Forgotten Legends: Freddie Norwood

By: Steve Gallegos

During his heyday, nobody brought the heat better than “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. He fought with an aggressive, take no prisoners kind of style that made for some classic battles. Anyone synonymous with Marvin Hagler had to be a special fighter and that was the case with former featherweight champion FreddieLil HaglerNorwood. Norwood was similar to Hagler in many ways. He sported a shaven skull and inside the ring he was a southpaw who was an offensive machine. He loved to come forward and put together hard combinations to the body and head without much fear of what was coming in return.

Norwood was born and raised in Saint Louis, MO which has a well known legacy for boxing as it produced three heavyweight champions in Sonny Liston and the Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon. Norwood would turn pro in August of 1989 and would go 26-0-1 with 18 KO’s over the next eight years, which included a win over future, long time super bantamweight champion Vuyani Bungu. It was in 1997 that the boxing public began to take notice of Norwood. On 07/13/97, Norwood would make his national debut on CBS, taking on tough and rugged journeyman Darryl Pinckney. It would be one of the last bouts fought on CBS in the 1990’s. Prior to the bout, the legendary trainer and commentator Gil Clancy highly praised Norwood and felt he should be in line for a world title.

Inside the ring, Norwood dominated Pinckney in spectacular fashion as he won a 10 round unanimous decision. During the post fight interview, he called out Vuyani Bungu, who was a super bantamweight titleholder at the time. Norwood would follow this performance up with another exciting performance over Agapito “Cyclone” just one month later. He then called out another Jr. featherweight champion in Junior Jones. The major titleholders at 122 and 126 lbs weren’t responding to the challenges called out by Norwood, however he would finally get a shot at a world title when he faced former super bantamweight titleholder Antonio Cermeno.

They met on 04/03/98 at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and it was for the WBA featherweight championship. Norwood dominated Cermeno from start to finish as he won a lopsided unanimous decision. After nine long years, Freddie Norwood was finally a world champion. He would make his first defense of the title just two months later on ABC’s Wide World of Sports as he would dismantle very tough Nicuraguan challenger Genaro Rios in eight rounds. After the KO victory, Norwood began calling out “Prince” Naseem Hamed, saying “Come on Princess, let’s fight”. Hamed didn’t answer the call, so Norwood continued to fight on as he successfully defended his title four times over the next year.

Norwood would then make his HBO debut in 1999 as he took on future Hall of Famer Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico. They met on 09/11/99 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. On paper, this fight was guaranteed to be a barn burner, however it was far from it. The fight was a rough, ugly “stinker” in which neither fighter really got anything going. The end result was a controversial, unanimous decision win for Norwood. “Lil Hagler” bounced back at the start of the new millenium with two impressive defenses of his title over unbeaten challengers Takashi Koshimoto and Julio Pablo Chacon.

On 09/09/00, Norwood took on Derrick “Smoke” Gainer on a big Pay Per View card at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA. Norwood was unable to make the contracted weight for the bout and it was one of the first times that a title was lost on the scales. Inside the ring, the fight was an all action slugfest that had just about everything from knockdowns to low blows. The referee Paul Sita made some unusual calls as he administered counts for low blows as well as counting during an instance when both men went to the canvas while tying each other up. Norwood would lose by 11th round TKO in unusual fashion as Gainer put Norwood down with a series of low blows after Norwood hit him with a series of low blows.

After this bout, Norwood began having legal troubles outside the ring as he was arrested and charged with both kidnapping and assault. He would remain out of boxing for six years and would make a comeback in 2006 going 5-3 from 2006-2011. His record as a professional stands at 43-4-1 with 23 KO’s. Who knows what could have happened in those six years he was away from the ring. Could he have bounced back and won more world titles and faced off with the likes of Marco Antonio Barerra, Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao? Instead all we are left with is the memories of a very tough and skillfull fighter who didn’t live up to his full potential.

Norwood vs Marquez

Forgotten Legends: Derrick “Smoke” Gainer

By: Steve Gallegos

They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that was the case most of the time whenever former featherweight champion Derrick “Smoke” Gainer stepped into the ring. A southpaw standing  5’9″, he was very tall for a featherweight and along with excellent skill and speed, he was a force in a very hot featherweight division throughout the mid-nineties and early 2000’s.

Hailing from Pensacola, Fl, Gainer was often compared to his lifelong buddy Roy Jones Jr. Jones always went out his way to lend a hand to his buddy, helping him get televised bouts on his undercards. Jones most times would say that he wouldn’t fight if “Smoke” wasn’t on the card. Gainer turned pro in July, 1990 and would go 16-3 before facing facing former featherweight champion Kevin Kelley in June, 1996. This would be the 1st time Gainer would fight in front of a national audience on HBO against a very seasoned veteran.

Gainer boxed very smartly, using his speed to outbox Kelley throughout most of the fight. Despite being knocked down in the third and fifth rounds, he would drop Kelley in fourth and would cause Kelley’s right eye to completely shut. Gainer was well on his way to scoring an upset win before Kelley dug deep and landed a huge left hand shot that Gainer didn’t see coming which put him down and out. Despite losing, Gainer performed impressively in his first big fight in front of a national audience. Gainer lobbied for a rematch and would constantly call Kevin Kelley urging him to give him another fight and when he wasn’t speaking with Kelley, he would speak with wife Valerie.

After winning his next six bouts all by knockout, he finally got his rematch with Kelley on 07/18/98 at the theater in Madison Square Garden. It would be the co-feature for Roy Jones’ Light Heavyweight unification against Lou Del Valle. Gainer dominated the fight from start to finish, dropping Kelley twice and was many times close to knocking Kelley out. There was a huge mutual respect between the two fighters and both men hugged each other prior to the start of the 12th round. Gainer would win a 12 round unanimous decision and he celebrated as if he won a world title.

After getting his revenge on Kevin Kelley, he headlined the final main event on USA’s Tuesday Night Fights putting on an impressive performance in winning a 10 round unanimous decision.  He began working his way towards a world title and he would get a shot at super featherweight champion, now top tier trainer Robert Garcia in a rematch of their 1994 bout won by Garcia. The bout was scheduled for 06/05/99 on the undercard of Roy Jones’ title unification bout with Reggie Johnson. Many hardcore fight fans, including myself were very excited for this bout and it more than likely would have stolen the show that night; however Garcia pulled out of the bout within the last 24 hours due to an issue with officiating.

It was a crushing disappointment for “Smoke” and he even admitted that he cried once he found out the fight was scrapped. He would still fight that night, scoring a sixth round knockout. He would finally get his title shot in March of 2000 against super featherweight champion Diego “Chico” Corrales. After outboxing Corrales in the first two rounds, Chico knocked Gainer down twice in the third. Gainer got up off the canvas and didn’t appear to be hurt, even answering “Yes” clearly when asked if he was ok; however referee Jay Nady prematurely stopped the fight. It was another bad break for “Smoke”; however six months later he got another crack at a world title, this time against tough and rugged featherweight champion Freddie “Lil Hagler” Norwood.

The fight was an all action, foul filled slugfest in which numerous low blows were exchanged between the two fighters. Gainer performed well, weathering Norwood’s constant body attack and dropping him twice in the fight. In the 11th Norwood would hit Gainer low and Gainer retaliated with two low blows of his own causing Norwood to go down. Referee Paul Sita oddly counted to 20 and then stopped the fight. It was a very unusual ending, but in either case, Derrick Gainer was now a world champion and he immediately went into Roy Jones’ dressing room to celebrate his victory prior to Jones defending his light heavyweight championship in the main event.

He would successfully defend his featherweight title 5 times before losing to Juan Manuel Marquez via a seventh round technical decison in November, 2003. He would go 4-1 from 2005-2012 including a 12 round decision loss to featherweight champion Chris John in 2005. Today Gainer devotes alot of his time to helping the community. He started a charter school for troubled teens in 1999 and in 2013 he started a childhood obesity program called Fit Nation. On 12/17/13, he posted on Smoke that he plans on making a comeback in 2014. While at times, he couldn’t escape the shadow of his lifelong pal Roy Jones Jr., he definitely was capable of holding his own on his own. We definitely wish him the best on his comeback.