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Despite Victory, Ruiz Gains No Respect As Heavyweight Champion

By Gabrielle Paese

August 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

He may have successfully defended his WBA heavyweight title last Saturday night, but his lackluster performance certainly won't open any doors toward heavyweight unification in the near future.

No, Puerto Rico's first ever heavyweight champion, John Ruiz, did not impress in the 10 rounds of travesty that transpired before referee Joe Cortez disqualified Kirk Johnson for low blows. In fact, the fight, apart from the shots below the belt, wasn't very exciting, except for a vaudeville-style punch from Ruiz in the ninth that sent the two tumbling to the canvas head over heels. There was much clutching and grabbing and not enough punching and if Ruiz was mad as hell, he's going to need to do a better job showing it in the ring for his next fight.

It was a victory, but not convincing enough to draw IBF and WBC heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis into any negotiations for a fight in the near future versus Ruiz.

Lewis had to be disappointed by Saturday's debacle. Instead of lining up another option for him, it closed another door. Lewis is likely to fight IBF challenger Chris Byrd next.

Ruiz (38-4-1), on the other hand, will have to work even harder to gain respect. That means he'll need to face another tough challenger and win via knockout to see his dream of heavyweight unification fulfilled.

"I'm a little tired of hearing HBO say that Lennox Lewis is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world," said Ruiz after the fight. "That's impossible because I have the WBA belt right here."

He may have the belt, but after three ho-hum fights against Evander Holyfield and now this debacle, Ruiz needs more drama to stay on top among the heavies.

Lucky for Puerto Rico's boxing fans, Ruiz's dull and boring show was not the only game in town last week. Lightweight Miguel Cotto proved he's ready for prime time when he TKO'd Carlos Ramirez at 2:34 of the third round in their ESPN2 Tuesday night fights in Concho, OK. Cotto caught Ramirez with a powerful left hook, sending the Mexican to the canvas for referee Gary Ritter's 10-count.

On that same fight card, junior flyweight Ivan Calderon (11-0) needed just 30 seconds to knock down Mexican rival Alejandro Moreno in the first round with a train-wreck of a left hook. He continued to pummel Moreno (now 18-10-1) to get the lopsided unanimous decision.

Cotto, now 11-0 with nine knockouts, has fought four times this year already, including a victory over Justin Juuko just last month. After Tuesday's performance, Cotto manager Peter Rivera said he's currently negotiating to include Cotto on the Oscar de la Hoya-Fernando Vargas Sept. 14 fight card in Las Vegas.

Finally, Daniel Santos continues to prepare for his WBO light middleweight defense versus Irani Takaloo on Aug. 17.

Junior basketball team wins World Championship qualifier

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's men's junior national basketball team qualified for the junior World Basketball Championships next year in Malaysia by finishing undefeated in the Pan American Basketball Confederation (COPABA) qualifier held this past week in Venezuela.

Jesus Verdejo scored 24 points and brought down five rebounds to lead the Puerto Ricans to a 76-53 victory over Venezuela for the gold medal in the qualifying tournament. The victory marked the first time Puerto Rico has qualified for a junior World Basketball Championships since 1987 and the first time the island wins a gold medal in this type of qualifier at the junior level.

"Our next challenge will be to maintain contact with the players, especially those who are studying stateside," said team coach Carlos Calcano. "We'll be working with them in their training programs and calling them back for tuneup games."

Calcano said he had other potential team players, but planned no changes in the lineup between now and next year.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Calcano. "We have a year to work hard and put together the best team possible."

Four of the team's players, Jose Juan Barea, Jesus Verdejo, Ivan Lopez and Samuel Hernandez play for a junior team in Mayaguez, Mayaguez Libaze, that is currently battling for its fourth straight title in the local junior basketball league. The four paced Miami Christian to the Florida state basketball title this year and were part of Puerto Rico's junior team at Centrobasket earlier this year.

The team, which includes 7-footer Peter John Ramos, is an important part of Puerto Rico's plan to rejuvenate its aging national team, which will try its luck later this month at the Men's World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis, Ind.

Even as the Superior Basketball League's post-season continues (it's scheduled to finish up on Aug. 14), the national team has begun its practices for the World Championships under the direction of coach Julio Toro.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is 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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