Latino pugilists have long participated in the development of the “sweet science” of professional boxing. Beginning at the close of the 19th century, when boxing became professionalized thanks to the implementations of new regulations, Latino boxers quickly rose to prominence in the Southwest, though racial restrictions would impose difficulties in the upward move to national fame and major titles. The historical factors contributing to the rise of Latino boxing include the incorporation of regional boxing institutions in official governing bodies, migrations of workers into the United States, the increasing visibility of Latinos in US popular culture, changing laws and social mores, and the general growth of the popularity of the sport throughout much of the 20th century. From the emergence of featherweight champion Solomon Garcia Smith in 1890s through the explosion of international celebrities like Oscar De La Hoya in the late 20th century to the presence of many Latinos in the world ranks today, Latino boxers have made an important mark on the boxing scene. Indeed, in recent decades, a “Latinization” of boxing is evident, as more and more Latinos dominate the various weight divisions. Though less discussed in the academic literature, Latinas have also entered the boxing ring and have made an important place for themselves in the sport.
General Overviews and Related Articles
There has yet to be written a book-length scholarly history of Latino boxing. That said, the best way to approach the subject is through generalized boxing histories, surveys of Latinos in sports, biographies of individual fighters, and investigations across the broader spectrum of sociological, cultural, and historical studies. A good place to begin is Iber, et al. 2011, which covers relevant themes such as race and ethnicity, masculinity, popular culture, consumerism, and identity. Two chapters in the book specifically cover Latino boxing. Heiskanen 2005 (cited under Globalization) explicitly explores the rise of Latino fighters, or the “Latinization” of boxing, in recent decades. Friedman 2007 offers encyclopedia-style profiles of individual athletes, including a number of important boxers. Boxing history surveys are also very useful introductory avenues. Sammons 1990, though now decades old, is still the best book for getting a handle on the rich interaction between boxing and American society. This book relates key boxers to their historical milieu, providing a political context to the struggles of fighters, and highlights the development of governing bodies. Boddy 2008 and Gems 2014 reflect newer turns in cultural theory. Boddy’s analysis, for instance, includes a discussion on the metaphorical import of the sport, while Gems includes chapters on the construction of race, class, and ethnicity and their application to the ring. Non-academic surveys are also useful in bringing to light fighters whose fame has faded over time. Drawing back the lens from individuals to groups and historical forces, one might also look at well-researched sports history texts like Rader 2015. Race and boxing have been treated together for a long time by historians, literary scholars, and sociologists. A good starting point of exploration here is the work of Gerald L. Early. Early 1994 provides a theoretical framework for understanding the intersection of sport, race, and class. Finally, works in the field of Latino studies provide a crucial point of departure for a deeper, contextualized exploration of Latino boxing.
Aguilera, Gene. Mexican American Boxing in Los Angeles. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2014.
Written for a popular audience, this book briskly covers the lives of important Mexican American boxers in Los Angeles. It also includes many historical photographs.
Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History. London: Reaktion, 2008.
A thorough historical overview of boxing as cultural history, beginning in ancient times. Examines issues of race, media, and gender, among others.
Early, Gerald L. The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1994.
Offers a useful theoretical framework for analysis of race in the context of boxing.
Friedman, Ian C. Latino Athletes (A to Z of Latino Americans). New York: Facts on File, 2007.
A general encyclopedia of Latino athletes. Includes overviews of a number of boxers, mainly covering their ring records along with some sparse biographical data.
Gems, Gerald R. Boxing: A Concise History of the Sweet Science. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.
This recent overview of boxing history includes discussions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and popular culture, as well as references to notable Latino boxers. His chapter on class reveals the importance of social mobility for boxers from “outside” (i.e., non-Anglo-Saxon) groups.
Iber, Jorge, and Samuel O. Regalado. Mexican Americans and Sports: A Reader on Athletics and Barrio Life. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2007.
This collection offers an introductory essay on Chicano/a athletics as well as several chapters specific to boxing.
Iber, Jorge, Samuel O. Regalado, Jose M. Alamillo, and Arnoldo De Leon. Latinos in U.S. Sport: A History of Isolation, Cultural Identity, and Acceptance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011.
This important overview situates Latino boxers in the wider context of Latino athletes and their struggles. On boxing, the authors highlight the importance of upward mobility and the function of the sport as an “outlet” for frustrated youths.
Lomax, Michael E., ed. Sports and the Racial Divide: African American and Latino Experience in an Era of Change. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
This collection of essays explores the rise of Latino and African American athletes in the post-WWII era, offering new examinations of the meaning of race as it pertains to sports.
Rader, Benjamin G. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2015.
This updated survey history of sports includes discussions of race, gender, and ethnicity in an examination of American athletics over time.
Sammons, Jeffrey T. Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Provides solid overview of American boxing, reflecting on race, nationalism, and geographic changes over time. Though his Civil Rights analysis mainly focuses on African Americans, he illuminates the challenges to nonwhite boxers in a sport enamored with “white hopes.”
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