Marcos Maidana is the the kind of fighter fans love: a man of few words and many punches. He’s simple, not in the sense that he’s dull or stupid, but in the sense that he knows what he likes: to fight. Asked at press conference whether Floyd Mayweather is attempting to change the way their rematch will be refereed by calling him a dirty fighter, Maidana shrugged. “Maybe I am a dirty fighter,” he said, with hardly a hint of a smile.
For all his simplicity in the ring and out, there’s always been one thing that I haven’t been able to work out about Maidana. Why is he, a man from Santa Fe, Argentina, nicknamed “Chino” — “Chinese” or “Chinaman” in Spanish? It’s not an uncommon nickname in Latin America, but despite having lived in Mexico, I never really got my head around why. Adding to the confusion, “chino” can also mean curly, which, along with Larry and Moe, ranks low on the intimidation scale when it comes to noms de guerre.
It turns out the answer is more complicated than I thought, and that the nickname “Chino” has a long history, both in boxing and outside it.
Basically, Chino usually does mean “Chinaman.” It’s the kind of nickname that doesn’t get used much in the English speaking world anymore more because, y’know, political correctness means not giving people racist nicknames. It can be a nickname for people of Chinese descent, but more commonly it’s used for people who have high cheekbones and narrow eyes. In other words, people who look Asian. That’s the category that Maidana falls into — according to various sources, he inherited the name from his older brother Javier (who I guess also looked a bit Asian).
However, according to The Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology, which devotes six pages to the term, over hundreds of years of use in Latin America, Chino basically became a catch-all term for non-whites, meaning at various times “female servant,” “slave from Mozambique,” “concubine,” “young Indian female who served in a convent,” and “curly-haired.” So in that sense, using Chino to mean “curly” is also a racially loaded term.
Chino had its heyday as a boxing nickname nearly 80 years ago, when Mexico still had a very large immigrant Chinese community. The Chinese flooded into the country in the late 19th century to build railroads, but suffered harsh discrimination (and active violence) during and after the Mexican Revolution. Their presence may have inspired the first wave of Chinos, fighting out of Mexico from the 1930s.
One of the most notable Chinos was Luis Villanueva Paramo, AKA Kid Azteca, who fought as Kid Chino early in his career. Azteca, who eventually compiled a mind-boggling record of 192-46-12 with 114 KOs, is considered one of the best fighters never to have fought for a world title, and is part of a select club (which includes Roberto Duran and Archie Moore) to have fought in four decades.
Azteca’s younger brother went on to fight six times under the name “Chino Chico”. All but one of his bouts were against fighters with “Kid” in their name, including the impressively named Kid Gorilla (Chino Chico lost on points).
Also noteworthy was Chino Alvarez of Cuba. Alvarez, known as a huge puncher, was actually descended from the Chinese who were brought to the island nation to cut cane after the end of slavery in the 1840s. In 1938 the Cuban beat future lightweight champion of the world Lew Jenkins. Perhaps it had something to do with having “boxing identity” Benjamin “Evil Eye” Finkle, who claimed to be able to put a hex on anyone, in his corner.
“The eccentric Chino, who is to the ring what Goofy Gomez is to baseball as far as queer mental gymnastics is concerned, was elated at The Eye’s unexpected appearance here,” wrote the Dallas Morning News.
“I’ve got to put the old wammie on this local guy for th’ keed,” said “Evil Eye.” It worked, and Alvarez flattened Jenkins in the 7th and the 8th, forcing the referee to stop it. He had been trailing on the scorecards at the time. Alvarez ended his career with a record of 126-42-15, 76 KO.
Of the other Chinos in boxing history, Baby Chino stands out for sounding like a small cup of frothed milk (though being Cuban, his name was likely a tribute to Chino Alvarez).
There are currently three notable active Chinos, all from Argentina. Interestingly, Argentina didn’t experienced the waves of Chinese migrants Cuba and Mexico did in the 19th and 20th centuries, but now has a large and growing population of both Taiwanese and mainland Chinese, perhaps explaining the name’s modern popularity. Junior middleweight Jorge Daniel Miranda and cruiserweight Francisco Antonio Mora haven’t quite reached the pugilistic heights of their namesake, but they are carrying on a long (if borderline racist) tradition.
This post would not have been possible without the assistance of TQBR’s extremely generous resident historian, Patrick Connor.