On March 24th, at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, super featherweight Manuel “Mentacas” Medina improved his record to 67-14 (31 KOs) by thoroughly outclassing Javier Alvarez over 12 rounds. The victory earned him the right to face IBF champion Marco Antonio Barrera in his next title defense.
Medina’s name rarely comes up, even among helpless boxing junkies. Yet he’s had a remarkable career worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame. (If Daniel Zaragoza made it to Canastota, this guy deserves at least a look.) The Tijuana, Mexico native turned pro at 14. After going 40-3, he won the IBF Featherweight belt six years later. He went on to box in another 19 title fights, winning and losing almost equally against names like Naseem Hamed, Luisito Espinoza, John John Molina, Scott Harrison, Johnny Tapia, Tom Johnson, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Paul Ingle. (His ledger literally alternates between W’s and L’s during a 10-year stretch.)
What makes Medina unique, is that after 21 years as a pro, he shows no signs of slipping. Bernard Hopkins eventually showed his age, and no longer performs as his moniker—“The Executioner”—would have you believe. But the man they called “Mentacas,” which means grease or lard in Spanish, still lives up to his. No, he’s never been fat, just slippery—a master of distance and movement.
Javier Alvarez (now 33-5-1, 16 KOs) of Buenos Aires, Argentina quickly learned just how accurately named Medina is. He has an unsettling, herky-jerky rhythm. He manipulates his feet, hands, and head into one perpetual feint. He bounces in and out of range with pesky jabs, which is more like two-dozen punches wrapped in one; it pokes and pushes, slaps and sticks; it goes to the body and works both sides of the head. Medina’s right hand follows quickly behind the jab. But soon as Alvarez thought he had it timed, around the second and third round, Medina launched pinpoint lead rights or seamlessly switched to southpaw and tripled-up the jab. While his punches weren’t concussive, they never stopped coming. He averaged at least 100 punches/round.
Alvarez had his best round in the fourth, catching the veteran with a few winging power punches and roughing him up on the inside. But even in doing so, he revealed his frustration, having no real system of breaking his man down.
Medina does many things that are technically wrong. He hops straight back after punching, rather than pivoting off to one side. He pushes his shots, and doesn’t reset his jab to protect his chin. No matter, it’s a rule-breaking style that had Alvarez deeply discouraged by the fifth—he was ready to switch to Sumo.
A third of Medina’s punches were to the midsection and had Alvarez breathing through an open mouth in the 6th. In the eight and ninth Medina worked the entire ring on spry legs. Lacking the fundamentals (or perhaps the discipline) to cut off the ring, a puffy-faced Alvarez followed him around like a needy puppy dog.
To his credit, Alvarez continued his pursuit throughout the championships rounds. He waved his gloves at him, suggesting he stand his ground and fight like a true Mexican. His entreaties went ignored.
Medina looked as fresh at the end of the twelfth as he did 47 minutes earlier. He threw his usual amount of punches and cornered on firm legs. His right eye was angry, but that spoke of scar tissue from two decades in the game, not an off night. Will Medina get the great Barrera in the ring? And if he does, can he summon one last virtuoso performance, and finally plant his name in the public consciousness? Doubtful on both counts. It shouldn’t matter. “Mentacas” has done enough. Scores were 118-110 twice, 119-109.
Only one bout was aired on TV (Telefutura) before the main event. Lightweights Humberto Tapia (8-1-1. 5 KOs) and Alfonso Figueroa (5-3-1, 3 KOs) fought to a majority draw: 77-75, 76-76 twice. Tapia, the taller of he two, choose to slug with the hard-punching Figueroa. Not understanding Spanish, I inferred this was against the advice of his corner. He showed a good beard but had little to show for it, considering he should have boxed his way to victory.