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Sports Review 2001
December 31, 2001
It was the year Félix Trinidad lost his invincible status. Puerto Rico also welcomed its first-ever world heavyweight champion. Basketball's Santurce Cangrejeros refused to be beaten and Juan "Igor" González found a new life in Cleveland.
The year 2001 had its great moments and a few bad ones in local sports. However, those few were big ones.
Félix "Tito" Trinidad became the island's first middleweight world champion. Nonetheless, he couldn't accomplish more than that--to become the undisputed middleweight world champion.
The Cupey Alto phenomenon began the year with an impressive win over William Joppy to win the World Boxing Association middleweight crown. He needed one more win to take all three titles home. The other two, the World Boxing Council and the International Boxing Federation crowns, were in the hands of Bernard Hopkins.
The now-undisputed champion from Philadelphia drew the rage of Puerto Ricans when he trashed the Puerto Rican flag at a press conference in New York and then came to the island and did it once more, causing a big brawl in a crowd of more than 5,000 fans attending the pre-fight press conference.
It was all set. It was meant to be: Trinidad would take revenge, Saturday, Sept. 15, at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, the terrorist attacks on New York Sept. 11 forced promoter Don King to move the fight to Sept. 29.
When the day finally came, Trinidad seemed to be stunned by Hopkins, who outboxed "Tito" and ended up knocking him out technically in the 10th round. This was Trinidad's first loss in 40 fights. The defeat also sent Trinidad into retirement, although he hasn't made that official. Next month, he is expected to tell the world if he will be back in the ring.
Meanwhile, a Puerto Rican raised in Boston had a second opportunity to go for a title. John Ruiz, born of Puerto Rican parents, earned a rematch from his very close 2000 fight with Evander Holyfield, which favored Holyfield with a decision. The two of them had their rematch in March. This time, Ruiz convincingly dominated Holyfield and won a unanimous decision to become not only the first Puerto Rican to win a heavyweight title, but the first-ever Latin American.
That fight also set a third and decisive bout. It was held Dec. 15 and, in the end, we were right back where it all started. Ruiz and Holyfield fought for a draw, leaving the Puerto Rican finishing the year as world champion.
Nelson Dieppa, a Vieques native, also had his chance to become a world champion. With the controversy over the U.S. bombing of Vieques as part of its military practices, Dieppa faced Andy Tabanas for the World Boxing Organization's mini-flyweight title, which Nelson earned with a fifth-round knockout.
Frankie Toledo was next and he upset the boxing world by knocking out heavy favorite Mbulelo Botile, winning the IBF lightweight championship. However, he lost it in November to Mexican Manuel Medina.
Daniel Santos, the WBO welterweight champion, defended his title against Mexican Antonio Margarito in Bayamón. The fight was cut short, ending in a no-contest after an unintentional head butt opened a gash over Margarito's eye in the first round.
In addition, we witnessed the rise of heavyweight boxer Fres Oquendo, who beat three top-ranked boxers during the year, setting him to fight Chris Byrd for the vacant IBF heavyweight title in April.
The Superior Basketball League's Santurce Cangrejeros won its fourth-straight title. Santurce entered the league in 1998, and haven't lost a season yet. The team was led by star center José "Piculín" Ortiz and Carlos Arroyo. The duo also played on the Puerto Rico national team, which won the Centrobasket tournament in Mexico with six unbeaten games and went to Argentina to classify for next year's World Basketball Championship.
Even though the team finished fourth, Puerto Rico will be in the tournament since the top-five teams in the qualifier make it to the worlds to be held in Indianapolis.
In women's SBL, the Bayamón Vaqueras upset the heavy-favorites Carolina Gigantes in a tournament during which, for the first time, imported players were allowed to play.
The Caguas Criollos won the title in the Puerto Rico Winter Baseball League. Led by Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Alex Cora, the Criollos beat the Mayagüez Indios in the finals and headed for Dominican Republic to play in the Caribbean Series. Although the team started by winning the first three games of the series, it ended up tied for fourth place and the Dominican Republic's Agulas Cibaenas won the title.
In amateur baseball, the San Lorenzo Samaritanos won the title, beating the Cayey Toritos. It was the third title for San Lorenzo in the past four years. Rival league Coliceba had the Toa Alta Correcaminos winning the title but, after the season, the team moved to Cataño and changed its name to the Lancheros.
Juan "Igor" González played with the Cleveland Indians and showed why he was selected Most Valuable Player twice in three years. González batted .325, with 40 home runs and 140 RBIs. His teammate, all-star second baseman Roberto Alomar, also had another strong season, finishing fourth in the MVP balloting, while González was fifth.
Alomar, however, was shocked when the Indians traded him to the New York Mets in December and hopes González, a free agent will join him in New York.
Edgar Martínez was a key player, helping his Seattle Mariners win 116 games and tying the major-league record for most wins in a season by a team. Javier Vázquez won 16 games for the slumping Montreal Expos before an injury in the final month of the season prevented him from win 20 games. He was considered one of the top right-handers in the National League.
The Superior Volleyball League's Caguas Criollas continued its dominance on the island, beating the Guaynabo Conquistadoras in the finals. It was the Criollas' fifth title in the past six seasons.
In men's, another top franchise, the Naranjito Changos, regained the title, defeating the San Sebastián Caribes. Naranjito had won nine-straight titles before losing to the Moca Rebeldes in 2000.
Horse racing also had its golden moments. Gran Duque won the Confraternización Stakes, one of the top-two events during the Caribbean Classic held at El Comandante Racetrack. However, Panama's Alexia beat Puerto Rico's Mi Pradera in the main event. Alexia was ridden by Rosemary Holsmester, the first woman to participate in the event and to win it.