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March 19, 2004
Where would Puerto Rican boxing be without the speculation about Felix "Tito" Trinidad's brilliant career? The saga continued this weekend after Winky Wright spoiled Sugar Shane Mosley's bid for a Trinidad fight. Wright defeated Mosley in their junior middleweight unification bout and now holds all the cards -- IBF, WBC and WBA.
Trinidad was in Las Vegas to witness Mosley's demise and since that moment every name from Ricardo Mayorga to Wright has been tossed into the mix as possible rivals for Trinidad. Both the IBF and the WBC are trying to obligate Wright to make mandatory defenses at 154 soon and that just might be the push Wright's promoter (boxer Roy Jones Jr.) and Don King (Trinidad's promoter) need to start negotiating a fight at 160.
A fight at 160 is probably more realistic for Trinidad, who is still weighing in at more than 170 these days, despite early morning runs with Fres Oquendo. Oquendo is getting ready for a mid-April bout versus fellow Puerto Rican John Ruiz at New York's Madison Square Garden.
While the boxing panorama is cloudy over the next six months, this weekend is completely in focus. Three of Puerto Rico's most lightning-quick fighters will be in the ring Saturday night in Guaynabo, one of them for a WBO title defense at 105. If you are one of those boxing fans who only pays attention to the big guys, you're missing out. The lightests weights rock. Ivan Calderon, Eric Morel and Nelson Dieppa are all exciting fighters who move, dodge and land punches -- none of the slow and plodding ballet you are sure to see in Oquendo versus Ruiz.
Morel steps into the ring versus 40-year-old Venezuelan Jesus "Kiki" Rojas, a former belt-holder. Calderon defends his 105-pound WBO title against Mexican Edgar "Tun Tun" Cardenas while Dieppa finally gets a shot at Colombia's Kermin Guardia.
Morel, who lost his WBA flyweight belt to Venezuelan Lorenzo Parra in December is back with three more pounds and a new attitude.
"I feel like a new man," Morel (33-1, 18 KO) said. "In reality I was always at 115 but the opportunities came at 112 so I made my career there. It feels good to be back at 115 again. I am eating my three meals daily and I feel stronger."
The loss to Parra came during Morel's sixth title defense at 112. Even before the fight, Morel was already complaining about 112, he wanted his promoter, Top Rank, to either give him a unification bout or else let him move up to 115.
Top Rank was not indifferent to his plight at 112, they just needed some coaxing. Morel's new manager, Peter Rivera, whose company, Best Boxing, works directly with Top Rank, lent a sympathetic ear. Even as early as last spring, Rivera saw the marketing advantages to having Morel at 115. Rivera knew Colombian Pacheco would have been hard to sell to HBO or even Telefutura. But at 115, the possibilities were greater, including Mexican Fernando Montiel and now Mark "2 Sharp" Johnson.
"This is what we wanted. We wanted to leave the [WBA 112] title vacant and move up to 115. He has plenty of speed and we've done about 50 rounds of sparring for this fight," said Morel of Rojas (36-9-4, 20 KO), who, like Parra, has fought sparingly over his near 20-year career outside his native land.
Morel sees a world of possibilities at 115. He sees a victory Saturday opening the door against newly crowned WBO champ Johnson. Johnson knocked out Luis Bolano in the fourth round last week in Connecticut for Bolano's WBO belt.
Meanwhile, Dieppa (19-2-2, 11 KO) will try to win back the 108-pound belt he lost due to inactivity Saturday night versus Guardia (35-2, 21 KO). Guardia was in Puerto Rico last November to fight Dieppa, but the bout was cancelled due to flooding and bad weather. Guardia said he didn't think the aborted attempt affected him as much as it would Dieppa, who hasn't fought since his 2002 appearance against Colombian Jhon Molina. That fight ended in a no-contest due to an unintentional head butt.
"It's neither an advantage nor a disadvantage because it happened to both of us but he's the one who has gone longer without fighting," said Guardia (35-2, 21 KO).
Calderon, Puerto Rico's 2003 Boxer of the Year, is the overwhelming favorite to defend his WBO belt versus Cardenas (30-11-2, 22 KO). Cardenas is a former IBF belt-holder who handed Alex "Nene" Sanchez his first career loss back on Feb. 22, 1997. Colombia's Daniel Reyes scored a TKO victory in the sixth round over Cardenas on Oct. 4, 2003 in Los Angeles for Cardenas' IBF minimum weight belt.
Jockey Javier Santiago makes strides
Most jockeys are lucky to get a mount for the Kentucky Derby. After this weekend, Puerto Rican jockey Javier Santiago has two. The 26-year-old went stateside to try his luck six months ago and the move panned out like he never believed possible.
Santiago won the Louisiana Derby riding Bob Baffert's Wimbledon and followed it up this past Sunday with a victory at the San Felipe Stakes aboard Baffert's Preachinatthebar. With agent Tony Matos by his side, Santiago is sure to go far. All he needs now is for Matos to get him English lessons so he can really capitalize on the limelight of all those ESPN interviews.
5 from P.R. in NCAA tournament
Five Puerto Ricans will be active in the men's NCAA basketball tournament this March. For Valparaiso, Miguel Ali Berdiel and Roberto Nieves will be in uniform. Filiberto Rivera will see action for UTEP while Ivan Lopez will suit up for Memphis. Seton Hall will try its luck with Andre Sweet in the lineup.
Valparaiso won the Mid-Conference tournament to earn the NCAA berth. They opened versus Gonzaga, one of the top five teams in the nation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.