SPOTLIGHT ON BOXING
Cuban defectors follow trend
BY SANTOS A. PEREZ
Latin American fighters usually find their greatest riches when they
eventually fight in the United States.
However, Europe also has become a popular stop -- the defections of two
boxers from the Cuban boxing team recently is a recent example.
Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandi Lara left the Cuban team while
preparing for the Pan American Games in Brazil. Now they are in Germany
and appear to be following the trend started by previous Cuban defectors
Juan Carlos Gomez, Yuriorkys Gamboa, Odlanier Solis and Yan Barthelemy,
all of whom began their professional careers outside the United States.
''When I was in Barcelona in 1999, I noticed that the future of boxing
was in Europe, and especially in Germany,'' said Felix ''Tutico''
Zabala, who spent a year as general manager of NFL Europa's Barcelona
Dragons before returning to boxing.
Although Europe has become the preferred stage for fighters from the
former Soviet Union, the continent also is attracting fighters from
''Many Latin fighters go there early in their careers as opponents of
European fighters and wind up signing with promoters and staying
there,'' Zabala said. ``The Cuban fighters are the exception. They start
their careers in Europe without any professional preparation elsewhere.''
Zabala considers the strength of the Euro as a factor for the growing
influx of foreign fighters.
''Promoters in Germany are signing fighters from Venezuela, Panama and
Argentina,'' Zabala said. ``It is no longer a rare occasion.''
Rigondeaux's departure also leaves the Cuban team without any of its
five gold medalists from the 2004 Olympics. Rigondeaux was a defending
two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and Gamboa, Solis and Barthelemy won
gold medals in Athens. Mario Kindelain, Cuba's fifth gold medalist, retired.
''This has to be a big blow to their aspirations for the Olympics in
Beijing,'' said Miami-based trainer Roberto Quesada, who worked in the
Cuban boxing system before defecting in 1996.
``Cuba always has come into Olympics with very experienced squads. Now
they have a short time to put together a squad worthy of competing for
Vernon Forrest won the vacant World Boxing Council super-welterweight
title with a unanimous decision over Carlos Baldomir late Saturday in
Forrest (39-2-1) combined effectively with strong rights and left hooks
against the game Baldomir (43-11-6). The former WBC welterweight
champion won on two judges' scorecards 118-109 and 116-111 on the third.
The 154-pound title became vacant after Floyd Mayweather Jr.
relinquished it and returned to the welterweight class. Mayweather won
the belt in a split decision over Oscar De La Hoya on May 5.
• Miramar resident David Estrada scored a fourth-round technical
knockout over Luther Smith on Saturday night in West Palm Beach. Estrada
(21-3, 12 KOs) has won three consecutive fights and now targets a
showdown with welterweight contender Andre Berto in September.
• Former world champions O'Neil Bell and Raul Marquez will headline
Warriors Boxing's next card at the Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena on Aug. 8.
Bell (26-2-1, 24 KOs) will fight Louis Azille in his first ring
appearance since losing his cruiserweight title in a close decision
against Jean-Marc Mormeck on March 17. Bell previously held the WBC,
World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation
A former IBF junior-middleweight champion, Marquez (39-3, 28 KOs) will
fight Michi Munoz in a scheduled 10-round middleweight bout.