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Cuban, Western Pennsylvania boxers to square off on Clemente Bridge

| Monday, July 18, 2016, 12:36 p.m.
From left, boxer Richie Cantolina of Ambridge, coach Brandon Cercone, state athletic commissioner Rick Steigerwald, assistant coach Sylvio Cercone of McKees Rocks and boxer Nehemiah Hollinger of Brookline do an upper-cut pose on the Clemente Bridge on Monday July 18, 2016. They are promoting 'Boxing on the Bridge'  July 30 as local boxers will be matched against Cuban nationals.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
From left, boxer Richie Cantolina of Ambridge, coach Brandon Cercone, state athletic commissioner Rick Steigerwald, assistant coach Sylvio Cercone of McKees Rocks and boxer Nehemiah Hollinger of Brookline do an upper-cut pose on the Clemente Bridge on Monday July 18, 2016. They are promoting 'Boxing on the Bridge' July 30 as local boxers will be matched against Cuban nationals.
Rick Steigerwald holds up Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini's hand in victory as Cuban Embassy First Secretary Miguel Fraga claps inside Atria's on the North Shore, Monday, July 18, 2016. The men where promoting 'Boxing on the Bridge'  to be held July 30 on the Clemente Bridge. The bouts will pit Pittsburgh-area and Cuban boxers against each other.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Rick Steigerwald holds up Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini's hand in victory as Cuban Embassy First Secretary Miguel Fraga claps inside Atria's on the North Shore, Monday, July 18, 2016. The men where promoting 'Boxing on the Bridge' to be held July 30 on the Clemente Bridge. The bouts will pit Pittsburgh-area and Cuban boxers against each other.
Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini talks about the upcoming 'Boxing on the Bridge' event as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, left, Beaver Falls boxer Kiante Irving, and Cuban Embassy First Secretary Miguel Fraga look on at Atria's on the North Shore, Monday July 18, 2016. The July 30 event on the Clementse Bridge will match Pittsburgh boxers against their Cuban counterparts.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini talks about the upcoming 'Boxing on the Bridge' event as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, left, Beaver Falls boxer Kiante Irving, and Cuban Embassy First Secretary Miguel Fraga look on at Atria's on the North Shore, Monday July 18, 2016. The July 30 event on the Clementse Bridge will match Pittsburgh boxers against their Cuban counterparts.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge will be transformed July 30 into a boxing arena.

Congressman Mike Doyle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Cuban Embassy First Secretary Miguel Fraga and other officials Monday announced the “Duelo del Siglo” or “Boxing on the Bridge” event, which will feature bouts with amateur boxers from Cuba squaring off against amateurs from Western Pennsylvania.

“We've often used sports to bring people together. What great symbolism of the bridge, bridging the divide that sometimes exists between people,” Fitzgerald said. “I'm excited with Congressman Doyle and his colleagues and President Obama trying to regain normalized relations with our closest neighbors to the south of us, so it's going to be an exciting time.”

The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. July 30, comes two months after Western Pennsylvania boxers went on a training trip to Cuba accompanied by State Athletic Commissioner Rick Steigerwald and former lightweight world champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

Mancini said he first became involved in the trip to Cuba after receiving a phone call from Congressman Tim Ryan, who represents Mancini's native Youngstown, Ohio.

He said the trip to a boxing academy in Havana was a good opportunity for young, local fighters to learn new training techniques, including working with a moving heavy bag, which forces boxers to move their feet and hands at the same time.

“They have that, that's why the footwork is impeccable as an amateur,” Mancini said of Cuban boxers. “Boxing is not rocket science, it's simple. But you have to learn the basics. Moving your hands and feet in unison is the hardest thing to do in sports, and these guys are the best at it. It was an eye-opening revelation seeing why they are the best.”

Steigerwald said that while the group of local fighters had interpreters, Mancini's ability to speak Spanish helped during the trip, especially when negotiating times to get water for the young fighters in hot, humid conditions in Havana.

The significance of leading a rare delegation of American boxers to visit Cuba won't sink in for a while, Steigerwald said. He added that he thinks young athletes will be instrumental in improving relations and removing communication barriers between the United States and Cuba.

“The whole culture thing, and I've said this from the beginning, how you change this is with the kids,” Steigerwald said. “The embargo's been 50 years, but how do you change that? You change that with the youth. That's how things get changed. When they made friends with (the Cuban boxers) down there, I got chills.”

Kiante Irving, 22, of Beaver Falls, will fight as a light heavyweight at the event. In the days leading up to his bout, he said he will continue to train like the young boxers he met in Cuba.

“The conditions they train in (in Cuba) are pretty extreme. It's pretty hot, no AC. Water's like a luxury. But they knew how to work through those conditions,” Irving said. “I'm just trying to train like the Cubans, basically. Whatever I saw down there, I'm going to try to do up here.”

Irving said he is used to large crowds after fighting for Team Pittsburgh at the third annual Donnybrook in March, but he is excited for an even bigger audience on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

That crowd is not likely to include Mancini, though he has a good reason for being absent. The 55-year-old is being inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame the same weekend.

Tickets for the free “Boxing on the Bridge” event will be available for download at ShowClix.com starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Capacity for the event, including trainers, boxers, officials and spectators, is expected to be no more than 2,500.

Andrew Erickson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @AErickson_Trib.

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