By Phil Doherty
Photos: Sam Cohen
The 5th St Gym maintains an open door policy during business hours, allowing curious pedestrians more access than any time in its storied past. Don King Productions and Arena Sports Promotion expanded that access today by hosting an open media workout with 3 fighters on the upcoming “Tribute to Freedom” card.
The fighters joined DKP publicist Alan Hopper to showcase the fights scheduled at the American Airlines Arena for Friday, December 17th. Unfortunately, King was unable to attend due to his wife’s recent health concerns. Many fighters and journalists expressed their best wishes for Don and his family.
Two of the fighters on hand were headlining heavyweights Ray “The Rainman” Austin (28-4-4, 18 KOs) and Odlanier “La Sombra” Solis (16-0, 12 KO’s). Austin is the WBC #1 ranked contender and Solis is #2. The victor goes on to challenge WBC champion Vitali Klitschko for his mandatory defense in March of next year.
For his part, Austin feels he brings the experience and toughness to earn that title shot. “The Rainman” cited his hard road to this fight in contrast to Solis, stating: “I’ve never been on the end that he’s on, the baby end; getting babied and pampered. It’s been rough and rugged for me and I’ve been hanging in there.”
Solis views his assignment against Austin as just another part of his job, which he plans to perform at the highest level. Amazingly, this undefeated, Olympic gold-winning Cuban with the stupendous amateur background is not a big boxing fan himself. Solis claimed “This is my job and I take it very seriously.”
He appeared to be telling the truth as he looked positively svelte in contrast to past conditioning. One reason for this may be the work Solis put in with his longtime Cuban coach, Pedro Luis Diaz. Coach Diaz followed Solis’ lead last year by defecting to the US and the two plan to continue their unbeaten streak.
Diaz worked the mitts with Solis as well as WBC and IBO light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal (26-1, 16 KOs) who readies himself to face crafty veteran Bernard Hopkins in Canada just one day after the American Airlines show. Pascal didn’t get a chance to share the stage today with potential future opponent Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud (21-0, 18 KOs) who didn’t make his scheduled appearance. (Cloud faces rugged Mexican veteran Fulgencio Zuniga (24-4-1, 21 KOs) on the Don King card for his second defense of the IBF light heavyweight title.)
When asked his thoughts on unifying all the belts, Pascal stressed his focus rests exclusively on Hopkins.
The other fighter speaking to the media today was none other than former 3-time world champion Ricardo “El Matador” Mayorga. (28-7-1, 22 KOs). Never at a loss for words or aspirations, “El Matador” proudly boasted his desire to face Manny Pacquiao sometime next year. He further addressed his recent attempted foray into the world of mixed martial arts by stating that was “in the past” and he feels strong with many fights ahead of him.
Mayorga also showed a side most media and fans rarely see as he quietly walked over to one of the many historical photos lining the wall at the 5th St Gym. Grabbing his camera, he snapped pictures of fallen fellow countryman and legendary champion Alexis Arguello.
It was a scene needing no explanation and one that continues to tie the history of this place with its present and future.
Ticket prices start at just $25 and are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. The Spanish Broadcasting Service (SBS) plans to provide coverage through its South Florida TV station Mega TV (channel 22) locally and via satellite through DirecTV.