Somewhere it is written that professional boxers must adopt a nom
de ring, no matter how trite or ill-fitting. Thus the pugilistic
landscape is littered with ponderous Cheetahs and gelatinous
Rocks. There are more Rockys than there are Rocky sequels.
Then there is Ricardo Mayorga. The welterweight champion might be
nicknamed El Matador--it's even tattooed on the side of his
neck--but the handle could scarcely be less accurate. Matadors
succeed with a combination of grace and precision; Mayorga does
so with sheer power and aggression. If anything, his moniker
should be El Toro. He is rash and impetuous, while matadors are
calculating and poised. Perhaps most telling: While matadors
merely flirt with death, Mayorga all but stalks it.
These first 30 years of Mayorga's life are replete with near
misses. As a teenager in Nicaragua he spent six years in a gang
and twice stared down the barrel of a gun. Both times, he says,
the weapon jammed. He has a half-dozen scars commemorating
various Sharks-versus-Jets knife fights; a scar on top of his
head was produced by a lead pipe. He is a drag-racing fiend whose
preferred pastime is Via de la Suerte (the Street of Luck), a
"game" that involves gunning his tricked-up Honda coupe and
speeding through the red light at a busy intersection. As if we
need further evidence of a self-destructive streak, he has a
notorious pack-a-day smoking habit. And, of course, his line of
work isn't exactly OSHA-approved. "I know I push the envelope of
danger, but God has been very good to me," he says with a shrug.
"I should probably be dead by now."
Instead he is breathing life into his moribund sport. A slugger
whose wildly entertaining style, such as it is, entails
unleashing a hail of punches from bell to bell, Mayorga is
suddenly one of the hottest acts in boxing. Last year he KO'd
highly-regarded Andrew (Six Heads) Lewis in a mild upset. Last
January he needed only three rounds to clock Vernon (the Viper)
Forrest--previously undefeated and the 2002 Fighter of the
Year--in a considerable upset. When he decisioned Forrest in an
exhilarating July rematch, he had proved his mettle. "Ricardo
Mayorga is the truth, and that's no lie," says his promoter, Don
King, "Plus, he has the adrenaline to meet the prophecy."
Translation: Mayorga has a personality that, by comparison,
renders Ali an introvert and Tyson a Calvinist. Mayorga isn't
from another era so much as he's from another planet. The night
before his rematch with Forrest, Mayorga was on the floor of the
host casino at 3 a.m., a cigarette in his hand, a woman on his
arm, a diminishing stack of chips in his grasp. When he retired
to his room shortly afterward, he fell asleep in his street
clothes, woke a few hours later and won the fight. Last month,
while sparring at his training camp in Fort Pierce, Fla., he
beseeched his corner to ply him with rum between rounds. The
following morning at breakfast he gave his order to a perky
waitress and promptly announced to his dining companions, "It's a
good thing I don't speak better English or I'd [romance] all your
Though Mayorga speaks through an interpreter, he has become
boxing's reigning champ of the ritual prefight smack-talking.
According to Mayorga, Oscar de la Hoya, a logical future
opponent, is a maricon (a homosexual) in need of a set of
cojones. Another likely candidate for a future fight, Shane
Mosley, is a payaso (clown) who should be shining Mayorga's
shoes. Mayorga's message to Cory (son of Leon) Spinks, whom he
fights Dec. 13 in Atlantic City: "This will be the biggest
purse--and the biggest beating--you'll ever get."
About the only thing Mayorga filters are his cigarettes. In
addition to the obligatory nickname, every boxer needs a
shtick--and the "fistic fumigator" is a good one. But Mayorga is
not merely blowing smoke when he blows smoke. "I don't do it to
show off," he says, dragging on a Marlboro. "I'm addicted." Yet
contrary to all conventional (and unconventional) wisdom, he has
the stamina of a marathoner, running five miles a day and often
sparring for more than an hour. In his last fight (the decision
over Forrest), Mayorga endured 12 rounds and looked little the
worse for wear.
His endurance is all the more remarkable given the way he fights.
When Spinks characterizes Mayorga as "kind of unorthodox," he is
guilty of felony understatement. Mayorga looks like a fighter who
has defiantly disregarded his corner and abandoned all traces of
technique--except that is his technique. At once predictably
aggressive and aggressively unpredictable, he swings away
awkwardly, uncorking punches from every conceivable angle. If he
catches a few shots coming in, so be it. "Look, I'd love to be
the prettiest boxer," he says, "but the only thing I know how to
do is hit hard."
Already enraged by Mayorga's prefight insults, even the most
disciplined of his opponents abandon their game plan and engage
him in a street fight. An inability to resist the urge to rumble
with Mayorga can be disastrous--particularly for a fighter like
Spinks, a defensive southpaw who lacks power.
The same recklessness that defines Mayorga's life outside the
ring is manifest during his fights. In the fourth round of the
Forrest rematch, Mayorga dropped his gloves and offered free
shots. When Forrest obliged, Mayorga slapped his own face as if
to say, Harder. Forrest unloaded again, and Mayorga barely
flinched. "I wanted to show I was the boss, I was his father,"
Mayorga says. It was stupid and it was reckless and it did
exactly what he intended, changing the complexion of the fight.
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
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."
uncorks punches from every conceivable angle.
to me," Mayorga says. "I should probably be dead by now."