Class of his own

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2021 - 12:00am

Of all the Filipino world boxing champions, Luisito Espinosa had the classic fighter’s physique. The man called “Lindol” stood 5-7 1/2, tall for the bantamweight and featherweight divisions where he campaigned, and his 69-inch wingspan was an asset. His arsenal was the complete package of weaponry. His left hook was devastating, his left jab jarring, his right straight staggering, his combinations lethal. His footwork was impeccable, his handspeed dizzying, his killer’s instinct frightening. His balance was just right. In his prime, it was difficult to bring Espinosa down. He was like a small man’s version of Muhammad Ali.

Espinosa, now 53, compiled a record of 47-13, with 26 KOs, from 1984 to 2005. Toward the end of his career, he fought just for the money and lost six of his last nine outings. His last win was a first round knockout of Marco Angel Perez in Oakland in 2003 and his last fight was a loss to Cristobal Cruz by a third round stoppage in Stockton two years later.

Outside the Philippines, Espinosa racked up a record of 20-9, with 15 KOs and was unbeaten in three fights in Thailand. His biggest paycheck of $300,000 came in a WBC featherweight title defense against Nobutoshi Hiranaka in Fukuoka in 1996. Espinosa won every single round in demolishing Hiranaka in eight. He was 11-3 in world championship bouts, losing only to Israel Contreras, Cesar Soto and Guty Espadas Jr.

Espinosa singled out Soto as his toughest opponent. They battled twice. Espinosa won their first meeting in an open-air makeshift ring at Luneta in 1996 and lost the rematch in El Paso three years later. Espinosa made two appearances at Luneta, the other a unanimous technical decision over Manuel Medina in 1997. Medina, known as “Mantecas” because of his slippery moves, also lost to Espinosa in Tokyo in 1995. Soto, Medina and a third Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez had memorable rematches with Espinosa. Gonzalez knocked out Espinosa in two in Guadalajara in 1993 and was stopped by the Filipino in four in the same venue three years later.

Espinosa said his two most memorable fights were the Bangkok bout where he won the WBA bantamweight crown via a first round knockout of Khaokor Galaxy in 1989 and the rematch with Gonzalez who was carried out of the ring in a stretcher. The world champions whom Espinosa vanquished were Galaxy, Raul Perez, Medina twice, Gonzalez, Soto and Kennedy McKinney.

Espinosa was hardly a one-hit wonder. He reigned as WBA bantamweight titleholder in 1989-91 with two successful defenses and as WBC featherweight ruler in 1995-99 with seven successful defenses. Espinosa is in an elite cast of Filipino fighters with at least two world titles in different divisions, joining Manny Pacquiao (eight), Nonito Donaire Jr. (five), Donnie Nietes (four), Johnriel Casimero (three), Gerry Peñalosa (two), Brian Viloria (two) and Dodie Boy Peñalosa (two). There’s no doubt Espinosa belongs not only in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame but also in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He should be treated as a national treasure and taken care of by government. It’s a shame that despite a Supreme Court ruling with finality last year, Espinosa has not been paid over P6.5 million that is owed to him from a purse in a fight in Koronadal in 1997. Through GAB chairman Baham Mitra, Espinosa received a $5,000 grant from the WBC as financial and medical aid. When the pandemic is over, promoter Bebot Elorde plans to enlist Espinosa as a trainer in his stable.

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