The fight was to have been in Washington between Ernesto Espana, a Venezuelan fighting out of Puerto Rico, then the WBA lightweight champion, and Leonidas Asprilla of Colombia. Espana is managed by Pepito Cordero, a traveling companion and confidant of Cordova and Sanchez. In February 1964 Cordero was convicted on two counts of burglary in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was sentenced to two-to-five years on one count, five-to-10 on the other. He was pardoned in the early 1970s by Rafael Hernandez Colon, then governor of Puerto Rico. Cordero moved into boxing right after that, hitting it big by owning pieces of four world champions: Espana, Angel Espada, Esteban de Jesus and Samuel Serrano. Before the Espana-Asprilla fight Cordero approached Van Nixon and demanded that Espana's purse be paid in advance—or, as in Houston, no fight.
"Then I learned that Sanchez and Dr. Cordova were in town but ducking me," says Van Nixon. "I could see the same thing happening that had happened in Houston: Sanchez and Cordova taking the money." Van Nixon suspended Espana and there was no fight.
Sammy Serrano of Puerto Rico won the WBA junior lightweight title on Oct. 16, 1976 and successfully defended it 10 times before being knocked out last August by Japan's Yasutsune Uehara, an incredibly bad fighter. Serrano is a good boxer, but his style is awkward and he lacks any kind of a punch.
However, he's managed by Cordero, and the only thing better than that is being allowed in the ring with a baseball bat. Cordero spent a lot of time in boxing's cemeteries digging up Serrano's opponents. The officials were selected with equal care: in at least six of Serrano's defenses, Larry Rozadilla, an American, worked as either the referee or as a judge, and he was always backed by at least one Latin-American official. In two of Serrano's fights that Rozadilla didn't work, all three of the officials were from Puerto Rico.
There has been no suggestion by anyone that any official is paid more than the customary fee, which is ample. The WBC now pays each official $2,400 for working a heavyweight title fight; $1,200 for other weight classes. For all fights the WBA pays a straight $800 to its referees, $400 to judges. And Rozadilla, as are many of his peers, is a competent official. The trouble is, some officials have been told, either subtly or directly, that either they lean in the right direction or the excellent pay and the all-expenses-paid trips around the world will go to more cooperative judges and referees. This is as wrong as a straight buyout.
In a period of 42 months after he won the title, Serrano made just three mandatory defenses—for an organization, remember, that by rule demands that its champions defend against the top contender every six months.
Even those mandatory defenses were little more than farces. The first was against Oh Young Ho, a Korean ranked as a lightweight until two months before fighting Serrano, when he suddenly popped up as the WBA's No. 1 junior lightweight. Serrano, eight inches taller, was ahead all the way, stopping Ho in the ninth round. The officials were a Venezuelan, a Nicaraguan and Rozadilla.
The second mandatory defense was against Happy Boy Mgxaji, a South African with the right political connections. As a further accommodation to its South African friends, the WBA put the fight on in Capetown. Although Serrano was a notoriously light hitter, after seven rounds Mgxaji refused to leave his corner. The officials were a Panamanian, a Venezuelan and Rozadilla.
In February 1978 Serrano won a 15-round decision over Mario Martinez, a Class B fighter from Nicaragua who had been slipped into the ratings only a month before as the No. 8 contender. Serrano won 15 of 15 rounds. All the officials were from Puerto Rico.
A year later Serrano made a voluntary defense against Julio Valdez of the Dominican Republic, who was ranked No. 9. The fight surprised everyone, even championship-committee chairman Mortimer, who thought Serrano was to fight Mgxaji next. The Mgxaji fight had been signed and sanctioned. No one bothered to tell Mortimer, whose committee is supposed to sanction all title bouts, that Serrano was slipping in an extra fight. Although it was against the rules, Galindez had personally sanctioned it. Farah, the Trinidad-Tobago fight commissioner who has been battling WBA injustices for years, was incensed when he learned of the bootleg title match. He met with Galindez in New York City. "How can you permit this fight?" Farah asked. "Serrano hasn't made an honest mandatory defense since he won the title and he's supposed to fight Mgxaji next. You haven't even told your own championship committee about the Valdez fight. It's breaking every rule."