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August 13, 2004
While a salsa concert (Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz) gets first dibs on the new Puerto Rico Coliseum, named after entertainer Jose Miguel Agrelot, a boxing match follows close on its heels. And don't let the date scare you: Sept. 11, 2004 is just as good as a day as any to hold a fight card. For 70s boxing fans, the planning stages of this match alone will conjure up memories of the sport's heyday on the island -- events packed with exciting titles fights, many of them featuring Puerto Rican prize fighters like Wilfredo Gomez or Wilfredo Benitez. That golden era of boxing ended, blame Las Vegas, blame Pay-per-View, blame Don King, blame the passing of time, if you need to point fingers.
More than 20 years later, the big fights could make a comeback, especially now that there's a venue large enough to attract promoters. Of course, the new coliseum would be the perfect place for Felix "Tito" Trinidad's return, but what with the foot-dragging on the Coliseum's completion and King's penchant for staging stateside, Madison Square Garden got the nod for Trinidad's Oct. 2 fight versus Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga.
Top Rank's highly regarded prospect Miguel Cotto (20-0, 16 KO) will get his first shot at a title in the super lightweight (140 pounds) category, when he takes on Brazilian Kelson Pinto (20-0-0, 18 KO) for the vacant World Boxing Organization crown at the new Coliseum in an HBO broadcast bout. Pinto is ranked No. 1 by the WBO while Cotto is the No. 2 man. Pinto and Cotto have twice fought before, in the amateur ranks, with Pinto winning both matches. Cotto has WBO president Francisco Valcarcel to thank for this title shot, which came about in one of those really brilliant card-shuffling tricks, in which an ace of spades appears out of nowhere. Zab Judah moves up to 147 for a shot at the title Mexican Antonio Margarito will be vacating when he challenges WBO super welterweight Daniel Santos for Santos' belt. This is the Caguas native's most direct chance to become Puerto Rico's 50th world champion. It's as though the WBO is saying to him, "OK kid, you think you're good enough? We're making a space for you here, prove us right."
The WBO is about the only boxing entity with a job opening right now anyway. Australian Kostya Tszyu (30-1, 24 KO) has bragging rights to the IBF and WBC thrones and Arturo Gatti and Sharmba Mitchell are breathing down Tszyu's neck. Tszyu and Mitchell will face off in a twice-postponed rematch slated for Nov. 6. Vivian Harris owns the WBA belt.
Meanwhile WBO super welterweight champ Santos (28-2-1, 20 KO) will be looking to make his fourth defense of his WBO super welterweight (154) belt against Margarito (30-3-0, 21 KO). Margarito holds the WBO welterweight title, but is moving up in weight class for this bout. It won't be the first time the two meet. In July of 2001, they squared off in Santos' hometown of Bayamon for a fight that was stopped in the first round and ended in a "no contest" after an accidental head butt opened a cut over Margarito's right eye. Santos last fought on April 17, earning a unanimous decision win over Michael Lerma. Margarito last fought on January 31, knocking out Hercules Kyvelos in the second round.
Edgar Martinez to call it quits at end of season
Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, a native of Dorado, announced his retirement this week during a press conference in Seattle. The 41-year-old said he'll retire at the end of the season, his 18th in the major leagues, all with Seattle. Although he may not have done it consciously, Martinez took a page out of fellow Puerto Rican Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda's book, extending a career that began at third base in 1987 and has mostly been played out at DH. According to Elias Sports Bureau stats, Martinez, whose lifetime batting average is .312, holds the DH record for home runs (305) and RBIs (1,244).
"I have decided that this will be my last season," Martinez told the Associated Press. "As a player, I feel in my mind and my heart that I want to keep playing, but my body's saying something different."
Puerto Rico's 43 athletes gear up for Athens Games
Just about all of Puerto Rico's 43 elite athletes are in Athens this weekend for the start of the Games. I'm not a big fan of predictions, especially because no one in this group is a clear favorite for a medal. But if I had to put money on anyone, my bets would be with the athletes in the combat sports, particularly with wrestler Mabel Fonseca, superheavyweight boxer Victor Bisbal and taekwondo veteran Ineabelle Diaz. Women's wrestling is making its debut at these Olympics and Fonseca has finished third and fifth in the two most recent world championships, respectively. The 32-year-old was a Pan Am Games gold medallist in the sport of judo in her native Cuba, from which she defected in 1993. Although her usual weight class is 130 pounds (59 kilos), Fonseca dropped down to 55 kilos for these Games, because the women's wrestling competition will be held only in four weight classes.
"There are 12 wrestlers in Mabel's weight class and all of them are world champions in one of three weight classes, 51, 55 and 59 kilos," said her coach, Pedro Rojas, himself a Cuban exile and former junior national team wrestling coach for Cuba.
Because Fonseca is at the top of the group in terms of weight, she should have a size advantage over her rivals, if she can regain her normal weight following the weigh-in. Rojas said the strategy could work, but she won't reap the benefits until the second day and she'll still have to wrestle in the first round on the same day as the weigh-in.
"This format is single elimination, so if she loses one match, she's out," said Rojas.
Meanwhile, Bisbal's chances look decent, since there are only 16 boxers in his weight class. The rest of weight classes have between 26-28 fighters. Bisbal was a bronze medallist at the 2003 Pan Am Games. He was just plain scared of his Cuban rival in the ring in Santo Domingo. But he has beaten the U.S. super heavyweight, Jason Estrada, during tune-ups, and if he can keep his confidence up and his right hand hitting, he has an outside chance, especially if the draw favors him.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was 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.