April 18, 2003

Louie Espinosa: Boxing’s Original Golden Boy

By Fiona Manning

British general William Slim once said: “Like many generals, when plans have gone wrong, I could find plenty of excuses, but I only have one reason - myself.”

Two-time former world champion Luisito Espinosa, 47-11, 26 KOs, took those words to heart after a couple of lackluster losses to bounce back with a stunning first round KO over crafty Fecarbox super featherweight champion Marco Angel Perez last week.

This victory now launches the 36-year old Filipino “Golden Boy” into his much longed-for world title shot in the Philippines on June 28.

Luisito Espinosa working the pads with trainer Dee Pooler.

For Espinosa, it is his chance to return to greatness. His chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his millions of fans. In a sport where the fans of one culture steadfastly refuse to support others, Espinosa has transcended all cultural boundaries.

“He’s a man of the people,” his manager Emmanuel Rivera told La Prensa San Diego today.

“When we fought up here in northern California last year, Oscar de la Hoya rushed into the dressing room and gushed over Louie. Oscar may be called The Golden Boy but he knows Louie is the original Golden Boy.”

Indeed, fans of all nations adore the plucky and sometimes tortured fighter who was born to box. His father Dio once went the distance with the great Japanese flyweight Fighting Harada.

Louie, one of Dio’s 14 children, was sparring by the time he was seven years old and used a sack of sand as a punching bag.

“We see this fight as a night of reconciliation and unity for Filipinos which will reflect the passing of the torch from Luisito Espinosa to Manny Pacquiao,” said Espinosa’s often beleaguered manager Rivera.

Rivera, known as “Noel” to all and sundry has had to push “Louie” uphill all the way but the effort has paid off.

Few who witnessed some of Espinosa’s recent outtings could have foreseen such a dominant display against Perez - but it is something Noel and Espinoza’s trainer Dee Pooler felt was well within the tenacious fighter’s reach.

Nobody seemed to want this farewell march more than manager and trainer. Noel grew up with Louie and has had to put up with the slings and arows from boxing writers and “experts” who felt Louie belonged in the “Knacker’s Yard” or at the very least left to graze in the barren pastures allotted to washed up fighters.

Luisito Espinoza was one of the most gifted fighters of his time and one of the most accomplished fighters ever produced by his small country. He grew up with Noel who often had to take a back seat to Louie for his father Herme Rivera’s affections.

The senior Rivera managed Louie with an iron rod, steering him to the world championship before a meddling wife and false offers of astronomic sums of money from other people lured him straight on the path to nowhere.

Noel could have left Louie washing dishes in Daly City where the deposed champ was reduced to spending long days working in a local bar after a disastrous fight in the Philippines - for which he still has not been paid.

Instead, Noel put his time and money into his long-lost brother, investing in training, clothes, equipment, even supervising his diet.

Many writers in the Philippines have questioned Noel’s motives. Few can know how much of his resources - and at what cost - Noel has poured into Louie’s redemption.

Not one of these guardians of Louie’s rights was actually there when Louie mysteriously slammed on weight prior to his weigh-in for his battle with Ever Beleno last May.

Rivera ran up and down stairs with the guy, then drove around in his car with Louie swathed in plastic, the heat blasting on a hot day, in an effort to shed some pounds.

He has hunted out the best sparring partners, been present at all the gym sessions - all while holding a full-time job and juggling commitments with his wife and two small sons.

All of this will make for colorful scenes in Louie’s movie biography (hint, hint Hollywood) but for the record, Noel hasn’t been paid a cent and doesn’t expect to see any money - ever.

He is really doing this for love - of his father and the man he proudly calls his brother.

That somebody would manage a fighter out of love - for his people - is not ony rare in boxing, but may be grounds for insanity certification!

Scratch beneath the surface however and you will discover that boxing has been a source of pride and inspiration for the Filipinos.

From the time of Pancho Villa, Small Montana, Little Dado, Ceferino Garcia to Gabriel “Flash Elorde, the Philippines has time and again proven that it has spawned some of the great master boxers of all time.

The tradition continues with Luisito Espinosa’s return to Philippine soil on June 28.

A possible venue is the historic Luneta Park on the banks of Manila Bay.

The Luneta Park is special to Espinosa because it was the historic site of the Battle of Manila Bay—where 300,000 Filipinos were witness to one of the greatest featherweight fighters in the modern era.

“It would be an honor to once again fight in front of my countrymen. Boxing has given me the opportunity to represent my country with pride.I am determined to win my third world championship,” Luisito said via translation from Rivera.

Rivera loves Louie like a son, like a brother and definitely like a fighter.

Louie in turns loves Noel and the two men banter like the kids they once were. They manage in a single phone conversation to make you feel left out and jealpous of the deep friendship and genuine camraderie.

“My association with Luisito Espinosa transends boxing— it reflects the special bond our country and the boxing community share,” Rivera said. “Filipino fighters are that special group who have helped our country gain recognition on the world stage.

“We want this next fight to be one night of unity and peace and pride for our people. We want redemption.”

Louie is thrilled with his recent triumph. He admits he has found the love for boxing again - a love that has been overshadowed at times by frustration and disappointment.

For Pooler, Espinosa’s victory has more than made up for the bad times - like Louie getting stopped in his last outting by Zahir Raheem.

“Team Espinosa, from the very beginning, has taken the responsibility of highlighting the Filipino spirit through camaraderie and perseverance. The past 2 years has been great for Luisito,” he said.

Daly City Mayor Mike Guingona is a big fan of Louie’s and pushed for the fight with Perez.

“Louie has endured tremendously to get where he is at. March 27 was the rebirth of a great career. Luisito is master of his own destiny as shown in his devastating win at the Thrilla in Little Manila. A third world title is within reach,” he said.

Who’s title is at stake? Nobody’s saying but guaranteed, Rivera is working like a madman trying to line up a suitable opponent. One thing is for certain, whoever takes on the challenge of fighting Espinosa should not take him lightly – just as Thailand’s Khaokor Galaxy.

The former WBA bantamweight champion once considered the rising young Espinoza a “safe” opponent only to lose his championship in a single round thanks to those trademark left hooks.

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