On Oct. 1 there were 17, but Royal Kobayashi of Japan took the super bantamweight title from Rigoberto Riasco of Panama, and Yoko Gushiken of Japan took the junior flyweight title from Juan Guzman of the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico follows Mexico with four world champions—and lost another in July when Angel Espada was parted from the WBA welterweight championship by Cuevas. Argentina has three world champions—and four titles because Carlos Monzon rules as middleweight king of both the WBA and the WBC. There is one champion from Panama, Nicaragua and Venezuela. And there is Carlos Palomino, Mexican born but California raised and educated.
Score then: Latins 15 champions, 16 championships; the rest of the world 9.
Rather than being the result of having superior athletes, this Latin phenomenon is more a consequence of widespread poverty, which, historically, has spawned fighters of all ethnic and racial groups. As Willie Pastrano, a light-heavyweight champion of the 1960s, has said, "If I had had a chance to do anything else when I was growing up, God Himself couldn't have dragged me into a fistfight."
Chris Dundee, the Miami Beach promoter, says, "Forgetting what television did for the moment, the fight game in the United States started going down when the Army, in World War II, began drafting all the young men. The Army taught them a trade or it paid for their educations later, and any man with a good trade isn't about to get knocked on his butt to make a dollar. Things have become better in Europe, too. It just opened the door for all these hungry Latins."
With Ali gone—if he has—the U.S. was left, if only for a few weeks, without a native-born world champion for the first time since John L. Sullivan knocked out Paddy Ryan of Ireland in front of the Barnes Hotel in Mississippi City, Miss, on Feb. 7, 1882. That short drought ended on Nov. 6 when Danny Lopez took the WBC featherweight title away from David Kotey of Ghana.
Last year the per capita income of the U.S. was $5,902. The PCI of Mexico was $780, and as the peso plunges so does the buying power of the people. The legal minimum daily pay of a Mexican is 90 pesos, which a few months ago converted to $7.20. Now that the peso has fallen, the conversion figure is closer to $4.50.
As Costenito Gonzalez poignantly pointed out, an empty belly is no rarity below the Rio Grande. But as bleak as life can be in Mexico, it is even more so in other Latin American countries. Only Puerto Rico ($1,900) and oil-rich Venezuela ($1,000) have a per capita income of more than $900. The PCIs in the other nations range from $815 in Uruguay to $90 in Haiti.
Once upon a time when boxing was a simpler business—who can name even half of today's champions?—there were only eight divisions, and each had one champion. Then came the junior divisions; the power-grab split between the WBA and the WBC, each with its own titleholders; and now, in the last 18 months, two new divisions: the mini moscas (junior flyweights) and the super bantams. That brought the total number of divisions to 13, with the possibility of 25 (the WBA has yet to recognize the super bantams) champions. And now a group called junior heavyweights is being contemplated. If this trend continues, soon there will be nothing but champions.
On the ground floor inside the street entrance to the Atlas Gym is a small single-chair barbershop. Many of Mexico City's gyms are over similar shops. Never is there any hair on the floor. Either the barbers are extraordinarily neat, or, as is suspected, no one ever goes there for a haircut. On the landing between the first and second floors is a caged security checkpoint, where the fighters can deposit their valuables and obtain locker keys, and where the gym's visitors are relieved of a small admission price, usually 15 pesos (or 75�).
The checkpoint's guardians are Horacio Casasola, a bulky former wrestler whose brother Raul owns the gym, and Giner, a thin but mean-looking Doberman pinscher pup. Actually the puppy is a pacifist and is friendly with all comers. Horacio never entertains a mean thought, either. "For some reason," Raul said the other day, "no one ever tries to make trouble."