Luisito Espinosa (left) would go on to win the WBC featherweight title against Manuel Medina.
No conversation about the greatest Filipino fighters of all time can be conclusive without a lengthy segment on Luisito Espinosa. Known as “Lindol,” or “Earthquake” in English, Espinosa is on the short list of top Pinoy pugilists, alongside Manny Pacquiao, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Gerry Penalosa and Pancho Villa. Unfortunately for Espinosa, he came around in the pre-Pacquiao days, when Filipinos were viewed by promoters as mere “opponents,” and not the marketable commodity they’ve become today.
A native of the Philippine capital of Manila, Espinosa captured his first world title in 1989, shocking Thai local hero Khaokor Galaxy with a first-round knockout to win the WBA bantamweight belt. Espinosa made two defenses before suffering a fifth-round upset loss to Israel Contreras in ’91. Espinosa ran off another winning streak before suffering a second-round knockout to Alejandro “La Cobrita” Gonzalez in Mexico. Gonzalez would later go on to prominence in America by knocking out the previously-unbeaten Kevin Kelley on HBO to win a featherweight belt.
Espinosa rebounded, and two years later was champion again after defeating Manuel Medina by decision to win the WBC featherweight title. Espinosa made seven successful defenses of his title, highlighted by a vengeful fourth-round knockout of Gonzalez in his second defense, and a crushing second-round knockout of former champ Kennedy McKinney in his final defense.
Like many boxers, Espinosa hung around the sport too long, and ended up losing six of his final nine bouts (four of them by knockout) before leaving the ring behind in 2005.
Today, Espinosa lives in Bakersfield, Calif., where he trains in the Filipino martial art of Sikaran. Espinosa has also dabbled in training pro MMA fighters, including a stint as the trainer of current UFC fighter Nick Diaz. Espinosa hopes to one day return to the Philippines, where he thinks he can train young amateurs to become young champions.
Two weeks shy of his 46th birthday, Espinosa has fond memories of the sport, but looks back with regret at some of the business mishaps that marred his career. “I’m happy because I experienced lots of things,” said Espinosa. “If I only had a good manager, I may still be in boxing today.” Still, Espinosa has history, having faced ten former world titleholders.
He spoke to RingTV about some of the best fighters he ever faced.
(Translations by Edri Aznar and JM Siasat)
Best Overall: Alejandro Gonzalez – “Because he is the first one to beat me (in my prime). But in our rematch I beat him by knockout.”
Best Boxer: Alejandro Gonzalez – “Cobrita Gonzalez was really good. He was taking the fight on the inside and that bothered me. I caught him with a lucky punch (in the rematch) so he was put to sleep.”
Best Puncher: Alejandro Gonzalez – “My first fight with Cobrita. He was strong in our first fight but I put him to sleep in our rematch.”
Best Defense: Khaokar Galaxy, Cesar Soto and Alejandro Gonzalez – “The second fight (with Soto) I lost against but I should have won. It was a hometown decision. I like it more when I go to my opponent’s home turf than them going to mine because my promoter.”
Fastest Hands: Hurley Snead
Fastest Feet: Juan Jose Estrada, Zahir Raheem – “I got caught in the first round (against Estrada) so I lost. But after I fought him, it was Zahir Raheem.”
Best Chin: Cesar Soto
Best Jab: Hurley Snead – “Snead was very good. He was a tough opponent, but I knocked him out in the eighth round.”
Strongest: Hurley Snead, Alejandro Gonzalez – “Zahir Raheem was also strong.”
Smartest: Zahir Raheem – “He got lucky against me. He surprised me, I got confused but he’s fragile.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.