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He Drinks, He Smokes, He Fights, HE WINS
L. Jon Wertheim
December 08, 2003
Welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga, a reckless fighter with an unruly lifestyle, is boxing's hottest ticket. Next show: Dec. 13
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December 08, 2003

He Drinks, He Smokes, He Fights, He Wins

Welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga, a reckless fighter with an unruly lifestyle, is boxing's hottest ticket. Next show: Dec. 13

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Mayorga was raised mostly in Managua, his country's capital and largest city, in almost unimaginable poverty. He and five siblings grew up in a one-room hovel with a dirt floor and cinder blocks for walls. Ricardo's father, Eddy, is another bull of a man who worked a series of menial jobs and, according to his son, often used his belt for purposes other than securing his pants. ("That," says Ricardo, "is where I got my toughness.") Ricardo's mother, Miriam, and father still live in the same house, even though Ricardo recently bought them an 11-room mansion. "They became attached to the place where we suffered through such poverty," he says.

Mayorga, too, is unchanged by the luck he's found in life. He has the same set of friends—"all these bums," he calls them—and still meets them at the neighborhood gas station before their drag-racing jags. "Sometimes I go to my friends' houses and they want to serve me food on their best plates, not the paper plates they normally use," he says. "I say, 'You know I come from poverty, give me the paper plate. I'm no better than you are.' I still think like a poor man."

When Mayorga was a street brawler in his late teens, he figured that if he was going to fight, he might as well get paid. He went to Costa Rica in 1993 and made $30 for getting TKO'd in the sixth round of his first professional fight. He spent the better part of the '90s as an entertaining club fighter in Central America before King spotted him in March 2001 in Venezuela. Mayorga recalls that King handed him $15,000 on the spot and offered another $10,000 for agreeing to meet with him in Florida. It was money well spent: Today Mayorga, who earned $750,000 in the rematch with Forrest, is the prize pony in King's stable. "I tell Ricardo all the time," says King, " 'You're going to conquer America.' "

Not that Mayorga has much interest in coming to the U.S., much less conquering it. For his first fight under King, it took weeks of persuasion for Mayorga to leave home and prepare for the bout at King's Fort Pierce training camp, a charm-free complex perfumed by mildew. (Fittingly, the gym is a converted funeral parlor, and the residential facility was once a sanitarium.) Mayorga escaped to Nicaragua four times. "If you leave again, I'm taking away your American visa," King threatened. Mayorga's response: "I don't need an American visa to go home."

This time, getting Mayorga into camp was even more complicated because of chaos behind the scenes. After his star turn in the rematch against Forrest, Mayorga abruptly fired his trainer, Hector Perez. Veteran cornerman Emanuel Steward was supposed to take over, but for reasons no one can really articulate, that didn't pan out. ("I might be a consultant," says Steward.) Finally, with the fight against Spinks six weeks away, Mayorga decided to retain Rigoberto Garibaldi, best known for his work with Roberto Duran. "It's always something with Ricardo," says Perez. "Look, he's a great fighter. Is he a little crazy? Yes, but in a good way."

For all his bluster, Mayorga is not without compassion. After knocking out Lewis last year, Mayorga was ecstatic until he saw his opponent crying in the dressing room. "At that moment I felt like I was part of his team," he says. "I felt his loss because I was poor like he is."

At Fort Pierce, every night before the 9:30 curfew, Mayorga headed to his training-camp suite—that is, a spartan box slightly bigger than the other rooms—smoked his last cigarette of the day and made a final call to Nicaragua. He then took to his knees. Silhouetted by the dim light, he prayed that he'd never kill anyone in the ring.

Does he ever pray for his own safety? "Never," he says without pause. "I hit harder."

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