
Main image: Martin (left) upsets Garcia. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing.