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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Cast Your Vote: Is Félix Trinidad Sr. Out Of Line To Try To Stop The P.R. Boxing Commission From Giving John Ruiz Boxer Of The Year Honors?
By Gabrielle Paese
February 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Opinionated, dictatorial, single-minded, self-righteous, hard-headed -- all of these are adjectives I'd use to describe Félix Trinidad Sr. Arguing with the veteran boxing trainer is like trying to drive the wrong way up a one-way street -- and that's when he's in an agreeable mood. Catch "Papa" Trinidad -- as promoter Don King likes to call him -- when he's got a bee in his bonnet and you could end up getting stung.
Under normal circumstances, I relish any excuse to play the devil's advocate with Trinidad Sr. (nothing like a good argument). So when Trinidad Sr. recently blasted the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission for unanimously voting heavyweight John "Quietman" Ruiz as Boxer of the Year, I sharpened my pencils.
They did not get dull this time around because, as much as I hate to admit it, Puerto Rico's most stubborn sports figure has a point.
If Trinidad Sr. has his way, Ruiz will not be crowned Boxer of the Year by the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission on Feb. 21.
Trinidad Sr. filed a lawsuit last week in the local court seeking an injunction to stop the awards ceremonies until the Commission reveals its selection criteria. Now Trinidad Sr. has already objected to just about everything pertaining to Ruiz's very existence, but in this 104-page suit, Trinidad Sr. accuses the Commission of arbitrarily picking Ruiz without considering other boxers, including those of Trinidad Sr.'s stable, namely his son, Félix Trinidad, but also Fres Oquendo and Nelson Dieppa.
Trinidad Sr. is basically accusing Commission president José "Toto" Peñacarícano of picking Ruiz arbitrarily. He says the Commission has no established rules for selecting its awards. The Commission has repeatedly stated that Ruiz was voted Boxer of the Year unanimously. However, Peñagarícano has refused to explain to either Trinidad Sr. or to the media exactly how the boxers are chosen for awards.
"Don Félix's declarations [against Ruiz's designation] are regrettable because awards are not requested but rather received with humility," Peñagarícano said recently.
Peñagarícano presides over seven boxing commissioners, all eight of whom were politically appointed under Gov. Sila Calderón's Sports and Recreation Department and its secretary, Georgie Rosario.
Trinidad Sr. was selected as Manager of the Year, while his son is to be given a special recognition. In 2001, Trinidad debuted at middleweight, winning the World Boxing Association title by knocking out William Joppy in the fifth round, but losing in the final unification bout against Bernard Hopkins this past September.
In the lawsuit, filed by Trinidad's lawyer, Nicolás Medina, Trinidad Sr. goes out of his way to reiterate that he objects to Ruiz only because the Commission won't explain how Ruiz was selected. He specifies his reasons to keep his issues separate. Remember that last March Trinidad Sr. protested the fact that the Commission considers Ruiz Puerto Rican. In the veteran trainer's mind, Ruiz is not because he was born in Boston and has lived and trained most of his life in the United States, having lived for only a short spell during his childhood in Sabana Grande, his mother's hometown.
Back in March of 2001, after Ruiz won the WBA heavyweight title (he beat Evander Holyfield by unanimous decision in Las Vegas), Trinidad Sr. also voiced his objection to the way the Commission lauded Ruiz as a Puerto Rican hero. Trindidad Sr.'s point was that, while Ruiz had certainly made history as the first Latin American heavyweight champion, Ruiz had only won one fight. Trinidad Sr. said he felt an athlete had to record more than just one victory to be conferred hero status.
When Ruiz successfully defended his title this past December after fighting Holyfield to a draw, Trinidad Sr. raised another eyebrow, saying the boxer was less than convincing as world heavyweight champion. Holyfield has challenged the decision and the WBA is due to make a determination this week.
Finally, Trinidad Sr., in his lawsuit, said it bothers him that a boxer should be eligible for an award given by a local government entity and paid for with public funds when said boxer does not hold a fight license in Puerto Rico, does not reside or pay taxes in Puerto Rico or employ any residents of Puerto Rico in his entourage.
By the way, Trinidad Sr. is completely out of line to say that Ruiz isn't Puerto Rican. That's an affront to the 3.6 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. However, you have to admit the guy has every right in the world to question the selection process a government agency uses in its awards selection. Trinidad Sr. may not get an answer, but he's definitely within his rights to ask. This isn't the Oscars, it's a local government agency.
Ruiz won the heavyweight title in 2001 -- he became the first Puerto Rican in history to do so. But he only won one fight and was not at all convincing in his defense this past December, which ended in a draw. By contrast, there were other boxers in Puerto Rico who turned in stellar performances in 2001, among them the three under Trinidad Sr.'s wing -- Trinidad, Oquendo and Dieppa. Trinidad Sr. is right on the money to wonder how the Commission selected Ruiz unanimously.
The Boxing Commission should give Trinidad Sr. the hearing he wants, explain its voting process and then get on with giving Ruiz the Boxer of the Year award. Next year, the Commission can invite the local media on board during awards selection time in the interest of newfound objectivity. As for Trinidad Sr., I have only one suggestion: Don King Diplomacy School.
While Trinidad Sr. has all of Puerto Rico arguing over whether or not Ruiz, whose parents are both from Sabana Grande, is or is not Puerto Rican, the P.R. Olympic Committee (PROC) last week quietly added a ringer to its Winter Games lineup and no one even batted an eyelash. The island's three-athlete bobsled team at Salt Lake City, Utah, is headed by driver Mike González, a Mexican American, who may or may not have lived at some point recently in Levittown, P.R., depending upon whom you believe. Gonzalez, a 1987 Pan Am Games gold medalist in the decathlon for the United States, is not Puerto Rican, but PROC president Héctor Cardona said González meets the three-year residency requirement for Puerto Rican sports citizenship. The other two athletes are Manuel Rebollet, of Utuado, and Liston Bouchette, a veteran of three Winter Olympics and a former Puerto Rican record holder in the decathlon.
More than 3,000 runners will compete Sunday in the Moscoso Bridge 10K, a 6.2-mile run that organizers bill as the World's Best 10K. The race, which features elite international runners such as Khalid Khannouchi, of the United States; Paul Tergat and Lornah Kiplagat, both of Kenya and South Africa's Elena Meyer to name a few, affords its participants the unique opportunity of crossing the bridge over the San José Lagoon on foot -- a feat that's not permissible the other 364 days of the year. For more information about the race, go to www.worldbest10K.com.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the most recent recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.