Since 1958, New York City's National Puerto Rican Day Parade has served as a celebration to honor the millions of Puerto Ricans by birth or heritage that live in the United States. The parade showcased the Puerto Rican people's achievements, strength, and pride. Actors, music artists, politicians, educators, and athletes of Puerto Rican descent have proudly strolled down New York City's Fifth Avenue, celebrating with millions of people from their native island.
One of the most iconic athletes that have served as a symbol of strength, pride, and outstanding achievements for most Puerto Ricans are its boxers. This small island, one hundred miles long by thirty-five miles wide, has produced some of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing. In fact, since 1959, a Puerto Rican boxer has held a world title in at least one weight division every decade. Forty-eight world champions of Puerto Rican heritage have ranked the tiny island fifth in the world with the most champions. With an average population of just under four million people, Puerto Rico has produced more champions per capita (adjusted to the per one million people category) than any other country in the world, according to World Boxing News. Eleven of those champions are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, with a twelfth champion, Miguel Cotto, being inducted this weekend.
In 2005, Miguel Cotto successfully defended his WBO junior welterweight title at Madison Square Garden before aprimarily Puerto Rican crowd of 10,231. The next day, he was on a float strolling down Fifth Avenue at that year's parade. This subsequently morphed into a weekend festivity that started with a Puerto Rican fighter headlining a boxing card at Madison Square Garden on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. After that, Miguel Cotto headlined the boxing event that preceded the parade for almost a decade.
In 2006, I took my family to the parade and we dressed up in traditional Puerto Rican clothing. I gave my girls a little Puerto Rican flag and made our way to the parade to celebrate. The night before, at Madison Square Garden, Miguel Cotto defeated Paul Malignaggi and retained the WBO super lightweight title. So, I was equally excited to see the champ. We navigated our way through the crowd and finally reached Fifth avenue. We saw our favorite stars standing on beautifully decorated floats as they went down the parade line. Finally, after an hour or so, there he was, our champion Miguel Cotto, waving proudly to the crowd and showing off his world title belt. For a Puerto Rican and a boxing fan, it didn't get any better than that for me.
Miguel Cotto is considered by most the last great Puerto Rican boxer. Since his retirement, Puerto Rican boxing fans have been waiting for their next boxing messiah. While there have been many good Puerto Rican champions since the retirement of Miguel Cotto, none have captured the aura of dominance that embodies the great champions of yesteryears.
None have displayed the radar accuracy and cat-like reflexes of Wilfred Benítez. Nor the raw power and dominance of Tito Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, or Edwin Rosario. The speed of Hector Camacho and the graceful moves of Miguel Cotto. As far as the parade goes, no superstar has genuinely replaced Miguel Cotto as the boxing attraction at the parade. In 2016, the night before the parade Puerto Rican champion Rocky Martinez defended his WBO junior lightweight title against Vasiliy Lomachenko, Loma deflated the weekend for Puerto Rican fans by knocking out Martinez and taking his title.
In 2019, Puerto Rican boxer Amanda Serrano was named the grand marshal of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. However, she didn't headline a boxing card in New York City the night before. New York City will host its 65th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade this Sunday. The parade returns after being canceled the previous two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And keeping true to tradition, Top Rank is featuring an all-Puerto Rican boxing event at the Hulu theater headlined by rising Puerto Rican contender Edgar Berlanga (19-0 16 KOs) in honor of the National Puerto Rican Day parade.
The Brooklyn native rose to fame and caught the eyes of boxing fans everywhere by knocking out his first sixteen opponents in the first round. Drawing comparisons to Mike Tyson, boxing fans couldn't wait to see if he could continue his impressive knockout streak. But, if boxing fans were going crazy over Berlanga's knockout tour, Puerto Ricans went into an apocalyptic frenzy. Suddenly, Berlanga went from being a prospect to the second coming of Puerto Rican boxing icon Tito Trinidad.
Berlanga's cult following immediately catapulted him into celebrity status, and Puerto Ricans considered him their next boxing king. However, after winning his 16th fight by knockout, he has gone the distance three times, deflating much of the hype for most fans. As a result, the Berlanga hype train has slowed down for many, but he is still a hot ticket item amongst the Puerto Rican fanbase. He's so popular that Edgar sold out the Hulu theater in his last outing.
So, is Edgar Berlanga the next boxing superstar for Puerto Rico? Only time will tell. In the meantime, he must get past Alexis Angulo. The native of Colombia is a former world title contender and will be a tough out for the young Puerto Rican. There are many Puerto Rican young guns that are chomping at the bit to be Puerto Rico's next star.
Henry “Moncho” Lebron (15-0, 10KOs) is a tough, aggressive hitting fighter whose stock rises with each win. He will be the co-main event on this weekend's card after top prospect Xander Zayas withdrew from the fight due to a non-Covid-related viral infection. However, the writing is still on the wall for the young Lebron; I have to see more from him before I'm convinced, he's Puerto Rico's next star.
Omar Rosario (6-0, 2 KOs) is a talented young boxer with the skill and the pedigree to be a star. The young fighter is affiliated with the great Miguel Cotto, and his fighting style resembles that of the legendary champion. However, Rosario must fine-tune some of his defensive skills. If he does, he will be a problem in the future.
Abraham “Super” Nova (21-0, 15 KOs) is at the cusp of boxing superstardom. He has excellent boxing skills, respectable punching power, and charisma. His next fight is against the talented Cuban Robeisy Ramirez. That will be a tough fight, and if he can dominantly get past Ramirez, then he is poised to be the next superstar for Puerto Rico.
The fighter that has the most potential to be Puerto Rico's next boxing king is the exciting young fighter, Xander Zayas. Zayas started his career breaking records. At 16 years old, Zayas became the youngest fighter to sign a contract with Top Rank. The young phenom can do it all; he can box, punch, has excellent footwork and great ring generalship. It seems like there is nothing this kid can't do. And the scary thing for his opponents is that he is only 19 years old and is still developing. Look for Zayas to likely be the face of Puerto Rican boxing for years to come.
I'm amazed that Puerto Ricans are still “looking” for their superstar. Amanda Serrano has been dominating boxing for a long time now. And until recently has been disrespectfully overlooked by most fans. She has won world titles in multiple weight classes and thirty of her forty wins by knockout. That is only second to Hall of Famer Christy Martin, who boasts thirty-one knockouts on her resume. I believe Serrano's tremendous performance over Katie Taylor has elevated her to boxing superstardom. Puerto Rican fans, you don't need to look any further; Amanda Serrano is currently the superstar you have been looking for.
Puerto Rican fighters like Wilfredo Benitez, Hector “Macho” Camacho, Felix” Tito” Trinidad, Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, Edwin “Chapo” Rosario, and Miguel Cotto are respected by fans worldwide. However, for Puerto Rican fans, these boxers are considered folk heroes. Therefore, I understand the desire to have another fighter represent them like these legends.
Ravaged by colonization, corrupt governments, laws like the Jones Act, and natural disasters, the people of Puerto Rico have endured hard times through the years. Many native Puerto Ricans had to leave their beloved island in order to look for work and a better way of life. The Puerto Rican migrants bought with them a strong work ethic, pride, and a hunger to succeed. But their hearts and minds still reside in Puerto Rico.
The National Puerto Rican day parade and boxing are back in New York! For years these two events have served as a beacon of pride for the Puerto Rican people. For many of us, the parade celebrates who we are, but boxing encapsulates what we're made of. When a Puerto Rican fan cheers for their fighter, I believe we are cheering for something more meaningful than the fighter; we are cheering for ourselves. For me, boxing represents our people's fight in the real world. With every jab, hook, and willingness to get up, the boxers represent our willingness to survive and strive above the hardships most know as life.