There is something special about being a boxing champion in Puerto Rico that makes kids still want to do it. In times where much has been talked about American youngsters turning their attention to the NBA or NFL there is still a deep talent pool coming out of the 100 x 35 square miles island that has already produced over 30 world champions (the local commission lists over 50 by recognizing every available “world title”).
This February 21st one of the most dominant fighters of the current welterweight division makes his return after suffering his first defeat. Miguel Cotto’s bid for the vacant WBO welterweight title follows up Luis Collazo’s spirited effort last January to kick off 2009.
They lead a group of Puerto Rican fighters that will either challenge for a world title or make a title defense this year. All in all there could be up to 8 Boricua world champions simultaneously if they all are successful. Here is a list of the top 10 Puerto Rican fighters that are knocking at the doors of boxing world supremacy.
1) Miguel Angel Cotto- 32-1 (26 Kos ) Former Jr welterweight and welterweight world titlist. Coming into his epic battle against Antonio Margarito, Miguel was the only unbeaten champion in today’s hottest division. Seven months removed from losing his unbeaten record and his title he starts his way back to the top by facing the UK ’s Michael Jennings. After watching Margarito get beat down by Shane Mosley, many writers have wondered if what was witnessed was some sort of aftermath to last year’s fight of the year candidate. With Cotto being on the loosing end of that one, most attention will be paid on his future fight. Much is expected from the island’s most popular fighter and he has already promised to deliver.
2) Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon 32-0 (6 kos) current Jr flyweight world titlist former straweight world titlist. One of the most skilled boxers in any division, the former 2000 Olympian had an impressive run at the minimum weight division. Despite his constant pursuit of big fights against fellow titlists, boxing politics have prevented him from getting that elusive unification bout. At 105 pounds, Calderon had faced almost every fighter who held a title during his reign, the only problem is that it was always easier to get the fight right after they had lost the crown. His desire to become a great fighter made him move up in weight to challenge the considerably bigger and dangerous Hugo Cazares, whom he has now defeated twice. Once again there have been talks of unification bouts against some of his fellow titlists at 108. Since last year there have been talks to face fellow 108 pounds champion Ulises Solis who has opted to face Brian Viloria first. This seems pretty familiar to what kept happening at 105 so time will tell if its history repeating itself. In the meantime Calderon is waiting for confirmation of a title defense in February.
3) Juan Manuel “Juanma” Lopez 24-0 (22 Kos ) current super bantamweight world titlist. Since entering the pro scene on 2005 “Juanma” quickly became one of the hottest prospects by stopping his first nine opponents in less than three rounds (six of them were first round knock outs). His knock outs were becoming popular highlights from Top Rank’s undercards but critics were starting to worry about him not going enough rounds during this learning stage of his career. “It’s not my fault they just fall when I hit them” he responded once. Even former title challenger Luis Bolanos with a record of 41-4 failed to test Juanma’s stamina beyond the 3 round mark. That test came in his tenth fight as a pro when he was forced to go the distance for the first time and, while he dominated the 8 round fight, he was evidently puzzled at how things went when people didn’t just fall when hit. After the fight Lopez talked about how he needed to improve his repertoire and with each fight people have witnessed his transition into more of a boxer puncher adding a dangerous right hook to his already feared left cross. That ability to adapt and evolve into a more complete boxer has started drawing comparisons to one of Puerto Rico ’s greatest champions, Wilfredo Gomez. Lopez has commented that it’s a great honor and has expressed his admiration for the man who once dominated the same weight division he’s taking by storm. With a title defense scheduled against durable veteran and 118 pound world titlist ,Gerry Penalosa, Juanma expects to continue his impressive title run that could lead him to career defining fights against Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez later this year.
4) Daniel Santos 32-3-(23 Kos ) current Jr middleweight world titlist former welterweight world titilst. After winning the bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games Santos began his pro career by signing with Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Daniel was said to be Arum’s next project right after his success with Oscar De la Hoya and he was starting to get treated with the same formula that would be practiced by Arum in the future with selected Olympic prospects. After moving to Las Vegas to improve his English and work with Arum’s plan, Santos was starting to get frustrated with the pace at which his career was developing. Bob Arum’s main project, Oscar De La Hoya was now campaigning at the same welterweight division and Santos felt his career was affected by him not receiving as much attention as he expected from his promoter. Santos, whose out of the ring image and lifestyle could come closer to a Ricardo Mayorga than a Felix Trinidad, had a record of 20-0 (15 kos) when he was matched against 16-0 Kofi Jantuah. The troubled Santos was stopped in 5 rounds. After getting released by Top Rank, his career has been plagued by long periods of inactivity and constant changes of promoters. Add the fact that a 6’ tall Olympic medalist who happens to be a power punching southpaw is nobody’s first choice of an opponent and you get the perfect recipe for disappointment on what could have been a great career. His impressive KO victory over Canada-based Haitian Joachim Alcine was expected to be what he needed to finally get to dance for the millions. From the way this year has started it seems like his luck hasn’t gotten any better. After turning down an offer to face Sergio Martinez on short notice ,Santos now awaits news on his first title defense while calling out everyone from welterweights to middleweights.
5) Eric “Little Hands of Steel” Morel 40-2 (21 Kos ) former flyweight world titlist. Things were not looking pretty for the 1996 USA Olympic team member after losing his world title against Lorenzo Parra in 2003. Morel moved up in weight to challenge super flyweight champion Martin Castillo just to get dominated in a wide unanimous decision. Completing the debacle was the news of him being sentenced to serve time in prison. It seemed like we had seen the last of Morel as a fighter but after a 3 year layoff Morel announced he was ready to make a comeback. What has followed is an impressive string of victories in which he has showcased an explosive punching power that seemed absent before his time off. Morel was scheduled to challenge Filipino veteran Gerry Penalosa but with the 118 pounds titlist announcing his move up to face Juanma Lopez, Morel is now expected to face Mexico ’s Fernando Montiel for the vacant title. Both fighters have given signs of adopting a fan friendly style of aggressive power punching to their world class skills which makes this next chapter in the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry a very interesting one.
6) Kermit Cintron 30-2 (27 kos) former welterweight world titlis. At one point during last year Kermit was part of a brief Puerto Rican domination of the welterweight division where 3 of the 4 mayor welterweight titles were being held by Puerto Rican fighters. His desire to avenge his only career loss led him to offer Antonio Margarito a shot at his title and a way back into the spotlight. With a title fight scheduled against IBF belt holder Joshua Clottey in February, Kermit opted to instead face the highly regarded Sergio Martinez for the interim WBC title at Jr middleweight. Cintron was a big welterweight with impressive punching power, if he is able to carry that strength up one more division we could be about to witness the arrival of another big player in a weight class that is already packed with serious contenders flying under the radar.
7) Roman “Rocky” Martinez 21-0 (12 Kos) At 25 years old “Rocky” has become one of Puerto Rico ’s favorite fighters to root for. His war against fellow prospect Daniel “Azuquita” Jimenez was selected Puerto Rico ’s 2007 fight of the year and moved him closer to his dream of becoming a world champion. Chants of “Rocky, Rocky” have become a trademark in his promoters PR Best Boxing’s busy schedule in recent years and have often helped Martinez overcome technical disadvantages to dig deep and come out victorious. This modern era blood and guts warrior is now ready to face his biggest challenge. He will travel to the UK to face current super featherweight world titlist Nicky Cook on his home turf. No chants of Rocky will probably be heard at the M.E.N. but rest assured that there will be thousands of Puerto Rican fans watching and encouraging Rocky from a distance. Will Martinez’s determination and high work rate be enough to offset the more skilled Cook?
8.) Carlos “El Indio” Quintana 26-2 (20 Kos ) former welterweight world titlist. Another member of the Puerto Rican welterweight trio, Quintana shocked the world when he upset the feared Paul “The Punisher” Williams. Carlos had gotten some exposure on ESPN but it wasn’t until his dominant win over 2005’s best prospect, Joel Julio on HBO, that he got the world’s attention. After getting stopped in an all Puerto Rican battle for the world welterweight title “El Indio” came in as an underdog against one of the most avoided fighters in the sport and claimed his own share of the welterweight crown. Unfortunately for him an immediate rematch would make his reign a short one as he was caught and stopped in the first round by Williams. Quintana has admitted that thoughts of retirement crossed his mind after having to pull out of his last scheduled bout due to an injury but he is now ready to get back into the mix either at 147 or 154 pounds and is expected to get a meaningful fight in the first half of the year.
9) Jose “Carita” Lopez 38-7 (32 Kos ) This power punching veteran knows a lot about tough luck in title fights. Lopez has lost his previous 4 attempts at winning a world title, always fighting on his opponent’s home turf. It was 2001 when he had his last world title fight- A 12 round unanimous decision loss in which he managed to score a knock down over Fernando Montiel. It has been eight years since that day and Lopez has been on a mission for one more shot at the glory. In the process he has been collecting regional titles. He has worked his way through the ranks the hard way, upsetting veterans as well as rising prospects who wanted to use his name to boost their own credibility . Lopez has been patiently moving towards a next chance and it seems like he finally has got it. “Carita” is scheduled to face Thailand ’s Pramuansak Posuwan for the vacant WBO super flyweight world title in Puerto Rico . Despite previous talks of the fight being cancelled, it has been confirmed for March 28. For the first time he gets to have the crowd on his side for a title bid. The same crowd that has supported him during his long road back to the title shot will be there to root for him. Will the 5th try be the one?
10) Mario “El Principe” Santiago 19-1-1 (14 Kos ) Mario entered the pro scene in 2000 after being eliminated at the Olympic qualifiers by Orlando “El Fenomeno” Cruz. The future seemed to smile at him when he signed with Don King and joined team Trinidad, sharing the same stable with fighters like Tito Trinidad, Fres Oquendo, Nelson Dieppa and others. He had 3 wins in 2001 but his career took an unexpected blow when Felix Trinidad Sr. announced his retirement as a trainer leaving Mario in a contractual limbo. It wasn’t until 2004, when he was finally able to make a comeback, that his career got back on track. He had 7 fights in that year and in 2005 signed with Evangelista Cotto to join Miguel Cotto’s stable where he finally got a title shot last year against the WBO’s featherweight titlist Steven Luevano. The fight ended in a much contested draw and while Santiago has been clamoring for a rematch, there are no signs of Luevano wanting to risk his title against the “Ponce Prince” for a second time. With the featherweight division heating up in recent months a new title shot for Santiago in 2009 shouldn’t be out of the question.