“It is my duty to take you to a rehabilitation center,” Rosendo Alvarez told him last week in a video posted to Alvarez’s Facebook page. The contrast in their appearances was telling. Full face, clear eyes—Alvarez appeared a fighter who got out in time, whose capacity for violence never turned inward. But the man behind him, the man Alvarez felt duty-bound to protect? How fragile, etiolated he looked; like someone who traded days for nights because the dark keeps secrets. What the fuck happened to him?
Ricardo Mayorga is heading to rehab. Maybe the ride is over. And if it is, maybe it isn’t too late.
“I know I push the envelope of danger, but God has been very good to me. I should probably be dead by now.” —Mayorga to Sports Illustrated, 2003
That ride has been wild from the start. It began in Managua, Nicaragua in a cinderblock room with a dirt floor where Mayorga lived with his parents and four siblings. Mayorga developed his toughness there. He thanks his father for that, for punishing him with a fury that forced Mayorga to withstand or wither.
Mayorga spent six of his teenage years in a gang, an experience that twice left him looking down the barrel of a gun that miraculously jammed. He is covered in the scars of a person for whom there is only the now—this thrill, this fight, this temptation. But the guns didn’t kill him, the lead pipe that split open his head didn’t, neither did the drag races, the Via de la Suerte, the daily pack of Marlboro Reds. And so why stop? Maybe he thought he was invincible. Maybe he hadn’t succeeded yet.
He started boxing at the behest of a teacher who wanted to redirect Mayorga’s violent behavior. For a while, truck stops were his only ring, truck drivers thinking they’d make an easy buck beating up an undersized kid were separated from their dollars and senses alike. But that wasn’t real money, so in 1993 Mayorga turned pro in Costa Rica. His first fight, a TKO loss, earned him thirty dollars.
It wasn’t until Don King saw Mayorga knock out Adolpho Salazar in 2000, that his fortunes improved. Beating Salazar earned Mayorga the WBA Fedelatin super-welterweight title, which, coupled with King’s imprimatur, moved him up enough in the WBA rankings to earn him a fight against the sanctioning body’s welterweight champion, Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis.
Mayorga later called the fight, which took place in July of 2001, the most painful moment of his career. Lewis suffered a bad cut from an accidental headbutt, the fight was ruled a no-contest and Lewis kept his title. “I just knew I was going to knock him out but he got cut and I couldn’t finish it.,” said Mayorga. This sort of brash talk would come to define him, his disrespect for opponents amplified by his success, turned to eleven by his failures. But he was right to feel confident. Mayorga shook Lewis with counters and absorbed enough leather to prove he took a better punch.
They rematched in March of 2002. At stake were Lewis’s WBA title belt and a yellow corvette. Mayorga saw one in the parking lot of King’s offices and asked King to buy him one when he defeated Lewis, who had left King for rival Top Rank. Mayorga’s wild style again unnerved Lewis, a problem compounded by the Nicaraguan’s unorthodox punching—what appears crude beyond the ropes can be worryingly unpredictable between them. In round five, Mayorga shattered Lewis with a series of hooks. Two years removed from toiling on the Latin American circuit, Mayorga was the WBA welterweight champion (and the owner of a yellow corvette).
Mayorga won his first world title the right way, knocking out a champion. In January 2003 he unified the division in like fashion. Vernon Forrest was his victim this time.
Forrest too had taken the long road to a title, but his consecutive victories over Shane Mosley proved “The Viper” the genuine article. Mayorga, a 6-1 underdog, knew what Forrest represented. Forrest was the king of the division, the owner of a lucrative six-fight HBO contract; for Mayorga, he was a means to an end. “The only way I found out who Forrest is was when he beat Mosley,” said Mayorga, “now he’s fighting Ricardo Mayorga—now people will know who Ricardo Mayorga is.”
He was right. Like Lewis before him, Forrest was clubbed senseless. Forrest’s fervor was his undoing. He wanted to shut Mayorga’s mouth and sacrificed his signature poise to do so. Because there was an inevitability about Mayorga’s style: willing or otherwise you were going to fight him, he challenged your manhood with his mouth and his fists, and men wired for violence found that challenge hard to ignore. The uninitiated may consider talk of machismo in boxing cliché, even silly, but they’re the uninitiated. In boxing, your manhood means something. This hypermasculine code, Mayorga lived it, proved it. Sometimes at the expense of others, sometimes at his own, but it was real. “In my country,” said Mayorga, “women give birth to men, We know how to feel pain, we know what it’s like to live in poverty. And that’s where I come from.” He wasn’t just goading opponents into brawls, he was sanctifying the psychology of the have-nots.
Mayorga landed a right hand in the third round that made him a champion again. He had promised to “light up a cigarette and drink a beer” right after the bell and, sure enough, Mayorga accepted a light from Larry Merchant, who seemed charmed by the bombastic fighter. In the stands, Miriam and Eddy Mayorga, together for the first time at one of their son’s fights, watched with pride. He was the unified welterweight champion.
In less than two years he’d be an opponent.
Mayorga successfully defended his titles against Forrest in July before losing to Cory Spinks in December. It was in the build-up to the Spinks fight that Mayorga’s trash talk took a turn. Spinks dedicated the fight to his recently deceased mother. Mayorga’s response? “Spinks, I promise to reunite you with your dead mother.”
But Spinks refused to fall into the same trap Forrest had. Victory would be his vengeance. He knew Mayorga’s humiliation lay in denying him the psychological edge and strategic advantage it engendered. However tenuously, Spinks clung to his composure for twelve rounds and won a majority decision. “Spinks, you are a faggot,” railed Mayorga in the aftermath, “I want to sew a pair of nuts on you so you can stand and fight in front of me next time like a man.” There need be no further proof the fight hadn’t gone as he wanted.
Sure, he was upset at the decision, but Mayorga understood public expectations of him and had to push the envelope to ensure expectations were met. However enraged he might appear, the vitriol felt fabricated, rehearsed, a gimmick. That gimmick would soon be all Mayorga had left.
In 2004 Felix Trinidad was ready to return to the ring. His ideal opponent would be a willing but outgunned brawler, someone who could sell a promotion with his mouth and the appearance of danger. That was Mayorga. The fight was scheduled for October 2. It almost didn’t happen.
Mayorga was arrested at Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua on Friday, September 3, after a twenty-two-year-old woman claimed Mayorga invited her back to his hotel room, beat and sexually abused her. Mayorga denied any wrongdoing, saying “I had a normal relationship with her and the hotel employees are witnesses that she was happy when she left the hotel. I gave her two bills of 500 cordobas and we said goodbye.” Sergio Morales, Mayorga’s lawyer, claimed the arrest warrant for Mayoarga had expired on Thursday. An appeals court judge ordered Mayorga freed and allowed him to leave the country. It was the second time that year that Mayorga had faced jail time. In June, a man accused Mayorga of punching him in the face and threatening him with a pistol. The fighter denied that too.
True to form, Mayorga ran his mouth throughout the promotion. He promised to offer his chin to Trinidad in the first round, to prove Trinidad couldn’t hurt him. “I’m not going to do it in the sixth, seventh, or eighth round because by that time he’s going to be knocked out. But I’m going to do it, of course. I’m a man of my word and I always do what I say,” he told Boxing Talk. Mayorga promised to “hit Tito’s memory right out of his head,” and even made a side bet with Trinidad for $100,000, saying he’d use his winnings to buy a limousine or two and name them “Tito” to remind everyone he knocked out Trinidad. Trinidad was unperturbed. “I know when a fighter is afraid of me and when he’s not,” he told Mayorga, “and you? You are afraid of me.”
In the first round, with the cheers of thousands of Puerto Ricans popping the top off Madison Square Garden, Mayorga offered Trinidad a free shot. Spared the “seek” component of his seek-and-destroy style, Trinidad crashed two huge hooks into Mayorga’s chin. Mayorga danced mockingly at their effect but his loose legs were possessed by something more malignant than rhythm. While he managed to score a flash knockdown in the third, Mayorga was butchered. Three knockdowns in the eighth round were more than even referee Steve Smoger could abide.
Mayorga’s membership in the elite had expired. Maybe he knew it. “I have bought five very big houses, two farms with a good amount of land, and I have money saved,” he said afterward, “I don’t want more boxing for anything.”
But Mayorga couldn’t retire. Not when Oscar De La Hoya needed a get-well fight after getting stopped by Bernard Hopkins. By then, May 2006, Mayorga was a simulacrum of the fighter who beat Lewis and Forrest. His chin was cracked but his mouth still worked. “I’m going to make you my bitch. You’re going to be my bitch in my bed anytime I want you. I hate bitches and I’m going to make you my little bitch,” he told Dela Hoya. “Tell your wife to fuck you in the morning so you stand and fight me. Don’t take a dive like you did against Bernard Hopkins, faggot.” This inflammatory language was overcompensation for the feeble challenge Mayorga presented; he was trotted out to deliver his lines and take his beating. De La Hoya massacred Mayorga in six rounds.
Life outside the ring was no less harrowing. In 2006 Mayorga was convicted of the hotel room rape but appealed the conviction to Nicaragua’s Supreme Court. According to Nicaraguan law, Mayorga was allowed to remain free during the appeal process. Whether there is any truth to the WikiLeaks cable released in 2011 that said there was an agreement between Mayorga and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whereby Ortega “agreed to protect the boxer in the courts if he [Mayorga] would give the party a large portion of his international boxing winnings and ‘advertise’ for Daniel in public,” is a question people should answer for themselves, but Mayorga never served time for his conviction.
In February 2007 he was arrested for fraud twice in one week. First, after a car dealer claimed Mayorga owed him $56,000 for four cars. The case was dismissed as a civil matter and Mayorga was released. Two days later, Mayorga was arrested for writing bad checks totaling $87,000. But this too was deemed a civil matter, and in the words of Mayorga’s lawyer, Lester Buzano, ‘no one is jailed for debt.”
He was a part-time fighter by 2008, and after Shane Mosley (coming off a loss) knocked him out Mayorga left boxing. He returned in 2010, was knocked out by Miguel Cotto in 2011, and went on another two-year hiatus (which included a fruitless stint in mixed martial arts where Mayorga went winless in three fights). By 2015, after Mosley (you guessed it, coming off a loss) knocked him out a second time, Mayorga was little more than the loudmouth at the bar left to curse the room because none of the regulars could be bothered to put him on his ass again. Perhaps that’s why his self-destructive behavior seemed to escalate. With no external antagonist, did Mayorga turn all that fury on himself?
A disturbing photo of him passed out drunk at a gas station in broad daylight surfaced in 2016. His wife, Hernia Silva, went on damage control, saying the photo was four years old, and that it showed Mayorga asleep after an exhausting walk to Granada (Nicaragua) where he took his ill son to a clinic. Others said the photo was taken in Managua after Mayorga had locked himself out of his car and taken a nap. But Rosendo Alvarez hinted at something more concerning (and tenable) in his comments on the photo. “Any of us,” wrote Alvarez, “could fall very low inadvertently, contaminated by drugs and alcohol. Please do not collaborate in the self-destruction of a man’s life who was the sporting glory of our country.” There’s nothing in his message about long walks or missing keys.
If Alvarez wanted to come to Mayorga’s aid, why did he sign the troubled fighter to a promotional contract in 2017? The flagship fighter for Bufalo Boxing Promotions, headed by Alvarez and his wife, Ruth Rodriguez, was a forty-three-year-old former champion with drug, alcohol, and legal troubles who hadn’t won a notable fight in fourteen years. He wanted his children to see him fight, claimed Mayorga: “My little boy, he puts on his gloves and always talks about me fighting, which encourages me to continue and also I have the support of my mother, my family.” The fighter who was ever aware of the audience was again playing for them.
A year later, after knocking out a 12-17-1 fighter named Juadiel Zepeda in his only fight under the Bufalo Boxing Promotions banner, and losing to prospect Andrey Sirotkin, Mayorga was finished—or said he was. In retrospect, perhaps Alvarez did the best he could for his friend, getting him into the rituals of the ring again, delivering him an easy win he could share with his family. When Mayorga retired he sounded like a man at peace. “When I was a kid,” said an emotional Mayorga, “I promised my mother that I would become the boxing world champion.” He succeeded in that and arrested the sport in the process. “I think that the sport is for young people and I think I’m already at the point [where I’m not young anymore]. I think it’s time to hang up the gloves and say goodbye to boxing. I’m very grateful to God because I’ve received a lot of applause [from the people], I’ve received awards, medals, scrolls, trophies, and many titles . . . I have them all in an exhibition in my house.”
But he couldn’t stay away. Mayorga, who finished his career with a record of 32-12-1, with 26 knockouts, fought twice more, losing twice by knockout, the last time to a fighter making his pro debut. As he lay on the ropes, his body failing him, as a forgettable novice struggled to discard the husk of a once ferocious and beloved fighter, the Guatemalan crowd hooped and hollered. At least the applause was still there.
He won’t ever fight again. Not after January 2020, when he was beaten unconscious in a robbery. But you’d probably have to stop him if the crowd wanted one more goodbye. This rampaging toro called himself “El Matador” and you wonder what he was thinking when he did it. Was it irony? A joke, perhaps? He didn’t evade carnage, he encouraged it—in the ring, in his life. But if he’s right, if he should have been dead long ago, if death bore down on him and he sidestepped it with his signature flair, then he was “El Matador” when it mattered most.