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Travelling Mexican fighters weren’t always so fearsome

Mexican fighters
Steve Bunce remembers the infamous night of Tijunana Tumblers when a selection of visiting Mexican fighters could barely stand up

IT was a night of infamy in the boxing game, it was dubbed the Night of the Tijuana Tumblers and every single bad night of professional boxing is measured against it. Flinty knew it would not last long. He had a point to prove and was in a typically vicious mood in the dressing room that October night in 1980. Charlie Magri, Cornelius Boza-Edwards and Dave Boy Green were all at various crossroads in their careers, but they all knew they had an easy night under the lights. It was a night without tension and menace, but Jimmy always did his best to keep people on edge. Down the corridor with a perpetual bend at the Royal Albert Hall that night, four Mexican fighters were swapping stories, items of kit and getting ready for slaughter. They had been found, like so many, by Johnny Bos, a super-agent with lavish tastes and a wonderfully heartless approach to his trade. “Give me a pulse, but not much of a pulse,” he once said when asked what he needs in a heavyweight opponent. There is a suggestion that he lowered his bare requirements once or twice.

There is no clear record of how much the four Mexicans made that night, just lies and inventions and guesses. They got the going rate for flesh-trading at the time and not a peso more and it is likely their combined wages for services came to less than a thousand pounds. A lot more than they were making for filling the bill on Mexican shows.

Bos, rightly, would have banked his percentage. It was Bos who built Frank Bruno and also found the early victims for Audley Harrison. The Cartel, which the courts declared a legal profit-sharing business involving Jarvis Astaire, promoter Mike Barrett, trainer Terry Lawless and manager Mickey Duff, was in full swing. Frank Warren had not yet promoted a show, not yet started to challenge the methods of the four-way carnival of cash that the Cartel enjoyed. The Night of the Tijuana Tumblers was the Cartel’s baby; Warren promoted his first show six weeks later.

Flinty had been stopped in a British featherweight title fight by Pat Cowdell before. He was still angry about that loss and Cowdell’s ability to win and not get involved: “I came to have a fight, I wanted to have a fight – he never wanted to know.” It still bothers Jimmy all these years later.

The road back started at the Royal Albert Hall when he was matched with El Cordobes of Tijuana, real name Alejandro Lopez. The Mexican had his own boots, gown, a nickname and a winning record – he was done in two. That’s one down, three to go.

Boza-Edwards had lost his previous fight just eight-weeks earlier when he was stopped by Alexis Arguello in one of those fights from the seventies and eighties that is impossible to understand or explain. It had been a test-fight for Arguello at lightweight after his reign as super-feather world champion; Arguello would be back in London less than a year later to beat Jim Watt for the lightweight world title. Boza had previously won 27 fights and his opponent that night was Roberto Torres, a winner of 10 fights. Boza stopped him in round two; it got him the win that Duff needed for his next piece of business; the Arguello fight showed Duff that Boza could fight, the Torres blow-out got him the chance to show it. Two down, two to go.

Earlier in 1980, Green had been knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard in a world title challenge in his previous fight. It had been a bold move, but Green was a big boy, a veteran of 35 fights at the time. At the Royal Albert Hall that October night, Green was facing El Zurdo, also known as Mario Mendez, who had not had a legal fight for two years. It was over in round two, Green had started slow. That is three down, one to go.

Little Charlie was unbeaten that Tuesday night when he arrived with his big coat and dreams at the Royal Albert Hall. Magri had won the European flyweight title the year before, he was being moved the old and tested way and he did good business for the Cartel. He was matched with Tijuana’s Enrique Castro, who was having fight number 12 and looking for win number five. Magri won in the first.

The Mexican were all gone in less than seven completed rounds. They were the Tijuana Tumblers and there was not a mariachi band in sight to sing them a sad lullaby. Some say they were out on the cold street by nine that night and it’s possible.

And, a happy ending anywhere? Not really.

Jimmy Flint had five more, lost one and never got Cowdell back in the ring. He retired 12 months later, is still acting and was the star of Ron Peck’s untouchable boxing film, Fighters. His opponent, El Cordobes, lost four more as an opponent on the road, but finished with a win in Tijuana in his last fight in 1984.

Five months later at a wondrous venue, which is lost in time, in Stockton, California, Boza beat Rafael Limon to win the WBC super-featherweight title. Duff knew what he was doing and poor Torres was just there for blood. Torres had four more, lost all four and quit with a record of three wins in 15 fights.

Green had four more, lost the last and was retired by his manager, Andy Smith, the following November in the same Royal Albert Hall ring. When Green, who had been stopped by Reggie Ford, realised what Smith was doing, he dropped his head and said: “You b*****d.” The crowd’s appreciation drowned Green’s complaint: Green is now a healthy and happy millionaire. Meanwhile, El Zurdo finished his career losing seven on the spin all by stoppage or knockout; the Green loss was number six in the sequence.

Magri did win a world title, but not before a couple of shock defeats, including one exactly a year later in the same ring against a Mexican with sixteen defeats in his record. Castro lost eight more times, finished with five wins in 16 fights.

However, Castro, Torres, Lopez and Mendez will always have a special place in British boxing as the The Tijuana Tumblers. Muchas gracias, amigos.

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