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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Hopkins, De La Hoya Throw Jabs At Trinidad Jr. And Sr.
By Gabrielle Paese
March 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Boxing, that rice and beans staple for Puerto Rican sports, continues to make headlines again this week on the island.
Last week, as you may recall, Félix Trinidad Sr. was suing the Puerto Rican Boxing Commission over the Commission's decision to name World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John Ruiz Boxer of the Year.
Trinidad Sr., by the way, lost his suit and the awards ceremony last Thursday went off without a hitch. The Trinidads, and their entire boxing camp stayed home, boycotting the ceremony in protest.
Trinidad Sr. this week said he had no plans to continue the protest saying it was "water under the bridge." He did, however, stress that he'll continue to prod the Commission to make its selection criteria public.
The Trinidads were further upstaged this week when two of Félix "Tito" Trinidad's arch-rivals, Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De la Hoya held press conferences in San Juan.
Hopkins, who KO'd Trinidad for the unification middleweight title this past September in New York's Madison Square Garden, was on the island for a three-day stint as part of the World Boxing Organization's Kids Drug-Free public service campaign.
Hopkins nearly set off riots in New York, Miami and San Juan prior to his fight with Trinidad when he grabbed the Puerto Rican flag and threw it to the ground both in San Juan and in New York.
The Philadelphia native, never at a loss for words, spent most of this week apologizing for his pre-fight behavior. Hopkins visited rehab programs, a center for underprivileged children in Ponce and even attended a fight card staged by P.R. State Penitentiary inmates in Guaynabo.
Apart from giving Hopkins a chance to make good after offending Puerto Ricans, the WBO considered Hopkins the perfect man for this job because the world middleweight champion is also an ex-convict who has turned his life around with boxing.
Hopkins spent the better part of his time signing autographs, many of them on Puerto Rican flags. In his parting shot, he even told the media he wished "Peace for Vieques."
"It was my wife who told me about Vieques. That it was a small island of Puerto Rico bombed by the U.S. Navy and that citizens there were suffering from cancer and babies were born deformed and all that stuff."
The Trinidads declined to meet with Hopkins. Trinidad Sr. said that "it wasn't in God's plan for right now."
Finally, Hopkins blamed Don King for the flag flap.
"I threw the flag down in New York and Trinidad told me that if I did that in Puerto Rico I wouldn't leave alive. I took that as a challenge and I was not going to be threatened," Hopkins said. "I realized this was Don King's way of promoting the fight. I felt bad to see everybody supporting Trinidad and not me -- even my fellow Americans. It was a war against everybody and I had to do whatever it took to win."
Hopkins admitted that politics was a factor. Trinidad Sr. told the media that his son had beaten four Americans and that he was going to be the fifth one.
"I said, wait a minute. Isn't Puerto Rico part of the United States? We are all Americans so what were they trying to tell me with that?"
Hopkins (30-2-1, 29 KOs) reminded the media that the Puerto Ricans booed the U.S. flag when he waved it at the New York press conference. Puerto Ricans at Madison Square Garden also booed the U.S. flag during Trinidad's first middleweight victory last May over William Joppy.
"I realized this fight was a matter of an American against another boxer from another country," said Hopkins of Trinidad. "Don King was pitting the two flags against each other. But my flag was going to win. I came back here to say I'm sorry and to tell Puerto Ricans I respect them a lot."
Finally, Hopkins promised Trinidad (40-1, 33 Kos) a rematch.
"He can fight me whenever he wants. He deserves it," Hopkins said.
Trinidad's not likely to be in a big hurry to fight Hopkins again, especially after getting handed his first career knockout. He's set to take on France's Hacine Cheriffi next in a fight card the Trinidads are trying to schedule for Carolina's Roberto Clemente Stadium in May.
While Hopkins' presence in San Juan was probably only slightly annoying to the Trinidads, Trinidad Sr. has to have been less than pleased with what went down Tuesday when Oscar "Golden Boy" De La Hoya held a press conference in San Juan to announce his training plans for his May 4 unification title bout with International Boxing Federation junior middleweight champion Fernando Vargas (22-1, 20 KO).
De la Hoya, a five-time world champion with a 34-2, 27 KO record, heads to his training camp in Bear Mountain, California, to continue his workouts this week.
The former Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. boxing team, threw the Trinidads a left hook on Tuesday when he told the media that Puerto Rico -- specifically the swank Los Paseos neighborhood in Río Piedras -- is now his primary residence. Last year, De la Hoya married local singer Millie Corretjer.
"We're going to live in Puerto Rico so my wife can be close to her family," De la Hoya said.
So why should Trinidad Sr. be peeved?
Last week in his lawsuit against the P.R. Boxing Commission, Trinidad specified that he objected to Ruiz getting Boxer of the Year honors -- not because he felt Ruiz wasn't Puerto Rican, but because Ruiz lives and trains in Massachussetts.
Trinidad said only bona fide Puerto Rican residents, who live here and pay taxes, should be eligible for the Commission's award.
On Tuesday, Commission president José "Toto" Peñagarícano said De la Hoya would now be eligible for Puerto Rico's Boxer of the Year award because he now lives in Puerto Rico.
"I guess any boxer living in Puerto Rico is part of our boxing family. That's one of the criteria established when considering a boxer for any award," said Peñagarícano. "I believe De la Hoya is part of Puerto Rico because he lives here and he could establish his new family here."
Check out Trinidad this month in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue where he's seen giving boxing lessons to supermodel Molly Sims. The issue showcases Caribbean athletes. You can also see photos of golfing legend Chi Chi Rodríguez with his wife, Iwalani as well as Atlanta Braves catcher Javier López with his wife, Analy.
Spring training opened camp last week and Puerto Rican stars like Roberto Alomar, Jorge Posada, Juan "Igor" González, Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez, Carlos Delgado, José "Cheito" Cruz, Javy López and Carlos Beltrán, to name a few, are all shaking the cobwebs out of their swings to get ready for the upcoming major league season.
Alomar is sporting a new uniform, that of the New York Mets, a team his father, Santos Sr., played for back in the 70s. González, meanwhile, is wearing an old uniform. He's back with the Texas Rangers, having come the full circle after seasons with Detroit and Cleveland.
González, whose career average is .297, joins a powerful lineup that includes shortstop Alex Rodríguez and Vega Alta native Iván Rodríguez (a career .304 hitter).
Next week: A closer look at Puerto Rican players in spring training.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.