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February 20, 2004
Miguel Cotto might not have a boxing title yet, but he already has something local great Felix "Tito" Trinidad never had at any stage in his career -- a promotional team.
Maybe Trinidad never needed one (a case in point being the public's current fascination with his so-called comeback), but imagine just for one minute how super-famous the pride of Cupey Alto might be today had the Rivera brothers (Best Boxing's Peter and Ivan) been his handlers.
Instead Trinidad had his father, Felix Trinidad Sr., and a lawyer and family friend by the name of Nicolas Medina. As trainer, Trinidad Sr. obviously had to be more concerned with his son's uppercuts and jabs than his sales pitch. Medina, meanwhile, had a full-time job making sure that Trinidad's promoter, Don King, didn't get a penny more than the agreed-upon promoter's cut. The Trinidads never trusted King. King, in return, knew little about the Hispanic market (except that it had untapped financial potential). His Old School-style of fight promotion is to lend his presence to a pre-fight press conference and stand between the two fighters.
Meanwhile, the key word in the Rivera brothers' business is hustle. With their boyish good looks and flair for what's trendy, they are definitely New School. And oh, how they have busted a move to promote Cotto, who is 18-0, 15 KO and has yet to fight for a title in the hotly contested 140-pound division.
Cotto fights Dominican Victoriano Sosa next weekend (Feb. 28) in Las Vegas on the undercard of the Eric Morales vs. Jesus Chavez HBO headliner. While Cotto is signed under Bob Arum's Top Rank organization, it is local promoters Peter and Ivan Rivera who are essentially handling the 2000 Olympian as he tries to climb the ladder.
What exactly are the Rivera brothers doing for Cotto's career? Well, apart from slowly building up the Caguas native's record versus boxers who are good, but not good enough to upset the future champ, the duo from Bayamon is working hard to make Cotto a household name.
In Puerto Rico as well as among boxing aficionados in the United States, the job may already be done as Cotto is coming to be known (whether he likes it or not) as "the next Felix Trindidad."
"What these two brothers have done in promoting Cottto has been monumental," P.R. Boxing Commission president Jose "Toto" Penagaricano said. "For those fight cards [held here in Puerto Rico with Cotto headlining] the promotion was violent. They went to every radio station, every TV show. That's why the cards were so successful. Tito [Trinidad] was never promoted this way and Cotto has the charisma to back it up."
Cotto's manager, Peter Rivera, with guidance from Top Rank, has also known how to market fight cards locally so that other Puerto Rican boxers can ride Cotto's wave to popularity. The last local HBO card held in Bayamon featured Cotto along with fellow Puerto Ricans Eric Morel, Ivan Calderon and Alex "Nene" Sanchez. The house was packed.
Granted, boxing is so popular here you could probably set two kids up with gloves at the expressway tollbooth and thousands would get out of their cars to watch. Yet there's no denying the Rivera brothers have a special marketing gift. I mean, who else could run a successful surf shop in the inland hills of Bayamon, miles away from the ocean?
Padilla signs deal on Bayamon Vaqueros
Speaking of Bayamon, the city west of San Juan known more for its pro-statehood politics than its athletes continued to make sports headlines for the second straight week. The sale of the Superior Basketball League's Bayamon Vaqueros was completed on Monday. Former Arecibo franchise holder Francisco "Pancho" Padilla bought 79 percent of the team's shares from former player Juan Trinidad, who had run the team for the past three years.
When he put the team on the block, Trinidad said the Vaqueros were in debt. It was shocking news in the league, especially because few of its 13 teams turn a profit and Bayamon was considered to be one of the four wealthiest -- along with Santurce, Ponce and San German. Padilla, who ran Arecibo on a $200,000 shoestring budget for seven years, said reports of the team's financial death were greatly exaggerated.
"I was scared when I saw the numbers so high when I first spoke with Juan," said Padilla of the Vaqueros' financial statements, which indicated expenses of $800,000. "But then I saw he made the same mistake I made when I first started in Arecibo, which was to invest too much cash in the team. Traditionally, these teams lose money."
Don't cry for Bayamon, though. With a solid fan base and excellent sponsors the team is really in the pink. Padilla confirmed that he expects profits to exceed expenses this season. And that's good news for the players, who finally got paid last week for the season that ended in September of 2003.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 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.