Boxing Banter

An 82-year-old political heavyweight spars with a firefighter half his age, and the fans go wild

Just before the dawn of the new millennium, Latin Chamber of Commerce USA (CAMACOL) president and Miami City Hall political heavyweight Luis Sabines allegedly assaulted City of Miami firefighter Osvaldo Iglesias during a routine fire inspection. Miami police were called, but no charges were filed. Although the event occurred outside the boxing ring, it had all the makings of a prizefight.

So New Times tried to imagine what might have happened had the dispute been a Don King production rather than an unhyped private affair.

Commentator Fidel "El Dictador" Carollo arrives a half-hour late and enters the ring. Hundreds of bloodthirsty spectators chant and wave flags. Hair slicked down and parted to the side, Carollo pulls down the microphone.

Miami Commissioner Joey "The Kid" Sanchez (rear) plans to erect a statue honoring the champ
Steve Satterwhite
Miami Commissioner Joey "The Kid" Sanchez (rear) plans to erect a statue honoring the champ

Carollo: La-a-a-dies and gentlemen, welcome to the antiquated Little Havana headquarters of CAMACOL. The main event this afternoon is a battle for political respect in the City of Miami. To my right, at six feet tall, weighing in at 240 pounds and wearing a white uniform shirt, red shoulder patches, and black polyester slacks, is the challenger, 39-year-old Osvaldo "The Citing Inspector" Iglesias. To my left at five feet, five inches tall, weighing in at 180 pounds, 82 years young, and wearing a brown suit with matching tie is the champion, Luis "El Alcalde de la Pequeña Havana" Sabines.

The bell rings and round one begins. Play-by-play announcer Chaz "Mayoral Marionette" Gimenez begins a blow-by-blow account.

Gimenez: There's the bell and away we go! Iglesias starts with a flurry. He cites Sabines for numerous violations throughout the four-story building, jabbing at a burnt-out bulb in a fire-exit sign, then turning to boxes that obstruct a stairwell and an emergency exit. A quick move to his left and he whacks at the lack of stickers that should point to fire extinguishers. Iglesias next makes a frontal attack: He informs Sabines of his findings and proceeds to fill out a formal complaint. The combination stuns Sabines, who staggers back to his corner at the sound of the bell.

A shapely brunette in high heels enters the ring and circles an emblem of the Cuban American National Foundation painted on the mat. Wearing a banana yellow swimsuit, she hoists aloft a placard with the number two on one side and a mug of Elian Gonzalez captioned "The Chosen One," on the other. Up in the announcer's booth, Carollo dons headphones and begins.

Carollo: Sabines is a big deal in Miami. The native of Camagüey, Cuba, has been a figure in the hard-hitting world of Miami politics for three decades. During his 24-year reign at CAMACOL, he has controlled a key voting block in Little Havana, which assures him access to the muckety-mucks at Dinner Key. Ex-champion and Miami Mayor "Mad Dog" Maurice Ferre terms Sabines a solid bet in any election-day brawl, "one of five people who can deliver votes." Over the years the former grocery-store owner has bagged big-time prize money from the government for the neighborhood CAMACOL calls home. In 1998 alone the champ took in more than $1.5 million. Like many a sports figure -- including Don Shula and José Canseco -- Sabines's moniker is plastered on street signs. Northwest Seventh Street between Twelfth and Fifty-seventh avenues also is known as Luis Sabines Way. (The bell rings for round two but Gimenez allows Carollo to continue.) Some pugilistic pontificators say Sabines's skills are deteriorating. His sponsor, J.L. "The Undertaker" Plummer got whacked last November. And district elections in the city and county have cut the boxer's reach; slick body punchers like lobbyist Chris "Show Me the Money" Korge have eclipsed him.

Gimenez: Thank you, Fidel, for that brilliant analysis. A visibly angry Sabines sprints out from the corner swinging! He launches a roundhouse punch, claiming the fire department is harassing him because he supported former commissioner-for-life Plummer. Then he lands an uppercut, contending the inspection is bogus. Iglesias goes down on one knee and referee Kendall "The Masticator" Coffey performs a standing eight count.

Carollo: Remember there is some bad blood between these two, Chaz. The City of Miami fire union pulled its endorsement of Plummer last fall after the undertaker supported a referendum to reorganize city government that would have required an early election. An appeals court sided with the exquisitely brilliant current mayor's argument that the vote amounted to an illegal recall. A final appeal is still pending before the big cheese, Florida's Supreme Court.

Gimenez: Back to the action! The champ follows up with a body blow, claiming firefighters are exercising political revenge because his sponsor no longer inhabits the dais. More jabs from Sabines! He again calls the violations bogus and refuses to sign paperwork acknowledging the infractions. The bell rings and Sabines yells at Iglesias!

Sabines: They are traitors because Plummer gave the fire department a lot of money and they did not support him!

The round ends. Carollo then takes over the mike as a blond beauty wearing only banana leaves walks around the ring holding a large placard with the number three drawn in yellow.

Carollo: Sabines was bred to be a gladiator. Born to Lebanese parents, the scrappy champion was the fourth child in a family of six boys and three girls. He only completed the eighth grade before beginning training at age ten, pumping gas when his parents' jewelry store closed and leaving home for Havana when he was sixteen years old. He fought his way up the ranks and eventually opened a grocery-wholesale business. While vacationing with his family in Miami in 1959, Sabines saw his chance for the big-time. He stayed, and three years later opened a Little Havana grocery store called El Primer Titan. He spent the next decade helping his parents and other family members to emigrate while toiling in Miami's dingy political gyms. His title shot arrived when he was elected CAMACOL president in 1976. He has served all but two terms in the interim, an unprecedented run. He once described the secret of his success this way: "I never ask for myself. I always ask for others. No one can do what I do for eight hours a day."

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