PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                            July 22, 2012


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By John DiSanto


Local rising bantamweight Miguel Cartagena is just getting his professional boxing career into gear. He fights his sixth pro bout on Friday night at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City against journeyman Jose Rivera. The undefeated, and thus far professionally untested, Cartagena has already proven himself to be one of the best amateur boxers to ever come out of Philadelphia. So how long will it be before he becomes a part of the blooming Philly boxing scene that has been grabbing headlines recently?

Cartagena turned just 20 years old earlier this month. Just a kid. But this kid has already traveled the world, won international competitions, racked up national titles at home, and built one of the most impressive amateur resumes out there. He became a fighter to watch the second he turned pro.

Because of his impressive amateur credentials, it's easy for those watching to get antsy for him to climb the ranks. But rushing is not part of his plan. Cartagena is patiently biding his time as he adjusts to the professional game.

"I'm not anxious," Cartagena said at the Philly Rumblers Gym, his boxing home base. "I'm just trying to take it one fight at a time. Take it as they come. Focus on one fight."

And then Cartagena pegs the key to his future in a phrase that is wise far beyond his 20 years.

"Timing is everything. I wait for my own time," said Cartagena.

Miguel turned pro last year with a win over Omar Gonzalez on the undercard of a Top Rank show that featured Cuban star and champion Yuriorkis Gamboa in the main event. Cartagena won that bout by unanimous decision, and sailed through the four opponents that have followed. Although he's shown glimpses of the tremendous skill that marked his amateur days, he is still in the formative stages of his life as a pro. His young record stands at 5-0 with 3 KOs. An auspicious start to be sure, with plenty more to come.

Friday night (July 27th) he steps into his first scheduled six-rounder, but the milestone means little to his trainer Javier Varela.

"Like I said from his pro debut, Miguel's not a four round or a six round fighter," Varela said. "He's a twelve round fighter."

His opponent, Jose Rivera, is not exactly a foe to fear. He's 3-6, having lost his last four bouts. Rivera has never scored a KO, but then again, he has never been knocked out either. Perhaps Cartagena can gain motivation from this fact, and look to rewrite that piece of Rivera's history.

"I'm not looking for a knockout," Cartagena said. "But I would like for it to come because he's never been dropped or has never been knocked out. So I would like for it to come, but that's not what I'm looking for. I'm just focused on getting another win. Keeping my "O" is a must for me."

"Another stepping stone," Valera said of the opponent. "This guy's in the way. He needs to get out."

Although Cartagena and Rivera have never fought each other before, they still do have a bit of history together.

"I was supposed to fight him on the April 20th card (in Philadelphia)," Cartagena said. "But he wound up getting sick or whatever."

Cartagena says this with more a little skepticism. At the Philly Rumblers Gym, the generally feeling is that Rivera's sickness was really something else.

"He got sick," Valera said shaking his head. "He got Miguel Cartagena syndrome. It happens a lot. Now he manned up and got some balls. Now he wants to fight Miguel. So yeah, I'm expecting a good fight."

"I don't know nothing about the guy," Cartagena said of his opponent.

But trainer Valera knows plenty.

"We pretty much know what the guy's going to do," Valera said. "The guy's a typical Mexican guy. He's going to come to bang with Miguel. But I think what's going to happen is that once he feels Miguel's power, he's going to change his mind about banging with Miguel. (Then) he's going to find out he can't outbox one of the United States' best amateurs. He's not going to outbox Miguel, and I think he's going to retire. By the fifth round, he's going to want no part of Miguel."

Such a victory, especially by knockout, would perhaps cap the first stage of Miguel's professional career and lead him to a new plateau.

"He's moving to eight rounds very fast," Valera said about Cartagena's development. "Maybe this is going to be the first and last six rounds. Miguel wants to fight more rounds. He gets stronger and stronger as the rounds go on."

After years of simmering, the Philly boxing scene is starting to boil over with top-shelf talent that has begun making some real noise in the boxing big leagues.

Mike Jones and Teon Kennedy fought for world titles recently in Las Vegas. In the last six months, Bryant Jennings scored a couple of heavyweight upsets and punched his way into the rankings. Welterweight Ronald Cruz recently won his first regional belt and debuted on the world ratings chart. Cruiserweight Garrett Wilson has made a steady climb into the top ten over the past year with his workmanlike performances and few stellar knockouts. Junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado has come into his own in 2012, vaulting into prominence with his last two impressive nationally televised  knockouts. Lightweight Hank Lundy, who headlines Friday's show in Atlantic City, was named the #1 lightweight contender earlier this month, and appears to be just one win away from a world title shot.

Leading the pack of world class Philly fighters is Danny Garcia, who won the WBC 140-pound title from legend Erik Morales in March and then one week ago topped that feat with a thrilling KO of Amir Khan to pick up two more world title belts.

With all this going on in the local scene, is Miguel Cartagena eager to join his fellow Philadelphians in the new golden era?

"I see everybody else going to the top of the list," Cartagena said. "It makes me want to work harder. I'm not going to be left behind."

Around Philly, there seems to be special reverence for Garcia, 24, clearly the fighter of the moment. After an excellent amateur career of his own, Garcia slowly developed as a professional and made good when his opportunity came. His most recent victory made him a star.

"It just makes me want to be right along with him," Cartagena said of his friend Garcia. "He can't be the only one holding a title. I got to get there with him."

At 20, Cartagena is way ahead of the curve, but still needs time to do it right. Even for an accomplished fighter like Miguel, there are still adjustments to make and things to learn before competing for a world championship. 

"His favorite number is 23," say Valera. "You see him wearing it on his trunks, his shirt, everywhere. So my goal is to get him to be world champion by the age of 23."

Three more years. That sounds about right.

Cartagena agrees, "When it's time for me to get up there, I'll be up there."


Cartagena fights Jose Rivera at Resorts Casino Hotel Friday night, July 27. The main event features Hammerin' Hank Lundy in a 10-round defense of his NABF lightweight title against Raymundo Beltran. Also on the card, Germantown's Farah Ennis fights Richard Pierson in a 10 round fight for the WBC FECARBOX super middleweight title.




John DiSanto - North Philly - July 22, 2012