Rivera Set To Battle Whitaker

MIAMI -- Puerto Rican welterweight Wilfredo Rivera survived Hurricane Hortense when it ravaged his homeland. Now he's braced to face another fearsome natural wonder -- Pernell Whitaker.

Rivera will meet the WBC welterweight champion Friday night in a rematch of their April 12 bout, which Whitaker won.

Despite the stakes, the fight was Rivera's secondary concern last week, when Hortense battered Puerto Rico with winds and heavy rain. Fourteen Puerto Ricans were killed and thousands were left homeless.

Rivera was training in Carolina, Puerto Rico, when the storm hit, and his hotel escaped damage. But for four days he worried about the fate of his family in nearby Rio Piedras.

"It was difficult concentrating on the fight while this was going on,'' he said Tuesday.

Rivera's foremost concern was for his pregnant wife and their 1-year-old daughter. He finally learned through his brother that his wife and child were fine, and he reunited with them briefly before departing for Miami.

They'll arrive for the fight Thursday, along with Rivera's parents.

"Once I knew my family was OK, it helped me motivate myself,'' he said.

Rivera has yet to see his house, which was damaged by the hurricane. Repair work, he said, will wait until after the fight.

Rivera (23-1-1 with 14 knockouts) lost a controversial split decision last spring to a heavily favored Whitaker (38-1-1, 16 KOs). Because the bout was close, the WBC mandated the rematch.

"I was very sure I won that fight,'' Rivera said. "I was more sure when I saw the videotape than when I was in the ring. Everyone who saw the fight, that was their conclusion.''

Whitaker disagrees but says he eagerly awaits the rematch.

"I didn't know anything about my opponent the last time I fought him,'' said Whitaker, 32. "This fight is going to be extra special. You people are going to get a treat, because you're going to get the best of Pernell Whitaker.''

Rivera, 27, also expects to be at his best. He has dedicated the fight to his fellow Puerto Ricans, who face many months of recovery from Hortense.

"If I win, this will help my people back home,'' he said. "It would be a good moment for them after what we've been through.''