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Let the Games Begin

Boxing: Arum admits role with two Cuban defectors and expects the two to be "top, top pros."

July 19, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Promoter Bob Arum emerged from the background Thursday, finally conceding that he had counseled, aided and sponsored--and that he will promote--the two Cuban boxers who fled their Olympic team to defect to America.

"We're looking for them to be really top, top pros," Arum told The Times, referring to Joel Casamayor, 24, the 1992 Olympic bantamweight champion, and Ramon Garbey, 25, the 1993 light-heavyweight world champion. "They could both be champions."

Arum, in a phone interview from his office in Las Vegas, said his sources tell him there are more Cuban fighters who want to be professional boxers, and are contemplating defection from Fidel Castro's regime.

There could be more coming after the Olympics, Arum said.

"I hope so," he said, adding that he plans to fly here next weekend to watch the last week of the Olympic boxing competition. "We're zeroing in on a number of them."

Jose Ramon Fernandez, head of the Cuban delegation, denied that there were more defectors to come.

"These isolated defections, which are provoked by economic offers and pestering of our athletes, have done nothing apart from reinforcing the patriotic spirit of our athletes," Fernandez said.

Arum said that Garbey and Casamayor were cultivated over several years with secret contacts, mutual assurances and planning. But when they made their break in Guadalajara, Mexico, triggered prematurely by word that Cuban officials would clamp down on their athletes once they arrived in Atlanta, even their sponsor was surprised.

"I thought it was going to be later," Arum said, referring to the days after the Games here.

Arum was vacationing in Israel at the time, but directed the project by phone.

"They knew we were there," Arum said. "We've had a guy talking to them for a couple of years."

When they separately left the camp, Arum arranged hiding places and transportation from Guadalajara, where the Cuban training camp was, to Tijuana.

Then Arum hired immigration lawyer Frank Ronzio--who arranged the fighters' border crossing and application for asylum--choreographed the change of venue for their immigration hearing to Las Vegas, has provided his company's gym for their training, and has already scheduled their professional debuts on a pay-per-view card he is promoting, headlined by Vinny Pazienza-Dana Rosenblatt on Aug. 23 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Arum said that he cloaked his participation so as to not jeopardize the fighters' immigration process, but believes now that they are in Las Vegas, their path to asylum should be smooth.

The defectors are being trained by Miguel Diaz, an Arum employee and veteran cornerman who speaks fluent Spanish.

"They look like they're the goods," Arum said. "The smaller guy is supposed to be unbelievable. And Garbey looks like a totally pro fighter. I've seen him--he's a real brawler, just gets in there. He's really almost like a James Toney. Except he probably punches harder than James.

"Miguel thinks the big guy could fight [super-middleweight champion] Roy Jones in six months. We'll see."

None of the few Cuban fighters who have defected to the West have achieved major success--heavyweight Jorge Luis Gonzalez was a recent flop--but Arum and Diaz say Casamayor and especially Garbey are different in that they are not typical Cuban fighters who score well in the amateur system but don't have the power to excel in the professional ranks.

"The ones who've come over before, they were never the top echelon in Cuba," Arum said. "Garbey and Casamayor say that the Cubans who've come were third- and fourth-ranked Cubans."

Diaz says given that both fighters are already working at a high level--sparring sessions are set to begin next week--both could be fighting 10-round fights in a few months and could challenge for titles in a year or so.

The plans are for both to debut in August in either four- or six-round bouts, fight again Oct. 12 on the Oscar De La Hoya-Miguel Angel Gonzalez card in Las Vegas, and perhaps twice more this year.

"Casamayor is a tremendous southpaw with tremendous speed and a great straight left hand," Diaz said. "He's got real power with his left hand. And he's a very clever fighter.

"Garbey is powerful--he has tremendous power. I don't think we have to change anything about him.

Diaz and Arum say that the 6-foot-2 Garbey, whose natural fighting weight is 168, was wrongly made to fight at 178 pounds.

"This is my prediction--I'll say Garbey will be ready to fight for the championship of the world in about a year," Diaz said. "And the small guy, because his division is more diversified--you've got Mexicans, Japanese, Europeans, an Irish kid like [World Boxing Council bantamweight champion] Wayne McCullough--I think he will take a little longer than Garbey. But [Casamayor] destroyed McCullough in 1992 in the Olympics."

According to Arum, Casamayor and Garbey have thrown themselves into training.

"They train in my gym faithfully every day," he said. "I mean, these Cubans train like American fighters don't."

The adjustment from Cuba to the luxuries America--especially Las Vegas--can provide is jarring for Casamayor and Garbey, Arum said.

"[Matchmaker] Bruce Trampler and [Arum aide] Richie Sandoval took them to a Las Vegas Stars baseball game, and they're really adjusting to the community," Arum said. "The only thing that's different is, compared to Cuba, this is the land of milk and honey. . . . They can't believe what they're seeing."

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