Forgotten Legends: Cesar Bazan

By: Steve Gallegos

To Mexican fight fans, Julio Cesar Chavez will always be their hero. During Chavez’s decline in the late 90’s, many fighters were trying to fill that void left by Chavez. One of those fighters who tried to fill that void was former lightweight champion CesarEl PasoBazan. Bazan wasn’t your typical Mexican fighter and he was unique in many ways. He stood at 6’0, which was very tall for a lightweight and for being that tall of a fighter, he elected many times to fight on the inside and had a great deal of success in doing so.

Bazan was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and he would turn pro in April of 1992 at the age of 17. He would go 31-2-1 with 23 KO’s over the next six years, fighting mostly in his hometown of Mexico City as well as getting some exposure on the Japanese and European circuit as he fought nine of those bouts in both Tokyo and France. Although most of his wins were against obscure opposition, it was good enough to land him a title shot as he took om the very tough and skillful lightweight champion Stevie “Lil but Bad” Johnston.

They met on 06/13/98 in front of a crowd of over 46,000 fans at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX and it was for the WBC Lightweight Championship. It was on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya’s welterweight title defense against Patrick Charpentier and it was part of an HBO World Championship Boxing doubleheader. Johnston came into the bout unbeaten at 24-0 and was making the fourth defense of his lightweight title. Bazan came into this bout as an unknown challenger and many didn’t give him much of a chance to upset the very skillful and battle tested Johnston.

Cesar would prove the naysayers wrong. It was a good, rough and tough battle fought mostly on the inside in the center of the ring. Bazan, despite having tremendous height and reach advantages, elected to stand and fight on the inside, having a great amount of success. Johnston wasn’t able to get into the rhythm that he wanted to and wasn’t able to land shots cleanly against Bazan, even though Cesar was right there in front of him. Bazan stood in front of Johnston for 12 rounds,outfighting Stevie and beating him at his own game. When the decision was announced, it would be a split decision win for Cesar Bazan.

He was now a world champion and was no longer an unknown. 1998 would be a big year for Bazan and he finished out the year with two big wins over two very tough challengers in Hiroyuki Sakamoto and Mauro Lucero. Cesar Bazan was at the top of his game and his future looked promising as he headed into 1999. During this time, “Sugar” Shane Mosley was another lightweight titleholder and was regarded as the best lightweight in the world. Shane was lobbying for a unification bout with Bazan and called him out on several occasions. Bazan elected not to face Mosley and decided to face Stevie Johnston in a rematch.

Bazan and Johnston met again on 02/27/99 at the Miccosukee Indian Gaming Resort in Miami, FL and it was for the WBC Lightweight Championship. It was the main event of an HBO Boxing After Dark doubleheader and the fight turned out to be one of the many classics featured on the legendary series. It was another good, rough and tough battle fought mostly on the inside. Bazan found success once again fighting on the inside, however he was facing a much better Stevie Johnston, who came into the bout very hungry and determined.

Johnston obviously did his homework and corrected many of the mistakes he made in the first fight as this time he was able to land shots more cleanly and he was able to back Bazan up, which was something he wasn’t able to do in the first fight. Going into the bout, there many who felt that Bazan may have had Johnston’s number, however Stevie turned the tables on Cesar and busted him up for 12 rounds. Although Bazan was game and showed a lot of heart, it wasn’t his night as he would lose a 12 round split decision.

The loss, however didn’t break Bazan as he would go 4-0 with three KO’s over the next 23 months before getting another crack at a world title, this time against fellow Mexican Jose Luis Castillo. Castillo would come into this bout having himself gone 24 rounds with Stevie Johnston while upsetting Johnston to win a lightweight title. They met on 01/20/01 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV and once again, it was for the WBC Lightweight Championship. It was the co-feature on a big HBO World Championship Boxing doubleheader headlined by the highly anticipated matchup between Floyd Mayweather and Diego Corrales.

Bazan boxed very well for the 1st 2 rounds, using his jab to set up combinations while keeping Castillo on the outside, however the distance began to close in round three and Bazan began to fight on the inside as he so loved to do. This would play right into Castillo’s hands. In round five, the bout had become a toe-to-toe slug fest in which both men began trading hard shots. Larry Merchant complimented both men as he stated that the fight had become a hard nosed, tough, grueling fight between two tough, grueling prize fighters.

With 40 seconds to go in the round, Castillo would land a big left hook that put Bazan on the canvas. Cesar showed tremendous heart by getting up off the canvas and finishing the round by landing many hard shots in return. Bazan came out in the sixth and began to land good crisp combinations and was getting the better of Castillo, however with a little over a minute to go in the round, Castillo would land a hard left uppercut that put Bazan down again. Cesar would once again show tremendous heart by getting up off the canvas. Castillo, smelling blood, would move in for the kill and Bazan would fire back, however Castillo’s punches did more damage, forcing referee Vic Drakulich to stop the fight with six seconds left in the round.

It was a tough loss for Bazan; however he showed heart, guts and grit in what was a very good fight for as long as it lasted. It was pretty much the end of the road for Cesar Bazan as a serious contender as he would never again challenge for a world title. He would have one more high profile bout against Miguel Cotto in February of 2003, losing on an 11th round TKO. He would continue to fight regularly from 2001-2008, going 9-7 with 5 KO’s. He would retire in 2008, however he did make a comeback in 2012 going 1-1 over a 21 month span.

His record as a professional currently stands at 49-12-1 with 32 KO’s. He was a very good boxer who elected to stand and slug as opposed to boxing and moving. What would his career have been like had he elected to box more and use his height and reach to his advantage? Would his career have been more successful and could he have been a 2 or 3 time world champion? In the end, he was a very good fighter who was too tough for his own good.

Cesar Bazan