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Cotto takes New York; P.R. baseball clings to pro vs. amateur debate

By Gabrielle Paese

June 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Forget the middleweights. Junior welterweight, 140 pounds, is the most exciting ticket in boxing these days. That's good news for Puerto Rican boxiing fans anxious to fill the void left by Tito Trinidad's sudden re-retirement at middleweight last month. They can now turn their attention to World Boxing Organization junior welterweight champ Miguel Cotto (23-0, 19 KO) and his drama-laden 140-pound division.

Cotto defends his title for the third time Saturday night at Madison Square Garden when he takes on his nemesis from Olympic amateur boxing days, Mohammad Abdullaev (15-1, 12 KO). Abdullaev sent Cotto home in the first round of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 before going on to win the gold medal at 139 pounds. On Saturday, Cotto will have a chance to exact revenge. The shoe is on the other foot: Cotto is the undefeated beltholder, while Abdullaev has already shown he's less than perfect after a 10th round KO from Emmanuel Clottey two years ago.

Cotto said this week he's not paying attention to anything else that's going on at 140, which means that he's trying his best not to jump up and down with glee over the news that undisputed 140-pound International Boxing Federation champ Kostya Tszyu just got his butt kicked by Great Britain's Ricky Hatton. Tszyu's loss opens a big door for Cotto provided he wins on Saturday night and pending the outcome of the Arturo Gatti-Floyd Mayweather matchup June 25. Gatti is the owner of the WBC crown at 140. Mayweather is Cotto's stablemate at Top Rank.

But first, Cotto needs to get past Abdullaev, whom no one in the Cotto camp is taking lightly. While his fighter claims he doesn't like to watch tape of his rival, Cotto's uncle and trainer, Evangelista Cotto, has studied several fights as well as using 140-pound veteran Vince Phillips as a sparring partner. Phillips gained respect in the boxing world when he defeated Tszyu. In addition, Phillips has helped prepare Cotto in previous fights and has seen the Caguas native improve, especially with his right. The elder Cotto was confident the team had done its homework.

"Miguel has been hit with every kind of blow there is and he has withstood most of them. We aren't afraid of what Abdullaev can bring," said Cotto, who added that the champ is near fighting weight. "But on Saturday night we'll find out for sure. There, we'll also find out if Abdullaev can take Cotto's punches."

Meanwhile, Abdullaev's trainer, Fritz Sdunek, said he thinks Cotto will succumb to Abdullaev's right hand.

"Cotto had trouble against Randall Bailey and then against DeMarcus Corley. He was rattled by them with straight right hand punches," Sdunek said. "I hope Abdullaev can do the same and put him down."

Unlike Cotto, Abdullaev has studied the tape of his rival.

"Fritz and I have watched almost all of Cotto's fights and we know what he can do. We have studied him thoroughly and we are prepared for him," said Abdullaev. "Cotto is right up there with [Ricky] Hatton. They're the best of the division right now. Cotto is very intense and has improved a lot since his amateur days."

Amateur baseball has strong defense

The Puerto Rico Olympic Committee and its Baseball Federation have spent most of the past month locking horns over the presence of a pitcher in the Superior Baseball League who once threw an inning or two in the Independent League. Because both organizations are chock-full of lawyers, they've taken the battle to the courts, making it hard to follow. Coupled with the lawsuits is a power struggle between the man in charge of the baseball federation, Israel Roldan, and one of the team franchise holders, Enrique Sued. The whole thing moves along slower than reality television and is endangering what is perhaps the only anomaly left in today's sports world: an amateur baseball tournament.

The Superior Baseball League voted in April to allow professional baseball players onto its hallowed playing fields starting in 2006, but for what is left of the 2005 season, the league wants to play in amateur bliss one last time. That means that Sued is heading up a witch hunt, sniffing out any team that might be harboring a "pro" player. I use the term pro in quotes because the two players currently in question never made it to an actual game in organized baseball so they can hardly be accused of smudging the league's all-amateur reputation.

And while we're on the subject of an all amateur league, congratulations are in order to the franchise holders for finally giving professional players the green light to join the league in 2006. It should have happened a decade ago. Puerto Rico harbors hundreds of relatively young baseball players who were never able to make it out of Class A ball in the United States. Who knows? Given a spring or two in the Superior Baseball League, they might even be ready for a second try in organized baseball.

The rest of the world stopped drawing these amateur/professional sports lines years ago. It's time the Superior Baseball League also got with the program. Granted, it might not be a bad idea to set up some kind of guidelines, say, permitting only players who have officially retired from organized baseball. That way the league can clearly distinguish itself from the Winter League, which is governed (whether we like to admit it or not) by Major League Baseball.

Three from P.R. earn gold medals in Cheo Aponte amateur boxing tournament

McWilliams Arroyo, Juan Velazquez and Gerardo Bisbal were all winners in the conclusion of the Jose "Cheo" Aponte amateur boxing tournament, which wrapped up this week in Caguas.

The tournament attracted top amateur boxers from the United States, Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It is held annually. The United States won the team medal. The tournament has gained importance over the past five years as an import stop on the amateur boxing circuit, an important step in the career of most Puerto Rican fighters.

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

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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