NEW YORK – A bustling flurry of activity swirled through the premises Wednesday afternoon as the new Yankee Stadium underwent its final shakedown less than 24 hours before the home opener. WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and Juan Urango, the IBF 140-pound champ from Colombia, addressed the Big Apple media to the accompaniment of repeated renditions of The Star Spangled Banner as the Opening Day anthem singer ran through her sound check.
And since this was a boxing event, publicists distributed a list of significant fights which had taken place next door at the old Yankee Stadium.
(Since said list had Bert Sugar’s name on it, the first thing most scribes did was check it for errors. The second was to wonder who wrote it for him this time.).
Yesterday’s gathering was conducted to announce the Berto-Urango fight, which will take place not in the Bronx but 1,300 miles to the south, on Seminole tribal property in Hollywood, Fla. The title fight will be the main event of a May 30 Boxing After Dark card at the Hard Rock Casino, with junior middleweight Alfredo Angulo battling Kermit Cintron in the other televised bout.
Lou DiBella is, on paper, the lead promoter, but it was clear from yesterday’s events that his partners in the venture, Leon Margules and Seminole Warriors, will wield a pretty heavy hammer. The press conference was originally scheduled for the Hard Rock café, the Seminoles having purchased the entire Hard Rock chain (for a billion dollars) three years ago, but was moved upstairs to the NYY Steakhouse when a more lucrative engagement presented itself. The Seminoles own 50 per cent of the NYY. (The steakhouse, that is; they don’t own the Yankees – yet.)
The hosts were able to exert sufficient influence to persuade DiBella – a lifelong Mets fan and season-ticket-holder – into dressing Berto and Urango up in Yankee pinstripes and caps. (Juan got Derek Jeter’s No. 2, Berto Mariano Rivera’s 42. Or, come to think of it, maybe it was for Jackie Robinson.)
Berto is 24-0, and will be making his second defense of the 147-pound belt. Urango (21-1-1) re-acquired the IBF junior welter belt with a convincing win over Herman Ngoudjo in January, and while he will be moving up in weight he has no intention of abandoning his present title yet. He won’t need to deal with a mandatory defense until June, at which time he will either have to deal with obligatory challenger Randall Bailey or request an exception and keep the hard-punching Bailey at bay with step-aside money while he seeks a more lucrative bout in the talent-laden division.
Unless, of course, he beats Berto, in which case the aforementioned options at 140 would presumably become moot, since the same prizes – Shane Mosley, or the survivor of the June 12 Cotto-Clottey unification bout – that presently loom for Berto would accrue to him.
Urango, by the way, was accompanied to Wednesday’s shindig at the baseball-motif eatery by Evangelista Cotto, who took over as his trainer shortly after his 2007 loss to Ricky Hatton. On a dark and gray afternoon, Cotto wore sunglasses, indoors, to mask two black eyes he received as the result of a family disagreement with his nephew back in Caguas last week. By all accounts Miguel scored a convincing TKO, but you probably wouldn’t describe him as the winner, since Uncle Evangelista exacted revenge for the butt-kicking by putting a cement block through the windshield of the WBO champion’s Jag.
Under the circumstances the prospect of a Urango upset that might force a fight with Cotto is almost too delicious to contemplate, but you might want to beat this in mind: Urango also has a family connection to Uncle Evangelista, who is a blood relative of Urango’s wife Elizabeth.
Boxing doesn’t always lend itself to qualitative analysis, but in the absence of common opponents -- Berto and Urango fought different sets of bums and not-quite-contenders on the way up -- Luis Collazo may be the closest thing to a yardstick we have.
Collazo, like Urango a southpaw, gave Berto a world of trouble when they fought in Mississippi In January before Berto staged a late rally to win on all three cards. Urango has never faced Collazo, but did lose to Hatton in a one-sided bout that was his first since the Englishman had barely edged Collazo in Boston.
Does that matter?
“Hmm. Yes,” said Berto. “But remember, styles make fights.”
Berto anticipates, probably correctly, that Urango will come straight at him, and that the Colombian will not only have to deal with Berto’s power but with his speed. Of course, Ngoudjo was supposed to have a big edge in speed, too, but it didn’t seem to much trouble Urango, who in their Montreal fight walked right through him.
Urango says he and the trainer have been “studying” Berto’s fights. Berto says he hasn’t even looked at a tape of Urango-Ngoudjo.
Berto questions that Urango’s punching power will travel with him in the jump to 147 – “and if it doesn’t,” said the champ, “he’s in big trouble.”
Even home ice could be up for grabs in this one. Berto, a Florida native who has been pestering DiBella about arranging a title defense in his home state, finally gets his wish, and it turns out to be against a Hard Rock house fighter. (Urango may not enjoy tribal voting rights just yet, but he has been domiciled in South Florida since 2004, and is 8-0 in the ring in which the May fight will be contested.)
It will be the second straight Florida appearance for both the undefeated (15-0) Angulo and Cintron (30-2-1), the former two-time welterweight champion. The two shared the ring, though not against one another, on Don King’s ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ in Sunrise back in February, when Angulo stopped veteran Cosme Rivera just before Cintron fought to a disputed draw with Spaniard Sergio Martinez. Angulo has stopped 12 of his 15 victims, Cintron 27 of 30, and the surprise would be if their fight went the distance.
Each promoter trotted one of his heavyweight prospects who will be performing on the May 30 undercard – though not against each other. Margules’ entry, a Russian-born Seminole Warrior named Mogamed Abdusalamav, is 4-0 with four first-round KOs, but he already faces some severe career obstacles, media-wise, since nobody can pronounce, much less spell, his name.
DiBella’s heavyweight, a college graduate named Tor Hamer, is 5-0 with 4 KOs. Tor didn’t say much for the value of a Penn State degree when, with a nod to Abdusalamav’s perfect log, he said “I don’t have a 100 per cent knockout ratio yet, but I’m working on it.”