Cinco De Mayo: The Storied History Of Boxing's Favourite Holiday

From Julio Cesar Chavez to 'Canelo' Alvarez, we trace the lineage of Cinco de Mayo and its link with boxing
10:05, 05 May 2022

Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Celebrations are held on May 5th across North America, Canada and Mexico, and the nearest weekend to Cinco de Mayo also hosts numerous celebrations. Chief among these is often the staging of one of the year’s biggest boxing matches. Promoters have adopted Cinco de Mayo weekend as a stage to showcase Mexico’s superstars of the ring, but as we’ll see, the phenomenon has ended up stretching even further. As Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez prepares to meet Dmitry Bivol on this Cinco de Mayo weekend, let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments from boxing’s favourite holiday.

Julio Cesar Chavez vs Frankie Randall, May 7, 1994

The modern trendsetter for Cinco de Mayo weekend boxing, it is appropriate that national hero Julio Cesar Chavez was involved. ‘JC Superstar’ had gone 90 fights unbeaten before losing a narrow split decision to Randall in January 1994. Chavez exacted sweet revenge three months later via a split technical decision, after he was cut in an accidental clash of heads. The Mexican reclaimed his WBC light welterweight title and an enduring fight tradition was born.

Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo, May 7, 2005

Simply put, one of the greatest fights of all time. This knockdown, drag-out war had it all. Savage action, a relentless pace, a rabid crowd and the comeback to end all comebacks. All looked lost for Corrales when he hit the deck twice in a frenetic tenth round. ‘Chico’ bravely  rising to stop the Mexican warrior Castillo and unify the lightweight title is one of the most enduring modern boxing tableaus.

Floyd Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya, May 5, 2007

It is difficult to put into words the sheer scale of this fight at the time. De La Hoya had fought on several previous Cinco de Mayo weekends, but this was a genuine 50-50 superfight with the only star who could rival his box office stardom. The action was close, though not as close as the cards would have it. Mayweather’s defensive genius trumped the pressure-fighting of the physically bigger ‘Golden Boy’. Mayweather won a split decision, usurped De La Hoya as boxing’s biggest name and, in a strange turn of events, took possession of the coveted Cinco de Mayo weekend slot. ‘Money’ would fight on the holiday five more times in his career, occasionally in gloves bearing the Mexico national flag.

Manny Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton, May 2, 2009

The first major Cinco de Mayo headliner pairing two fighters with no Mexican heritage, this at least bore plenty of the Latino boxing spirit. Hatton had been billed as ‘The Manchester Mexican’ for his all-action style, and Pacquiao was admired by Mexican fans for his exploits against many of their home fighters. What looked like a potential Fight of the Year on paper was a brutally one-sided destruction, as ‘Pacman’ laid Hatton out cold in the second round. Hatton would fight just once more three years later, while Pacquiao became something of a fixture of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations over the ensuing years.

Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather, May 2, 2015

Between 2009 and 2015, either Pacquiao or Mayweather had competed on every Cinco de Mayo weekend. Now boxing’s ultimate superfight who was the true king of the holiday, as well as settling the small matter of the generation’s best boxer. ‘Money’ put in a cautious but effective performance to outscore the Filipino legend in what was a somewhat anticlimactic affair. Mayweather did what was necessary to cement his place as one of the greatest of all time, but the fire and fury of previous Cinco de Mayo slugfests was nowhere to be found.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vs Amir Khan, May 7, 2016

A new challenger emerges. After seeing his country’s weekend of celebration dominated by boxers from America and the Philippines, a flame-haired Mexican phenom reclaimed Cinco de Mayo for Mexico. Amir Khan was on a hiding to nothing, meeting ‘Canelo’ at a weight 15 pounds above the light welterweight mark where he had reigned as a world champion. The Bolton boy boxed well for five rounds before Alvarez uncorked a highlight reel knockout for the ages. With a further three victories on the holiday weekend since, Cinco de Mayo belongs to ‘Canelo’ now.

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