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Boxing Banter

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

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.

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."

The bell rings.

Gimenez:Iglesias and Sabines are pummeling each other! A left and a right! I can't keep up! Now they're in a clinch and stumbling toward the corner! Suddenly Iglesias throws up his hands and a look of pain crosses his face. Referee Coffey threatens to bite the boxers unless they break it up and return to their corners. They quickly comply. What order Coffey brings to chaos! It now looks like, yes, Iglesias is accusing Sabines of a kidney punch! Let's listen in to the challenger's corner, where he is consulting with his trainer, Capt. Tom Flores.

Iglesias:I am at the Latin chamber of commerce and I was just assaulted by the president here. He's trying to throw me out, and he wouldn't sign my violation letter or anything.

Flores: You say you were assaulted by him? Were you shoved? Slugged? What?

Iglesias:He started beating me on my back. He's an old man but I gotta get [police] over here.

Flores: Go ahead and do that and see what you can resolve and if you have to, we will file charges on him.

Gimenez:WOW! What a shocking revelation. Now let's listen in on Sabines's corner.

Sabines: I know he accused me of striking him, but I did not hit him. How am I going to fight with a tall firefighter? I threw him out of the building and then he called the police.

Carollo: I have evidence, but I can't say who gave it to me, that Iglesias is the one responsible for the low blow. Don't ask me how I know; I just know. This indignity should not happen in a democratic country!

The producer shuts off Carollo's microphone.

Gimenez: Thank you, exalted one. The replays are inconclusive! Somehow, in an office with 36 employees, no one saw the questionable blows! Coffey has stopped the fight. The judges go to their scorecards. What a bizarre turn of events! You have to wonder if this might be El Alcalde's final political scrap. Everyone is talking about the champ's declining fortunes. A tireless trainer in his younger days, he now spends most of his time taking phone calls, greeting visitors, and sipping prodigious amounts of Cuban coffee. His office resembles a shrine to the glorious past. Gold plaques honor his work with local businesses and photos show him hugging visiting has-beens like Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Despite all of the prize money, he lives in a modest three-bedroom, two-bath home just south of Little Havana with Pooch, his fox terrier. Sabines says his only weaknesses are women and an inability to speak English. Yet to some he remains a hero. I walked with him down West Flagler Street near Twelfth Avenue recently. Store owners and pedestrians called out his name. "Sabines! Godfather!" they screamed. I asked why he's so popular. "God has given me a blessing," he responded. "I just get along well with people."

Before the judges can announce their decision, Carollo -- who has made his way ringside -- commandeers the mike.

Carollo: With us this afternoon we have several high-ranking city officials. They tell me that Iglesias has decided to withdraw his protest. Now the judges have ruled the fight a draw, penalizing Sabines for fire code violations, which he must remedy by February, but allowing him to keep his crown.  

The crowd razzes Carollo. Both benches move menacingly toward him.

Carollo: Both sides are visibly upset! I am being pushed around! This is racism! I am indignant!

Iglesias's cornerman Tom "United We Stand" Gabriel snatches the microphone.

Gabriel: I find it outrageous that an individual can attack a firefighter and have the police called and not make a report of it. It stinks of protection.

Sabines:(grabbing back the mike) I do whatever I need to do. I have no regrets!

Carollo: (upper lip disappearing as he takes the microphone) I am ashamed of what has happened here today! I am putting you all on my list! You will be investigated!

The producer again cuts off Carollo's microphone.

Gimenez: Hang in there, boss. I'll send an ambulance for you! Well, folks, today's events prove that CAMACOL's president no longer is untouchable. Without Plummer and former City Manager Cesar "The Felon" Odio, who helped provide CAMACOL with an average $250,000-per-year subsidy during the 1990s, he's ready for an even bigger fall next time he takes the ring. And don't forget to tune us in this September, when Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex "What Me Worry?" Penelas takes on number-one challenger Miguel "I Get No Respect" Diaz de la Portilla. The champ is unlikely to remain at ringside for this barnburner. Until then, for Fidel Carollo, I'm your announcer Chaz Gimenez, wishing you a happy and fruitful day!


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