Puerto Rico has produced top boxing stars in every decade since the 1930s. Carlos Ortiz was the top lightweight champion of the 1960s and Wilfredo Gomez emerged in the late 1970s as one of the great pound-for-pound punchers in the sport’s history. Wilfred Benítez shined in the early 80’s as did Tito Trinidad and Hector Camacho well into the 90’s and even beyond. But when it comes to the new millennium, Miguel Cotto is the man.
“We’re not just talking to talk, nor to deceive anyone. Freddie Roach is a coach who can easily be the ‘Coach of the Year’ and who has done wonderful things in my career. The only thing ‘Canelo’ can say about Reynoso is that he had 42 fights [with him]; and at one point he was undefeated, and when you had your first major challenge [against Floyd Mayweather] he looked like a rookie. And with that simple matter [we must ask] ‘what it is their pedigree?'”—Miguel Cotto
In the past 20 years, nobody has sold anywhere near as many tickets at Madison Square Garden as Miguel “Junito” Cotto (now 40-4) who always packs the house. The soulful and low-key Junito is the first and only Puerto Rican to win titles in four different weight classes.
“Junito,” another in a long line of Puerto Rican warriors, participated in one of the great, albeit controversial, fights of 2008 when he lost to Antonio Margarito (later avenged by TKO victory) with his WBA welterweight title at stake. “Junito” was 32-0 at the time but has since regained his status as one of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing and now, under the sage tutelage of Freddie roach, he is set to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a much-anticipated fight—one in which the best fight the best on November 21, 2015.
Cotto, known for his stalking, great left hook, and tremendous body work is considered to be one of the greatest Puerto Rican boxers along with Trinidad, Benitez, Camacho, Gomes, and Ortiz—and is a sure fire bet to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) when his time comes.
As an aside, he also learned to speak perfect English which did not hurt him with his rabid New York City fandom.
In an article in 2007, I wrote the following about the highly touted Puerto Rican:
“Juan Manuel ‘Juanma’ Lopez Rivera is the latest Puerto Rican sensation having exploded upon the scene with a 24-0 record and a remarkable KO percentage of 91.67%. He served notice by icing Giovanni Andrade in one round in 2007 to win the WBO Latino super bantamweight title. In June 2008, he knocked out rugged Daniel Ponce de Leon in the first round by moving in between Ponce wide punches and taking him out with short and crisp shots the power of which were generated by super hand speed.. He did the same with Cesar Figueroa, but this time it only took him 47 seconds to close the show. Two months later, he met Sergio ‘Rocky’ Medina and ended this fight in 1:38 of the first stanza by rocking ‘Rocky.’ In Juanma’s last 5 outings, he has gone only 8 rounds—which begs the question, is he that good or are his opponents that bad? We will soon find out.”
When he fought Rogers Mtagwa in 2009, the action in round 9 clearly exposed Juanma for the first time in his career as woefully lacking in defense and also as possessing a less than granite chin. At the very end of the 11th, the Tanzanian almost put Lopez away with a crunching flurry. In the 12th and final round, the aroused Tiger came on and had a bleeding, gasping, and struggling Lopez in deep trouble after taking one crunching shot after another. It was a miracle and a testament to his courage that Juanma, who had no offense or defense, remained on his feet. The beating he received in the last round was severe and would, in my view, have career-altering implications, as Juanma he would go 7-4 and lose two thrillers to Orlando Salido in 2011 and 2012. After two quick wins in 2013 against decent opposition, he was stopped again— this time by Mikey Garcia in October 2013 who decked him with a right and finished him in the fourth with a left hook to Juanma’s prominent jaw.
Lopez would have one last hurrah against a somewhat shopworn Daniel Ponce De Leon and win a thrilling TKO in which both men hit the deck and in which Lopez would utilize his patented stop-or-be-stopped aggression. This time it would work for him.
But then the inevitable happened as he was brutally taken out by undefeated Mexican Francisco Vargas (19-0-1) in Las Vegas in July 2014. Vargas’s KO percentage is 70%.
At this point people were calling for Juanma to retire before something bad happened, but against sound advice he duked one last time against hard-hitting Argentinian Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar (25-1) and was stalked and slaughtered in two rounds by a sudden left-right-left-right volley with the third punch doing the most damage. Cuellar’s KO percentage is 75%. Wisely, the once highly regarded and former two-time world champion finally retired after this loss at 31. Here it is:
Juan Manuel López Rivera finished with a 34-5 record and an impressive KO percentage of 79%. His fights were always ultra exciting and he was dangerous at all times but something happened in the final round of the Mtagwa outing that found its way into his system and never let go.
Vazquez was a three-division world champion during the 1990s. He held the WBA bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight titles. He dropped the bantamweight title to the great Khaokor Galaxy by split decision in Galaxy’s native Thailand. Moving up to super bantamweight, he again won the title by stopping Raul Perez in the third round. The 122-pound division was Vazquez’s best weight class, although he did go on to capture a belt at featherweight.
In 2000, he returned after a year of inactivity, defeating Antonio Oscar Salas and Russell Mosley before losing to Juan Lazcano. On December 13, 2000, he announced his retirement, but returned to action on February 22, 2002, defeating José Alfonso Rodríguez. Vázquez closed his career that year after defeating Julio César Cardona and Eddie Saenz twice, including his last fight that was held in Bayamón. His final slate was an impressive 56-9-2.
Given the astounding number of successful title defense that dot his resume, it is baffling why he has not yet received a call from the IBHOF.
Carlos “Sugar” De León made history by becoming the first Cruiserweight to win the world title twice. Then he kept breaking his own record for the most times as Cruiserweight champion by regaining it twice more. During his long career, he fought and beat a number of former champions including Marvel Camel (twice), S.T. Gordon, Leon Spinks, and Bash Ali.
In 1993, Sugar went 5-0 but then met Corrie Sanders and Brian Nielsen who both outweighed him by huge amounts and he was stopped by both prompting his wise retirement in 1995. His final mark was a fine 52-8-1.
Toro de Cayey (A step back in history)
Pedro Montanez—dubbed the “Uncrowned Champion” was an early Puerto Rican boxing star, emerging in the 1930s as a top-ranked contender at lightweight and welterweight. He is regarded by many historians as among the most talented fighters to never win a world title.
He came close to winning the lightweight title in September 1937, when he lost by majority decision to Lou Ambers at the Polo Grounds. He had previously recorded a win over Ambers. It was one of four title bouts on Promoter Mike Jacobs’ “Carnival of Champions” fight card, including: Sixto Escobar-Harry Jeffra for the Bantamweight Title, Ceferino Garcia-Barney Ross for the Welterweight Title, and Fred Apostoli-Marcel Thil for the IBU Middleweight Title. The venue was the Polo Grounds. “At every turn… the shifty, unorthodox Ambers was the master,” reported The New York Times. The referee called it a draw (6-6-3 in rounds), but the two judges voted for Ambers.
Montanez had beaten Ambers in a non-title affair in April 1937 at Madison Square Garden.
Montanez also fought all-time pound-for-pound star Hank Armstrong, losing by TKO in 1940. He would retire 9 months later with an eyebrow-raising record of 92-7-4. Deservingly, he was inducted into the IBHOF in 2007.
Watch for Part Four coming soon.