Will The Next Great Puerto Rican Boxer Please Stand Up?


    Before I go into my rant, I am of Puerto Rican descent, so don’t consider this “hating”, but consider it more of a criticism and an awareness issue. The beautiful island of Puerto Rico is historically a boxing haven, a place where boxing is supposed to be religion. Per capita, the island of Puerto Rico has produced more world champions than any other nation and is the only nation to have a world champion in every division. The greats from the island range from Sixto Escobar, Carlos Ortiz, Wilfred Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez, Edwin Rosario, Hector Camacho, to contemporary greats like Felix “Tito” Trinidad, Ivan Calderon, and Miguel Cotto.

    Miguel Cotto took the torch from Felix Trinidad, who is taking it from Miguel Cotto?

    Many thought that the next Puerto Rican great would come in the form of Juan Manuel ‘JuanMa” Lopez. He was seemingly on the right track. He was the opposite of the more reserved Cotto and reminded many ‘Boricuas’ of the legend Felix Trinidad with his big smile and charisma. Lopez became a world champion in 2008 when he knocked out Daniel Ponce De Leon in one round at 122 lbs.  He defended it 5 times before his jump in weight. But in his last fight at 122, he went life and death with a journeyman in Rogers Mtagwa, where Mtagwa nearly stopped Lopez in the final round.

    After that fight there was some cause for concern. But the Lopez camp brushed it off as weight issues. So the jump in weight was made. Top Rank, who is Lopez’ promoter had always dreamed of this mini super fight with Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa. With the two now at featherweight, the fight never came off because of those famous words from Top Rank’s head man Bob Arum, “it had to marinate.”

    At 126, Lopez captured another world title outclassing Steve Luevano. His next fight was against Bernabe Concepcion and although Lopez stopped Concepcion, he was knocked down in the fight. The defensive deficiencies’ where there, along with the lack of head movement and strong chin. So it was evident that unless ‘JuanMa’ changed, if he couldn’t bully you and you could take his shot, there was a chance of you beating him.  So you would figure a fight with Gamboa would be off the radar especially for the fact that Lopez had a solid Puerto Rican fan base and Gamboa just had the hardcore fan base.

    Top Rank looking to cash in on the historic Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry matched Lopez against an old great in Rafael Marquez to restore the confidence. Although the fight was back and forth and Lopez seemed to be the bigger puncher, Marquez still hit Lopez plenty of times before retiring on his stool.

    Then came the night it came crashing down. Lopez took on tough and rugged Orlando Salido who despite his 10 losses, always accounted well for himself. On April 16th of last year, Lopez, the favorite hit Salido plenty and the theory we all thought would be true was finally tested and proven; If you could take Lopez’ best shot, you had a good chance of beating him. Salido did just that knocking him down in the 5th and then stopping Lopez in the 8th.

    The rematch was much of the same for Lopez. Even though he did his best to try and box and avoid the war, Salido brought the war to him and even some craftiness to Lopez, switching to southpaw in the fight. But the heart of Lopez kept him in the fight which was all action, knocking down Salido in the 5th. But it was evident and clear that Lopez’ defense had not improved and the result was the same on a different night in Puerto Rico; Salido TKO’s Lopez in the 10th.

    Two devastating losses and not one iota of improvement in his defense, Lopez will return from his suspension (claiming the ref that stopped the fight had a gambling problem), looking to improve his status. With names like Billy Dib and Gary Russell, Jr calling him out, there are fights to be made. But has he already been damaged by the wars he’s been in and has he learned anything?

    The Former World Champs

    Rocky Martinez has regained a world title, while WV2 is on his quest for another

    Besides Lopez, there was a new wind of world champions from Puerto Rico who were either matched correctly or were just in a bland division.  At 130 lbs, Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez won a world title and defended it twice before he stepped up in competition traveling to Scotland to take on Ricky Burns. Although Martinez brought his power with him, knocking down Burns in the first round, Burns was too crafty and skilled for Martinez who left Scotland without his title. Burns since then has moved up to lightweight capturing another world title.

    Jr. Lightweight is not a very deep division in terms of names. The only ‘name’ in the division was Adrien Broner before he moved up in weight and the rumor was Martinez turned down that fight anyway. Since then, Martinez went on to capture the same WBO belt that he lost to Burns in a close decision beating Mexican Miguel Beltran, Jr on the undercard of Chavez-Martinez last month. Still, Martinez is a puncher that is limited and his ceiling has probably already been reached.

    Wilfredo Vasquez, Jr AKA WV2 is the son to one of the island’s best in Wilfredo Vasquez. Even though he had no amateur background, he won a world title at 122 lbs defeating Marvin Sonsona of the Philippines in a fight where Vasquez to most was the underdog. So maybe there was something there for what many considered to be a ‘green’ fighter.

    Next, he met Jorge Arce of Mexico on the Pacquiao-Mosley undercard and this was supposed to be the ‘name’ Vasquez would put on his resume to possibly make the jump to a star. Although it was a very good fight where Arce was knocked down by Vasquez, Arce kept coming forward and would not go away eventually forcing Vasquez’ Sr. to throw in the towel to save his son.

    Vasquez came off the loss with a victory then challenged pound for pound star Nonito Donaire in a fight many expected for Donaire to run through and win by knockout. Although Vasquez was sent to the floor in the ninth, he accounted for himself very well and lost by decision.

    Vasquez was supposed to fight the Rafael Marquez this weekend but Marquez pulled out due to sickness. Now he fights countrymen Jonathan Oquendo in a fight I expect Vasquez to win running away. At the age of 28, maybe he’ll have a nice career and become a solid world champion but it may be too late to be considered the next great.

     The Next Crop

    Most of the prospects have come up short in their attempts

    As of last year, there were some good prospects on the rise and making a name for themselves. Miguel Cotto had under his promotional banner Luis ‘El Artesano’ Cruz and then the highly touted “Team Puerto Rico” was produced and it included names like Luis Del Valle, Jonathan Gonzalez, Thomas Dulorme, Cesar Seda, and Jose Pedraza.

    Come a year later and most of those names who stepped up didn’t have much success. Cruz has two blemishes on his record with losses Juan Carlos Burgos and Jose Felix, Jr. Cesar Seda lost to Omar Narvaez in his world title opportunity. Although Gonzalez is still undefeated, he came away with a draw against Sergei Dzinziruk and had to deal with embarrassment as he weighed in 9 lbs over the 154 lb limit in his HBO debut; not a good start if you’re trying to be a star.

    Luis Del Valle was the next prospect to step up. His coming out party was supposed to be last Saturday against possible hall of famer Vic Darchinyan. Many thought Darchinyan had seen better days and was ripe for the picking. That was not the case as Darchinyan frustrated, out witted, and maybe outclassed the younger Del Valle winning all but 1 round on two judges’ scorecards last week. While Del Valle had a moment in the 9th nearly dropping Vic, he couldn’t figure out Darchinyan.

    Jose Pedraza is still very green but is the most highly touted Puerto Rican prospect since Miguel Cotto. It’s too early to tell whether he’ll amount to the hype he has brought along.

    So it all might fall on the shoulders to the one guy that wasn’t born on Puerto Rican soil but was adopted as one of their own in rising sensation Thomas Dulorme. Dulorme was born in St. Martin and his family moved from island to island stopping in the Dominican Republic and eventually settling in Puerto Rico, where he proudly represents the island. He has made noise with stunning knockouts and good victories against the opposition put in front of him. Now his turn to step up will be in October against Argentina’s Luis Carlos Abregu on HBO’s Boxing After Dark on October 27th.

    Abregu’s only blemish on his record is to one Timothy Bradley, and has already defeated another Puerto Rican in his past in Irving Garcia. By no means is this a stiff and Dulorme will have his chance to prove that he might be the next to carry the torch, especially being in the glamorous welterweight division where Cotto and Trinidad made their names and perhaps bring some respectability to the great Mexican-Puerto Rican Rivalry

    The  been one sided for the past 5 years in favor of Mexico with big wins like Segura beating Calderon twice, Salido beating Lopez twice, Arce beating Vasquez,  Margarito over Cotto  1, and so on. Yes, Puerto Rico has had its wins with Cotto beating Margarito the second time around and Lopez beating Marquez and Ponce De Leon but for the most part it’s been one sided.

    Stateside Ricans

    Now I know people are probably going to say, what about Danny Garcia and Gabe Rosado? The first thing that pops into my head when I think of either is Philly. Granted Garcia is one his way to being a big star with his big wins and Rosado is one his way to being known with the noise he has made in the ring lately, but they’re still American of Puerto Rican descent much like I am.

    The Moral of the story is, the island needs a big star. Boxing needs the island to have a big star because of the love for boxing on the island and the famed rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico. Someone just has to step up. So far plenty have tried but no one has quite grasped it. Cotto and Calderon have held it down great; the champions have tried but have failed and are trying again. The prospects have come up short but are still young and can make a difference. Next up to bat is Thomas Dulorme this month, good luck, the island needs it.