Although Jason Quigley hopes plenty inside New York’s Madison Square Garden will be there to cheer him on against Edgar Berlanga on Saturday night, it’s Berlanga who has history supporting him.
In a clash that pits a popular Irishman against a fighter some think is the next Puerto Rican sensation (Berlanga is from New York, of Puerto Rican parents), Berlanga is well aware of the links between New York and Puerto Rico and, more specifically, Madison Square Garden and Puerto Rican fighters.
In recent history, two Puerto Rican greats have created historic atmospheres in defining fights at the Garden; Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.
Trinidad fought several stars in the Garden, including Pernell Whitaker, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones. Cotto, defeated Shane Mosely in the Garden, had his grudge match with Antonio Margarito there, and he set national records dethroning Sergio Martinez for the middleweight title in front of a red-hot MSG crowd.
Puerto Rican fighters have had some of their biggest nights at the New York mecca, and that heritage is not lost on Berlanga, boxing in the Theater for the third consecutive time.
“Cotto was one of my biggest inspirations in boxing,” the undefeated contender said. “[And] I fell in love with the sport of boxing because of [Felix] Trinidad. When I was like two-years-old I used to watch him. He retired, then Cotto came when I was like seven- or eight-years old, and then I fell in love with Cotto. I went to the fights – went to Madison Square Garden when he fought on Puerto Rican Day weekend. He’s a big inspiration to my career, for sure.”
Of course, plenty have tried to emulate Cotto and Trinidad. Many felt Felix Verdejo was going to be the next island sensation, but he didn’t come close to that level.
Meanwhile, Berlanga has his own fond memories of meeting Cotto and Trinidad, iconic countrymen with rabid fanbases.
“I met him [Cotto] – I got an award, at my last fight, and I received it from him. It was a Miguel Cotto award – he gave it to me. It was a plaque this big [stretches hands around 40cm].Trinidad, that’s my homie, man. Last year, April, I was in Puerto Rico and we went out for breakfast; we went for three-mile jogs. I went to his hometown [Cupey Alto] in Puerto Rico. I was there for like the whole day with him; hanging out with him at a restaurant; drinking coffee; eating. Chopping it up.”
There have been numerous legends and Hall of Famers from those shores, thinking back to Wlfredo Gomez, Juan Laporte, Wilfred Benitez, Edwin Rosario, Ivan Calderon and the late Carlos Ortiz. Few captured public sentiment the way the electric Trinidad did, and if ever it was in evidence it was when Hopkins threw down the Puerto Rican flag there while promoting their middleweight clash in 2001. The crowd were incensed, as much at the disrespect for Trinidad as they were their country.
“They loved him – he’s a real icon over there,” Berlanga continued, discussing ‘Tito’. “A real, real icon. That guy. People love him. He gave me a lot of gems on boxing; on a father-and-son relationship like me and my dad. He gave us thatknowledge and that blueprint of what to do and just listen to my team.”
The emphasis is now on Berlanga to carry on from where they left off, and they leave hefty footprints to fill.
“We’re working towards [being the successor in New York to Trinidad and Cotto],” Berlanga concluded. “It’s legacy – to really go out there, especially on the 24th, destroy this man [Quigley], and become who I’m supposed to become. I’m supposed to be up there with the greats. With the Cottos; the Trinidads; the [Hector] Macho Camachos. For sure.”