Forgotten Legends: Zahir Raheem

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By: Steve Gallegos

Boxing (As many may not refer to) is a team sport. A fighter can have all the talent and abilities in the world, however if that fighter is not handled right by promoters and managers, then that fighter will fall short of greatness. No truer was the case than with former U.S. Olympian and former world title challenger ZahirZ-ManRaheem.

Raheem was a very skillfull boxer/puncher who had very good hand speed and power and was dangerous for everyone he faced in the ring. Raheem was born and raised in the fighting city of Philadelphia, PA and had an outstanding amatuer record of 213-4. He was a member of the last great U.S. Olympic Boxing team that produced future world champions such as Fernando Vargas, David Reid, Eric Morel, Antonio Tarver, David Diaz and the great Floyd Mayweather. The majority of his olympic teammates found success early and often in their professional careers with a few of them winning world titles within 2-3 years of turning pro.

Raheem however didn’t get these same breaks and had to start from the bottom. He turned pro in November of 1996 and would go 24-0 with 14 KO’s over the next 7 1/2 years. It wasn’t an easy road for Raheem to travel as he bounced from one manager and promoter to the next and at times fought at weight classes in which he wasn’t at his natural weight. He would be in line for a title shot in 2004 as he faced Rocky Juarez in a featherweight title eliminator.

They met on 07/17/04 in Juarez’s backyard of Houston, TX. It was an uphill battle for Raheem all night long. He had lost nearly 40 pounds in order to make the featherweight limit. Not only was he fighting an unbeaten fighter in his hometown, he also had to deal with the fact that two of the three judges, as well as the referee were from the state of Texas.

In the fourth round, Raheem took a knee after taking a hard left hook from Juarez. He also had the referee Robert Gonzalez, constantly on his case for holding behind the head in which he was deducted two points. Despite all of this, Raheem boxed smart, using his jab effectively to setup combinations and didn’t let Juarez inside to land his hard shots. The end result would be a unanimous decision loss for Raheem in which many felt was a hometown decision.

Raheem would knockout Jose Quintana in his next fight seven months later and this would set up the biggest fight of his career, a fight with Mexican legend Erik Morales. They met on 09/10/05 in front of a huge pro Morales crowd at Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. It was the main event on a huge HBO World Championship Boxing doubleheader. Manny Pacquiao had scored a spectacular sixth round TKO in the co-feature and he was anxiously waiting for Morales to score a victory to secure a rematch of their spectacular bout fought earlier in the year.

Morales had elected to move up to the lightweight division for this bout and he appeared to take Raheem lightly, feeling he wasn’t a threat as he looked ahead to a rematch with Pacquiao. Raheem quickly proved that he wasn’t an easy opponent. Raheem boxed smart as he got off first against Morales and he never allowed Morales to get into any type of a rhythm. The end result was a unanimous decision win for Raheem.

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It was the biggest win of his career and in most cases, the victor would get the spoils, however not in this case. Instead of getting the much deserved shot against Pacquiao, Manny instead elected to give an undeserving rematch to Morales which left Raheem out in the cold. Raheem however would finally get his first shot at a world title as he met former champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas of Brazil.

They met on 04/29/06 at the Foxwood’s Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT and it was for the vacant WBO Lightweight Championship. This matchup was the classic boxer vs puncher kind of fight, however the puncher would prevail as Freitas would win a split decision. It was pretty much the end of the road for Zahir Raheem near the top.

He would go 8-2 with one No Contest from 2007-2014. His record as a professional stands at 35-3 with 21 KO’s. His journey to the top was a rough, bumpy road that included many bad breaks. What would his career have been like had he been handled better. Could he have gotten bigger fights, paydays and would he have won multiple world titles? It’s unfortunate that the boxing world didn’t get to experience how great Zahir Raheem could have been.

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Forgotten Legends: Jose Luis Lopez

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By: Steve Gallegos

During the mid to late 1990’s, Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez’ star was beginning to decline. Many up and coming Mexican fighters were eager to fill that void as Mexico’s next great champion. Fighters like Marco Antonio Barerra, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez were among the fighters of this class, however there was another fighter from Mexico who made a name for himself in his own right and set himself apart from the others. His name was Jose LuisMaestritoLopez.

Lopez wasn’t your typical Mexican fighter. Outside the ring, he was a surfer and motorcycle enthusiast who even rode his motorcycle across Europe. Inside the ring he was an attacker. A straight forward puncher who had the power to turn things around at anytime in any fight. Jose Luis Lopez was born and raised in Durango, Mexico and began boxing at a very young age. His father, Jose Luis Lopez Sr was a former fighter himself and his son followed in his footsteps, turning professional at age 15.

He would go 36-3-1 with 27 KO’s from 1989-1996. He was facing relatively obscure opposition, mostly in his native Mexico. His resume was good enough to land him a world title shot against Irishman Eamonn Loughran. They met on 04/13/96 in Liverpool in the United Kingdom and it was for the WBO Welterweight Championship.

The champion Loughran, hand picked Lopez as an opponent, thinking it would be an easy title defense. He would then find out that Lopez was far being an easy opponent. Lopez showed his tremendous punching power, dropping Loughran three times en route to a first round KO. Jose Luis Lopez was now a world champion and the boxing world began to take notice.

Lopez would make the first defense of his title six months later against hard hitting and future world champion Yory Boy Campas. Campas had only lost one fight in 65 bouts and many thought he would be too stiff of a challenge for Lopez. “Maestrito” broke Campas down with his hard body punching and would score a huge fifth round TKO. Although he had successfully defended his title, Lopez would be stripped of his title after testing positive for Marijuana.

Being stripped of his title didn’t have any negative effect on his career and he was starting to gain some national exposure. 1997 was a big year for Lopez as he started off the year in impressive fashion, making his USA Tuesday Night Fight’s debut with a sixth round TKO over former world champion Jorge Vaca. Three months later he would make his HBO debut, winning a 10 round majority decision over former world champion Aaron Davis, which was an exciting, entertaining bout. These two big wins put Lopez back into another contention for another world title, this time against Ike Quartey.

They met on 10/17/97 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT and it was for the WBA Welterweight Championship. The “Bazooka” Quartey came out using his piston like jab to keep Lopez at bay. In the second round, Lopez landed a big right hand that shook Quartey up and caused his gloves to touch the canvas which was ruled a knockdown. Quartey recoverd and continued to stay on the outside, using his jab to keep Lopez at bay. Lopez had a difficult time throughout the bout as he wasn’t able to get inside on Quartey and his punch output was very low as well.

Lopez, however showed why he should never be counted out as he dropped Quartey again in the 11th round. Quartey was able to get up, however he was hurt and Lopez turned up the pressure, closing the fight in impressive fashion. When the judges scorecards were read, Quartey was awarded a majority decision, however one of the scorecards were added up incorrectly; therefore the decision was changed to a draw.

Jose Luis Lopez‘ stock was at an all time high and he was one of three fighters in line to challenge welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya for a huge payday. Lopez would win his next three bouts, all by KO and it would setup another crack at the WBA Welterweight Championship, this time against James Page.

They met on 12/05/98 at Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ. Page like Lopez was a huge power puncher and he predicted prior to the bout that he would stop Lopez within four rounds. As was the case with many other fighters, Lopez once again proved he was no pushover as he fought a spirited fight for 12 rounds in which he knocked Page down twice and hurt him during many exchanges.

As was the case with Quartey, Lopez wasn’t able to finish his man off when he had him hurt and the end result would be a 12 round unanimous decision win for James Page. It was pretty much the end of the road for Jose Luis Lopez as a serious contender. He wouldn’t fight again for two years and he would go 8-1 with five KO’s as he fought off and on from 2000-2010.

His record as a professional stands at 51-5-2 with 39 KO’s. He was a unique and special kind of fighter that was dangerous the entire time he was in the ring. What would have happened had he been able to finish off his opponents in his two biggest fights? Would he have been able to challenge the likes of Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. Instead, he was a good fighter who was just a punch or two shy of become great.

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Forgotten Legends: Leonard Dorin

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By: Steve Gallegos

Only a handful of world champion boxers have come from the country of Romania. Lucian Bute is probably the best well known Romanian boxer, however before Bute, there was another fighter who was the face of Romanian boxing. His name was LeonardThe LionDorin. Dorin was an all action, in your face kind of fighter that seemed to rarely take a step back. He was one of the most exciting fighters to watch during the early 2000’s.

Dorin was born and raised in Ploiesti, Romania and was a decorated amateur with a record of 239-15. He would represent Romania in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games in which he took the bronze medal both times. Dorin would finally turn pro in 1998, signing with the Canadian promotional company Interbox. He would go 19-0 with six KO’s over the next three years, fighting mostly in his new adopted home of Canada. After winning a unanimous decision over the very popular and exciting Emmanuel Augustus, Dorin was in line for a title shot against Raul Balbi of Argentina.

They met on 01/05/02 at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX and it was for the WBA Lightweight championship. It was a back and forth toe-to-toe war from the opening bell. Both men were busted up, particularly Dorin, who was cut over both eyes. Dorin had the edge though as his shots had more snap on them and he rarely took a step backwards, coming forward for most of the fight. When it was all said and done, Dorin was awarded a very close 12 round split decision. He was now a world champion.

Dorin would face Balbi again in a rematch four months later in his home country of Romania. This time Dorin was dominant, knocking Balbi down en route to a lopsided unanimous decision. Dorin would not fight again for another year. He would return to the ring in May of 2003 in a unification bout with fellow lightweight champion Paul Spadafora. The “Pittsburgh Kid” Spadafora was unbeaten and had the advantage of fighting at home.

They met on 05/17/03 at the Petersen’s Events Center in Pittsburgh, PA for the unification of the WBA and IBF Lightweight titles. As was the case with Balbi, the fight was all action from the opening bell. Dorin would get the better of Spadafora in many exchanges as he got off first and continued to come forward. As the final bell sounded, it appeared to many that Spadafora’s unbeaten streak had come to an end; however the judges would decide otherwise. The final decision would be a split draw and both men would retain their titles.

Many fans and experts believed Dorin deserved the nod and a rematch was demanded, however it didn’t take place. After having difficulties making the 135 lb weight limit and being stripped of his title after failing to make weight for a title defense, Dorin moved up to 140 lbs and would challenge the ultimate blood and guts warrior Arturo Gatti.

They met on 07/24/04 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ for the WBC Super Lightweight Championship. On paper, this bout had all the makings of an all action war, however it was anything but. In the second round, Gatti landed a hard shot to the body that put Dorin down and out. It was Dorin’s first professional loss and it would be his last fight as he would announce his retirement shortly afterwards. He was 34 years old.

His record as a professional stands at 22-1-1 with 8 KO’s. Today, Dorin resides in Romania as he trains up and coming boxers. Many fans including myself, believed Leonard Dorin had a lot more to offer in the sport of boxing. Did his quest for Olympic Gold have a negative effect on his professional career. Had he turned pro sooner, would he have had more high profile bouts and won more world titles? In the end it was a professional career that started too late and ended too soon.
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AP: Arturo Gatti – Leonard Dorin