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REMEMBERING ESPINOSA-SOTO I


PhilBoxing.com




July 6, 1996 – Fidel V. Ramos was President of the Philippines, Roy Jones was the best pound for pound boxer in the world, Mike Tyson wore the WBC Heavyweight crown, Oscar DeLa Hoya was on his way to become a major marketing force in boxing, Manny Pacquiao was knocked out five months earlier by Rustico Torrecampo and Luisito Espinosa was making the second defense of his WBC Featherweight title.

His opponent, Cesar ‘Cobrita’ Soto of Mexico, came in with the reputation of having an iron jaw and a mean left hook. Espinosa was making the first home defense of the 126 lb division title. Despite stopping Alejandro Gonzales in Mexico four months earlier, he still carried the stigma of losing his WBA Bantamweight title by knockout to Israel Contreras of Venezuela at the Araneta Coliseum in 1991.

The ‘free to the public’ fight card was held at the Luneta Park. Attendance estimates varied from 50,000 to as high as 500,000. The discrepancy in the crowd estimate spoiled what may have been a world record.

Millions more watched on television. It was one of those rare moments – before Pacquiao became a big star – when the Filipino people banded together. Both challenger and champion were brought to the ring on horse drawn “calesas” or chariots. Manager Joe Koizumi rode with Luisito and raised the WBC belt as the crowd lustily cheered.

Pres. Ramos was seated beside WBC Pres. Jose Sulaiman. Local political and sports VIP’s, Espinosa’s wife Mariecherie, father Dio and son John Louie were also in attendance. The third man inside the ring was Arthur Mercante.

Espinosa boxed cautiously and Soto almost spoiled the party in the second round. Espinosa’s knees buckled as he was smacked by Soto’s left hook.

But just like my favorite spy’s vodka martini, Espinosa was shaken but not stirred. He adjusted and dictated the tempo with his jab, lateral movement and timely counterpunches. Soto continued to move forward but ‘Lindol’ Espinosa was too slippery. There would be no ‘earthquake’ this time, just smart boxing.

The judges’ scores : Tony Perez – 115-112, Marty Denkin 115-112 and Tom Kaczmarek – 117-112.

Espinosa banished the demons that haunted him since he lost his 118 lb division crown on home soil almost five years earlier. This was also Espinosa’s fourth straight win against a Mexican opponent, something very remarkable during the pre-Pacquiao era.

He would lose his title to Soto on points in a 1999 rematch held in El Paso, Texas.

Luisito would never win another world title. He finished his career being beaten by younger boxers who he would have easily knocked out in his prime.

Stories about the unpaid purse for his 1997 title defense in Koronadal against Carlos Rios continued to resurface after his retirement.

It has been fifteen years since we embraced Espinosa once again as our hero. It has been more than a decade since the powers that be in our country turned their backs on his plight. He is separated from his wife and lost the money he earned as champion. Every now and then we would read stories about him working for minimum wage in the United States.

ON A MORE PERSONAL NOTE…

I started writing about the fight game in 2005 for the now defunct philippineboxers.com . I wrote a few articles back then about Luisito’s appalling situation and I remember signing an on-line petition supporting him. I felt that the apathy towards Espinosa’s predicament mirrors the dark side of our society and our race.

Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol , who was then the Governor of North Cotabato, initiated on November 2005 a fight card intended to raise funds for Espinosa. It was witnessed by a thin crowd at the San Andres Civic and Sports Center in Manila.

Six years passed and nothing has changed. The recent heart-rending articles of North Cotabato’s former chief executive remind us of a forgotten champion and a forgotten issue.

It is very hard to find Filipino boxers who retired financially secure. To those fighters who got rich, I can give them one piece of unsolicited advice – Beware of those people who cling to you and call you ‘friend’.



“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy” – F. Scott Fitzgerald


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Rene Bonsubre, Jr..


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