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Mexico vs. Puerto Rico and Other Las Vegas Fight Action

By David A. Avila

Mexico’s best faces Puerto Rico’s best and when it comes to boxing that’s the ultimate match up. It’s like the Dodgers versus the Giants, or UCLA versus USC. It’s an intense rivalry that goes back decades and shakes up the boxing world.

WBC middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 Kos) of Puerto Rico defends against Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 Kos) on Saturday Nov. 21, at the Mandalay Bay and Resort Casino in Las Vegas. It will be shown on HBO pay-per-view television. Golden Boy Promotions is promoting.

And there’s a whole lot of other action taking place this weekend in the city of Las Vegas.

On Friday, Riverside’s undefeated Saul Rodriguez (18-0-1, 13 Kos) faces yet another tough Texan in Ivan Najera (16-1, 8 Kos) at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The lightweight match features a pair of 22-year-olds on the verge of world title dreams.

“It’s a pretty important match for me. He’s a pretty good fighter,” said Rodriguez a graduate of Riverside Poly who is fighting his third consecutive Texan. “He went the distance with the undefeated Puerto Rican fighter Felix Verdejo.”

Rodriguez has sizzled since turning pro three years ago. The lanky lightweight has power in both hands and the speed to deliver the bombs. His defense was lacking in the beginning, but every fight he seems to tighten up the defense and in closing the holes in the guard. Najera has only one loss and that was to Verdejo and that’s not a bad fighter to suffer a loss against. It’s a showdown between California and Texas.

Also on the same Top Rank fight card will be Big Bear’s Konstantin Ponomarev (28-0, 13 Kos) facing Germany’s Rico Mueller (19-1-1, 13 Kos) in a welterweight bout set for eight rounds. Ponomarev, 23, trains under Abel Sanchez who also works with WBA, IBF and IBO middleweight champ Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.

Ponomarev may not be the fastest, hit the hardest or be the strongest, but he has skills and knows how to fight and win. Those are things that aren’t often taught. The Russian welterweight is part of Team GGG and they all can bring it.

Also on Friday, across town at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Golden Boy features several of their strong prospects. Too bad it’s the same Friday night.

Diego De La Hoya (12-0) returns to the boxing ring in a super bantamweight scrap against Giovanni Delgado (15-3). Young De La Hoya is one of several sterling super bantamweights in Golden Boy’s stable. He’ll be facing a pretty good fighter.

Another top prospect on display will be Ireland’s Jason Quigley (8-0). The middleweight southpaw slugger was extremely impressive in 2015 and at press time, did not have an opponent. Many foresee good things for the Irish middleweight. Next year could be impactful for the fighter from Donegal.

Main Event

The WBC middleweight title may not be part of Cotto’s possession but he’ll still have a lot to say on who wears the belt next when facing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

Since teaming with boxing guru Freddie Roach, the quiet Puerto Rican slugger has steamrolled three opponents with ease. One of those was Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez who held the middleweight title at the time.

Cotto, 35, has looked unbeatable since pairing with Roach.

“I came to Freddie two years ago after being defeated two times in a row. He rejuvenated me,” said Cotto, who trained in Los Angeles. “Everything I have become is because of him.”

The former junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight champion from Puerto Rican’s confidence has reached fever-pitch dimensions.

“I will defeat Canelo,” said Cotto in his stoic manner.

Alvarez, 25, who is better known simply as Canelo, demanded this fight. Though he’s Golden Boy Promotions top money-maker and could have fought much easier competition, that’s not in his make-up. He wants the best.

“It's important. This is Mexico versus Puerto Rico,” said Alvarez. “Obviously there’s a great history between Mexico and Puerto Rico and it’s going to be another one for the history books. I feel a lot of honor and pride representing my country.”

The Mexican redhead blitzed feared slugger James Kirkland last spring and won by knockout in front of more than 30,000 fans in Houston, Texas. This is his first excursion into the 160-pound limit middleweight division after years of fighting in the 154-pund limit super welterweight division. A contract stipulates that both fighters weigh no more than 155.

“It’s the most important fight in my career for a number of reasons: because of the rivalry, the name and there are no advantages. Miguel is at the best moment in his career,” said Alvarez. “Clearly this fight is more important because of the rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico. And for what it means for the boxing fans all over.”

Other Las Vegas fights

On Saturday, Coachella’s Randy “El Matador” Caballero (22-0, 13 Kos) defends the IBF bantamweight world title against England’s Lee Haskins (32-3, 14 Kos) on the HBO pay-per-view undercard of Cotto and Alvarez at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

“I’m pretty excited about this fight. I can’t wait to get back inside the ring,” Caballero, 25, said about his first defense of the title he won last year. “It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for. I’m ready to defend it. I’m ready to come back really strong.”

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