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: Gabriel Ruelas

By: Steve Gallegos

Over the years in boxing, there have been successful pairs of brothers to have great careers and win world titles. There were the Spinks Brothers: Michael and Leon, The Bredhals: Jimmy and Johnny and more recently the “Brothers” Klitschko. There were also another pair of brothers in the 1990’s who found success in the prize ring while experiencing the highest of highs and lowest of lows. They were the Ruelas brothers: Gabriel and Rafael.

Gabriel Ruelas was a young champion on the rise before tragedy struck one spring night in 1995, which had an everlasting effect on his career going forward. Ruelas was born in Jalisco, Mexico and raised in Southern California. One day in 1982, he and his brother Rafael came across a boxing gym and the both of them took up the sport.

Ruelas had an amatuer career of 53-3 and would turn pro in 1988. An exciting come-forward fighter who loved to give and take inside the ring, Ruelas would win his first 21 fights, 12 by KO. On 04/14/90, Ruelas faced off with Jeff Franklin and would suffer a terrible elbow injury during a clinch in the seventh round, causing the fight to be stopped. The injury would sidline Ruelas for over a year.

He returned to the ring in June of 1991 and would win his next 12 bouts before facing the legendary super featherweight champion Azumah Nelson on 02/20/93 in Mexico City, Mexico. Ruelas fought hard and gave the “Professor” a run for his money in losing a very close majority decison.

Ruelas rebounded well from the loss and would win his next six bouts all by KO before getting another crack at a world title, this time against super featherweight champion Jesse James Leija.

They met on 09/17/94 in Las Vegas. It was an exciting back and forth fight in which Ruelas tasted the canvas once and Leija tasting the canvas twice. The end result would be an unanimous decision win for Ruelas. He was now a world champion.

He would defend his title once before the night of 05/06/95 when he faced Columbian challenger Jimmy Garcia. The fight took place at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and it was the co-feature on a big Pay Per View card which featured his brother Rafael in the main event against Oscar De La Hoya.

Ruelas was dominate throughout the fight, punishing the Columbian challenger before the fight was finally stopped in the 11th. Garcia then collapsed inside the ring after the fight and had to be taken to the hospital. He died nine days later.

Ruelas was devastated by the tragedy, in disbelief that another man died by his hands. He returned to the ring just seven months later, facing Azumah Nelson in a rematch. Ruelas, who was still recovering from the tragedy of the Garcia fight was destroyed in give rounds.

He would fight three more times in 1996 and 1997 before getting another title shot against the exciting and hard hitting Arturo Gatti. They met on 10/04/97 in Atlantic City. The fight was the co-feature on the Lennox Lewis vs Andrew Golota undercard.

It was a war from the opening bell with both fighters exchanging furious punches. Ruelas rocked Gatti in both the fourth and fifth rounds and was very close to taking Gatti out before getting caught with huge left hook that put Ruelas down, ending the fight.

It was a spritied effort by Ruelas and the fight was voted as 1997’s fight of the year. It would be Ruelas’ last shot at a world title. He would go 5-3 from 1998-2003 before hanging them up for good. His record as a professional stands at 49-7 with 24 KO’s.

It’s interesting to imagine how his career would have been had that tragedy on 05/06/95 not have happened. It’s another one of those stories of “what could have been”. In the end it was a great career filled with a lot of great memories and excitement for boxing fans.