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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Santos To Defend WBO Title On His Home Turf
By Gabrielle Paese
June 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The cream of the Caribbean's amateur boxing's graduating class of 1996 has made quite a splash in the pro ranks.
Two of that Olympic cycle's best boxers will be on the same fight card July 20 in Bayamón when Puerto Rico's 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Daniel Santos makes his first WBO junior middleweight title defense versus England's Wayne Alexander in a Showtime bout.
The other amateur standout, Dominican Joan Guzmán, also shares top billing with Santos. Guzmán, a 1995 Pan Am Games gold medalist, will fight the scrappy Agapito Sánchez (33-7-2, 19 Kos) as Sánchez, also Dominican, defends his WBO junior featherweight title against Guzmán, who is the WBO's No. 1 contender.
But Guzmán and Santos aren't the only two 1996 class graduates on the card. The third works behind the scenes, but Alejandro "Pupi" De la Torre's success so far as Santos' trainer proves out the conventional wisdom that Cuba's boxers are professionals wearing amateur headgear.
De la Torre was an assistant trainer under Cuban legend Alcides Sagarra in 1992 when Cuba won 11 of a potential 12 gold medals in Barcelona (Oscar de la Hoya prevented the Cubans from sweeping). De la Torre continued to work with Cuba's powerful amateur team for the 1993 Central American-Caribbean Games (in Ponce, Puerto Rico) and the 1995 Pan Am Games (in Mar del Plata, Argentina).
He defected to Puerto Rico in 1996 after the Atlanta Olympics.
"My decision had nothing to do with politics. I just wanted to advance my career training pro boxers and in Cuba we didn't have any," said De la Torre, who last month returned to Cuba on a humanitarian visa for the first time in six years to visit his ailing father and his two daughters.
While De la Torre was working with the Cubans in 1993 in Ponce, Cuba again won 11 of 12 gold medals. This time it was Dominican Guzmán, just 17 years old, who defeated Michael Romero, to spoil Cuba's bid for a sweep. In fact, in his entire amateur career (42-7), Guzmán never lost a fight to a Cuban boxer.
Cuba's Sagarra said Guzmán was the greatest Cuban champion ever to have been born outside of Cuba. Too bad for Sagarra, Guzmán is really Dominican, from Santo Domingo's Isla del Diablo (Devil's Island) Barrio.
Guzmán (17-0, 13 Kos) said the only difference he sees between pro and amateur boxing is the length of the fights, not the strength of the punches.
"My biggest challenge since turning pro has been to build up my endurance to go the distance because I already knew how to hit hard," said the 26-year-old. "For this fight I know that Agapito is tricky. I'm just going to keep my gloves up and try to hit him so he can't hit me."
While Guzmán finds training easy because he worked so hard during his amateur career, Santos' trainer De la Torre said he had his work cut out for him when he took on Santos.
"He was used to being a champion so he didn't work very hard because no one had ever asked him to," said De la Torre. "I had to instill motivation in him."
Lucky for both trainer and pupil, Santos (25-2-1, 20 KOs) caught on. The two are already plotting Santos' move up to middleweight, the territory of Félix "Tito" Trinidad, or a middle ground for a big money match possibly versus De la Hoya.
The fight versus Alexander, who like Santos, belongs to promoter Frank Warren, is going to be held under the stars at Bayamón's Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium, marking the first time in 24 years Loubriel plays host to open air boxing.
While we're strolling down memory lane here, boxing fans may remember that in 1978, Loubriel was the site for two edge-of-your seat fights. The first was when Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello knocked out Puerto Rican Alfredo Escalera for the WBC super featherweight title on Jan. 28 and the second was on April 8 when Wilfredo Gómez Koed Juan López in the seventh round to defend the WBC junior featherweight title.
Pudge' and Igor' let bats do the talking
All is well in Texas. Iván Rodríguez and Juan "Igor" González are both back in the Rangers' lineup after injuries forced them into extended stays on the DL.
Rodríguez, who received his 2001 Gold Glove trophy (his 10th) during a ceremony Monday at the Rangers' home stadium in Arlington, Texas, was hitting 8-for-17 (.290) through the middle of last week.
Rodríguez trails Yankees catcher Jorge Posada just slightly in fan voting for the July 9 All-Star game. If you feel strongly about it either way, log on to www.mlb.com and vote. You can vote 25 times under one e-mail address.
Roberto Clemente's son, Luis Roberto Clemente, said his father was likely not included on Major League baseball's Millennium team because Latin fans were a minority in internet voting two years ago. Have things changed? We'll know when the ballots are in.
González, after being sidelined with a hand injury, is back in his usual form, hitting .307 through his first 25 games back.
Women's volleyball team gearing up for Worlds
Puerto Rico's women's national volleyball team is tuning up in Winnipeg, Canada, this weekend in the Canada Cup, a practice tournament for this summer's World Championships.
They're not at all favored to win at the Worlds, where Cuba is the reigning champion and Puerto Rico has been dumped into a Worlds competition bracket that includes the United States, Russia, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Kenya.
Still, they could play the role of spoiler and despite their long odds, they're one of the most talented teams Puerto Rico has ever put together.
Cuba, Russia, Brazil, China and the United States are the top five seeds, respectively.
Cuba won three straight Olympic gold medals (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000) and has netted the last two World championship titles.
UPDATE: WBO junior middleweight No. 1 contender, Great Britain's Wayne Alexander, on Thursday pulled out of the July 20 bout versus champion Daniel Santos due to a hand injury. Frank Warren, who manages both Alexander and Santos, said No. 2 ranked Mehroud Takalobigashi, of Iran, better known as Takaloo (19-2, 15 KOs) . Peter Rivera, of Best Boxing, the promotion company putting the fight together locally, also announced a venue change for the fight -- from Bayamón's open air Loubriel Stadium to its adjacent Rubén Rodíguez Coliseum.
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.