May 9, 2003

Ivan Calderon: Puerto Rico’s New World Champion

By Fiona Manning

When Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon became the World Boxing Organization’s new 105 pound champion on Saturday night, the sound of champagne corks popping in Puerto Rico could be heard all around the world.

The 2000 Olympian defied the odds by becoming world champion with only 16 professional fights to his credit.

What is truly staggering however, was the fact that the best fight of the PPV “Night Of Champions” card was not even on the heftily-priced $49.95 telecast.

For Calderon, the most important people in the world got to see it – the people of Puerto Rico.

“It was on TV there and my cell phone has not stopped ringing,” he told La Prensa San Diego prior to leaving for San Juan, Puerto Rico. “This has been the best night of my life.”

Ivan Calderon wins a nine round technical decision over Eduardo Marquez to capture the WBO Strawweight title at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. --- Photo by Chris Farina Copyright 2003

While fight fans all over the rest of the world watched the predicted and predictable whupping of Yory Boy Campas by Oscar de la Hoya and Bobby Boy Velardez’ virtual demolition by Erik Morales, only those present at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas were lucky enough to see this historic fight.

Let’s not forget too, that practically every TV set in Puerto Rico was tuned into Calderon’s big night.

The people of that country have taken Calderon to their hearts since the 27 year old boxing star was a young amateur.

He sat down on Saturday night, his best friend (and undoubtedly another champion in the making), 140 pound rising star Miguel Cotto, by his side.

“The first person who called me was [Felix] Tito Trinidad,” said Calderon smiling contentedly of the former world middleweight champion who retired abruptly two years ago after suffering his first professional loss to Bernard Hopkins.

Calderon, who topped Eduardo Marquez in his first title defense of the WBO minimum weight championship, stopped his man in the ninth round via a technical decision.

It was a classic fight to watch because Calderon boxed beautifully, swiftly and assuredly wearing down Marquez who threw everything but the kitchen sink. He didn’t however, leave an apparent mark on Calderon.

“No he didn’t, I am clean,” said Calderon, his voice husky from screaming down the phone at friends, family and media in Puerto Rico.

Marquez however was unable to continue in the ninth round, so bad were the cuts on his face.

Those who were indeed blessed to see this fight will never forget it.

Marquez particularly will probably be haunted by it. How did he happen to land such a tough opponent however on his first title defense? Was this bad management? Who was responsible for such a colossal error in judgment?

NABO executive director Mark Reels said today that Marquez had won the title fighting then-champion, Spain’s Jorge Mata. Since Marquez was not the mandatory challenger, WBO rules mandated that as the new champion, he had to fight his own mandatory challenger (which was the NABO champion Calderon) within 120 days.

Calderon is looking forward to a break before returning to the gym. Since he was the mandatory challenger to Marquez, he has a whole nine months in which to his face his: unbeaten, hard-hitting Colombian Daniel Reyes.

“These light weight divisions are very exciting ones to watch,” said Reels. “They’re loaded with talented guys. These guys throw a hundred punches a round.

“I am particularly happy for Ivan because he’s a sensational kid who comes from a very solid family background. He is a great ambassador for the sport of boxing.”

Calderon’s manager Peter Rivera is anxious to stage Calderon’s first title defense in Puerto Rico in July or August.

“I can’t even think that far ahead,” said Calderon. “I just know this was a tough guy who just won his title and he did not want to lose it. I may have only 16 fights as a professional but a lot of amateur experience. I have been getting ready for this fight since I was 12 years old.”

The new champion is not much of a party player. Still “in shock” over his success, his first order of business after the fight, was to order a steak, drink lots of water, call his wife who was crying so hard he said he couldn’t get her to make sense so he told her, “I’ll call you back.”

Calderon laughed. “The Mandalay Bay Hotel doesn’t care if I have a belt or not. We have to be out of our rooms by 1am so I have to pack quickly.”

He left Las Vegas in the middle of the night, secure in the knowledge that he would arrive in his native San Juan to a hero’s welcome.

WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarel warned him there would be a parade and a national holiday declared for the returning hero.

“I can live with that,” quipped Calderon who speaks perfect English and looks like he’s about 12 years old.

Cotto, who has been learning English improves with every fight. Calderon used to translate for him, now Cotto speaks for himself.

The two men are inseparable best friends who once fought each other at the same weight 107 pounds, which seems unthinkable considering how strong and big Cotto is at 140.

“He beat me,” said Cotto. “He kicked my ass. So I became his friend and we never fought again.”

Ever since the pair represented their country in the 2000 Olympics, they have been treated to the sort of adoration usually reserved for, say NSync.

“People come up to me in Puerto Rico and they want to shake my hand,” said Cald-eron. “I like it, I like the people talking to me. It’s what every fighter dreams about. You dream about the fans saying, ‘I like you and I believe in you.’”

He was happy with his performance in the ring. “This was the perfect fight for me. I have worked hard and after the first round I knew I could relax and just do my thing.”

His thing is to box but he has devastating power, a fact belied by his low KO output.

Calderon’s trainer Jose “Che Che” Sanchez and Cotto are swift to point out that the fighter’s ring nickname of Iron Boy came because people said he hit like a heavyweight and his favorite heavyweight is Mike Tyson. So, he’s a little Mike Tyson, or an Iron Boy.

Calderon said he was missing his wife and children and looking forward to some lazy days in his hometown of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

“I will be back in the gym within a week,” he said. “I will keep training but now it’s time for fun. It feels good to be world champion. This title, this one, I will keep.”

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