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: Jesus Chavez

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By: Steve Gallegos

The life of a prize fighter has many up’s and downs. There is the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, as well as the chance that they may not come out of the ring the same as they came in. One fighter who can say they have experienced all of these was former Jr. Lightweight and Lightweight champion JesusEl MatadorChavez.

Chavez was an all action, come forward, aggressive fighter who most of the time was never in a bad fight as he mixed it up with some of the best in his division during the late 90’s and 2000’s. Chavez was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and was later raised in Chicago, IL. At age 16, Chavez decided to take part in an armed robbery and by doing so, he spent four years in prison and was deported back to Mexico. He would then come back to the United States illegally and resided in Austin, TX where he would begin his boxing career.

Chavez turned pro in August of 1994 and would go 22-1 over the next four years and would claim the NABF Jr. Lightweight title in the process. 1997 would be a big year for Chavez as he began to get some national exposure. In August of 1997, He scored an impressive fifth round TKO over Wilfredo Negron on USA’s Tuesday Night Fights and he would follow it up three months later with another impressive TKO win over former world champion Troy Dorsey, on the Lennox Lewis vs Andrew Golota Pay Per View undercard.

He was being handled by Main Events and the future couldn’t have looked more brighter; however he would suffer a huge setback. In late 1997, Chavez was once again deported back to Mexico and it would have a huge effect on his boxing career over the next three years. While living in Mexico, Chavez would continue to fight as he would go 10-0 from 1998-2000. His story and popularity as a fighter encouraged many sports writers and politicians to lobby for Chavez to receive a Visa. One of those politiicans who backed Chavez was then Texas Govenor and future U.S. President George W. Bush.

Finally after being away from the U.S. for three years, Chavez was granted a Visa to work and live in the United States. Upon his return to the U.S., he would go 3-0 and would earn a shot at a world title against super featherweight champion Floyd Mayweather. They met on 11/10/01 in San Francisco for the WBC super featherweight title. Chavez fought a spirited effort and took it to Mayweather for 9 rounds until his corner threw in the towel after the 9th. Despite the disappointing loss, Chavez continued to fight on and after winning his next four bouts, he was back in line for another title shot as he faced the very tough Sirimongkol Singwancha of Thailand.

They met on 08/15/03 at the Convention Center in Austin, TX and it was for the WBC super featherweight title. Chavez didn’t disappoint his hometown fans as he won a convincing 12 round unanimous decision. He was now a world champion. His reign however was a short one as he would lose his title six months later to Mexican legend Erik Morales.

As he did against Mayweather, Chavez fought a spirited fight as he rocked Morales early and looked very close to taking him out. He also showed a lot of heart and guts in this fight as he was dropped twice in the second round and rose to his feet and fought hard. He also suffered both shoulder and knee injuries during the bout and fought most of the bout while injured.

The injuries would sideline Chavez for 15 months and he returned to the ring on 05/28/05 as he fought an entertaining brawl with former champion Carlos Hernandez on the undercard of Julio Cesar Chavez’s farewell bout in Los Angeles, CA. This win would put Chavez back in line for another title shot against lightweight champion Leavander Johnson. They met on 09/17/05 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas for the IBF lightweight title.

The bout was one of three bouts on a big HBO Pay Per View co headlined by Marco Antonio Barerra and Shane Mosley. Chavez came out throwing bombs from the opening bell. Johnson, who was a slick boxer puncher, wasn’t able to weather the onslaught brought by Chavez. “El Matador” pummelled Johnson for 11 rounds before referee Tony Weeks stopped the bout. Many observers at ringside felt that the bout should have been stopped sooner. In either case, Jesus Chavez was once again a world champion, however there was very little to celebrate.

After Leavander Johnson went back to his dressing room, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he had emergency surgery for swelling and bleeding on the brain. After being placed in a coma, Johnson died 5 days later. When a fighter dies inside the ring, it can also leave a huge crushing burden on the other fighter and most times that fighter doesn’t recover mentally. Despite the tragedy, the family of Leavander Johnson encouraged Jesus Chavez to continue fighting.

The tragedy would sideline Chavez for 17 months. He returned to the ring on 02/03/07 when he made his first defense of his title against Julio Diaz. Chavez would go down in the third round from the result of a knee injury and was counted out. He clearly was not the same fighter that he was before. It was pretty much the end of the road at the top for Jesus Chavez. He would go 2-4 from 2008-2010 as he became more of a gatekeeper in the lightweight division.

His record as a professional stands at 44-8 with 30 KO’s. He faced tremendous obstacles in and out of the ring and he was able to overcome most of those obstacles, except for the tragedy of the Leavander Johnson fight. Would his already stellar career have been longer and more successful had that tragedy in Las Vegas not have happened? Like many fighters in the Forgotten Legends” series, we are left with the recurring question “What If?”

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Forgotten Legends: David Reid

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By: Steve Gallegos

Over the years there have been many fighters who were primed for the spotlight and who were destined for greatness only to have their world come crashing down. That was the case with former Jr Middleweight champion David “The American Dream” Reid.

The story of David is one of both triumph and tragedy. Coming from the fighting city of Philadelphia, Reid was an outstanding amateur boxer, making the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, which was probably the last great U.S. Olympic team. The class of 1996 featured future world champions such as Fernando Vargas, Eric Morel, David Diaz, Antonio Tarver and the great Floyd Mayweather.

In the olympic final in Atlanta, Reid was losing badly on points to Cuban Alfredo Duvergel before landing a huge right hand that knocked Duvergel out earning Reid the gold medal. He is one of there U.S. Olympians to win the gold in the last 20 years. His pro debut was delayed due to surgery of a droopy left eyelid. He suffered the eye injury in a 1995 amateur bout with Daniel Santos and the eyelid would have an everlasting effect on his boxing career.

He turned pro on 03/21/97. He was the first fighter ever to make his pro debut on HBO and he won an impressive four round decision against unbeaten Sam Calderon. Reid continued to fight regularly throughout 1997, scoring impressive KO’s including a first round KO over former world champion Jorge Vaca. The opponents he was being matched against all had winning records and all were being nationally televised on USA, Fox Sports and HBO. He was becoming a sensation very quickly and fight fans were always excited whenever Reid was fighting.

1998 was another successful year as he continued to win impressively against very credible opposition. One of his best wins that year was a fourth round KO over former world champion Simon Brown early that summer. He then was faced with a tough challenge from undefeated southpaw James “Cowboy” Coker. His management and trainer wanted him to face a tall, akward southpaw as it would better him in the long run and make him into a world champion. Reid rose to the occassion and boxed smartly throughout the bout.

Despite suffering two late knockdowns, Reid won a lopsided unanimous decision improving his record to 11-0. That same year, his fellow olympic teammates Mayweather and Vargas won world titles. It was now time for Reid to fight for a world title. He would get his shot against tough WBA Jr. Middleweight Champion Laurent Boudouani of France.

They met on 03/06/99 in Atlantic City. Reid boxed smartly against the champion and rocked him late in the bout. The end result was a convincing unanimous decision victory for Reid. He was now a world champion. He would defend his title that summer against Australian Kevin Kelly winning a unanimous decision.

He then faced former WBC Super Welterweight Champion “Brooklyn” Keith Mullings at the Hard Rock hotel in Las Vegas. It was rough, sluggish fight in which Mullings even intentionally fouled Reid by hitting him in the face with his knee. It wasn’t a pretty fight; however Reid got the job done, winnning a unanimous decision. This set up a mega fight with Felix Trinidad.

Trinidad was coming off of the biggest win of his career over Oscar De La Hoya in one of the biggest bouts of the 1990’s. They met on 03/03/00 at the brand new outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. Reid fought well throughout the first half of the fight and dropped Trinidad in the third round. Trinidad recovered well and began a huge rally in the second half of the fight in which he battered the much less experienced Reid, dropping him there times in the bout en route to an easy 12 round decision victory.

This particular fight would serve as the breaking point for Reid’s career as he was put into a huge fight against a very experienced, dangerous opponent too soon. He would fight and win three times throughout 2000 and 2001 in unimpressive fashion. He would look good throughout the first half of the fight only to fade in the later rounds. His droopy eyelid was continuing to worsen and his world was about to come crashing down hard.

On 11/11/01 he faced relatively unknown Sam Hill and would suffer a bad ninth round TKO ending his career for good. He retired with a record of 17-2 with 7 KO’s. What’s even more impressive is his opponents combined record of 470-88.

Today Reid resides in Michigan and is battling many demons outside the ring. It’s been reported that he suffers from depression and spends most time in seclusion while reading many books and magazines. In the summer of 2005, Reid locked himself inside his car with the windows rolled up on a very hot day. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to the hospital in which he had to be revived by shock pads. He doesn’t have much to do with boxing these days; however he is viewed a symbol of success for many up and coming Philadelphia fighters who look up to Reid as a hero.

It’s very sad to see what has happened to the once budding superstar and it brings tears to this reporter’s eyes as this piece is being written. What could it have been like had he not suffered the eye injury? What could it have been like if his managment team brought him along the right way and not put him into a fight he wasn’t ready for? We are left with the bittersweetness of a short career full of great memories for as long as it lasted.
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