By Jim Amato

He was born to humble beginnings on January 7, 1945 in Jalisco, Mexico. He would become a professional boxer at the age of eighteen. For years he fought fellow novices, losing some but winning more. He was making a name for himself though. In 1966 he climbed up the ladder with a win over rugged Memin Vega. Two fights later he drew with Geraldo Luna.

From the Luna bout Rafael’s career took off. He reeled off sixteen straight wins. Herrera was then matched with future world champion Jesus ” Chucho ” Castillo. Herrera was overwhelmed by Castillo and lost in round three.

Rafael was no quitter. He drew with Canada’s Billy McGrandle but two fights later he lost to the highly regarded Raul Cruz. As 1970 rolled around Herrera was considered a top notch boxer but not championship material. That all changed when he decided that he was good enough to make it to the top. This time Herrera won a decision over Octavio Gomez. This led to a shot against undefeated Rodolfo Martinez for North American Boxing Federation bantamweight title. In a very close and exciting fight Herrera got the verdict and the title.
That was the spring board for Rafael’s career. Next he would halt the highly regarded Cesar Deciga. Two fights later he avenged an earlier loss by outscoring the talented Chucho Castillo. In March of 1972 Rafael challenged the legendary Ruben Olivares for the world’s championship. The proud champion fought his heart out but Herrera was not to be denied and he won in round eight capturing the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council bantamweight titles.

Four months later Herrera traveled to Panama to take on smooth boxing native Enrique Pinder who outpointed Rafael to take the title. The WBC then stripped Pinder of the title for refusing to defend against Rodolfo Martinez. In the meantime Herrera and Olivares hooked up in a rematch with Rafael winning a majority ten round decision.

In January of 1973 Pinder was halted by hard punching Romeo Anaya to lose the WBA title. In April of 1973 Herrera and Martinez met for the vacant WBC title. In a wild affair Herrera stopped Martinez in round twelve to annex the crown. In August Anaya would again KO Pinder to retain the WBA title.

Herrera would finish 1973 with a close decision win over Thailand’s Venice Borkhorsor. The Thai southpaw had once held the flyweight title. He gave Rafael fits early on as Herrera suffered cuts and swelling around both eyes. Herrera gamely battled his way back and after fifteen brutal rounds Rafael was awarded a controversial decision. In November of 1973 South African Arnold Taylor came from behind to bomb out Anaya to capture the WBA ‘s title recognition.

In May of 1974 Herrera defended against ex-champ Anaya and stopped him in round six. Next up was a third fight with Rodolfo Martinez. This time Martinez turned the tables halting Herrera in the fourth round. Now without a title Rafael dropped verdicts to Octavio Gomez and Jose Luis Soto. Next came a draw with Jose Cervantes and Herrera retired. Rafael came back ten years later to win a four rounder against Alfredo Meneses. He then promptly retired for good.

In 61 fights Herrera posted a record of 49-9-3. He scored 19 knockouts and was stopped on only two occasions. He was a solid champion who bridged the reigns of Ruben Olivares and Carlos Zarate.

Jim Amato

PHOTO ; Herrera catches Chucho Castillo with a left.

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