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

“Prince” Naseem Hamed – Hall of Fame Worthy?

naseem-carpet1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Steve Gallegos

This past weekend in London, over 18,000 fans packed the ExCel Arena to watch Tyson Fury take on Dereck Chisora. One of those fans on hand to watch the event was former featherweight kingpin “PrinceNaseem Hamed. In between rounds of one of the bouts, we caught an glimpse of Hamed via the TV cameras. “Naz” looked to be a shell of his former self as he has put on a significant amount of weight over the years; however he still sported that same smile he had when he ruled the 126 lb division for the latter half of the 1990’s.

Every couple of years the discussion arises about whether Hamed should be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. “Naz” left behind a legacy of dominance and showmanship and many believe it was a legacy uncompleted. Many fans remember Hamed for his arrogance and felt he was a fraud instead of a legitimate champion. We are going to focus why “Naz” is Hall of Fame worthy and as well as giving this man some shine that he deserves.

Hamed set the standard for flashy ring entrances as his entrances were a mix of smoke, lights, music and dancing. He always had a new trick up his sleeve, whether it was being brought out on a magic carpet or coming into the ring in a Chevy Impala Convertible. His entrances were lengthy and most times it would frustrate his opponent, allowing “Naz” to get inside of their head. Almost each and every ring entrance was topped off by a front sommersault over the top rope into the ring. He was also great at hyping up a fight and he knew how to get inside of his opponent’s head by belittling them during press conferences and telling them that he was going to knock them out, most of the time making good on his promises.

Inside the ring, he was a master showman. He was a very unorthodox southpaw who held his hands low and threw punches from the most akward angles. He had tremendous power in either hand as he scored sensational knockouts. Hamed was never in a bad fight and even though he tasted the canvas on many occasions, he would always rise to his feet and knock his opponent out. (Ie; his sensational knockout win over Kevin Kelley in which both fighters scored three knockdowns each.) He was a major draw no matter where he fought and he would pack huge arenas in the UK as well as the U.S.

He also helped put the featherweight division on the map in the 90’s and would win three world titles en-route to earning million dollar paydays, which were unheard of for a featherweight. He won and defended his WBO featherweight title 16 times and was one of the sport’s first “Super” champions. Many believe he didn’t fight anybody good, however his resume of opponents is not bad. He beat top notch world champions such as Manuel Medina, Tom Johnson, Kevin Kelley, Wilfredo Vazquez, Wayne McCullough, Paul Ingle, Cesar Soto and Vuyani Bungu.

His record as a professional was 36-1 with 31 KO’s and his only loss came against the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera. So the question remains. Is “PrinceNaseem Hamed Hall of Fame worthy? Based on his accomplishments and the legacy he created, the answer is “Yes”. Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he has accomplished and the good he did for the sport of boxing. There wasn’t another fighter like him and he is a fighter that many of us wish was still around.

Forgotten Legends: Kennedy McKinney

By: Steve Gallegos

Throughout the 1980’s into the 90’s, the Heavyweight division in boxing still hailed at the top; however in the early 1990’s a string of fresh new talent began to emerge in the lower weight divisions. Some of that talent included fighters like Johnny Tapia, Michael Carbajal, Kevin Kelley, Junior Jones and Orlando Canizales. They were little big men as they were smaller guys who packed a heavyweight punch. There was another member of that elite group that has long since been forgotten. He was former two-time super bantamweight champion, Kennedy KingMcKinney.

A very exiciting, hard hitting fighter with a iron will and chin, McKinney put the super bantamweight division on notice in the 1990’s. McKinney was a very good amateur who competed in many national tournaments. He represented the United States at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea in which he brought back the Gold medal in the bantamweight division. He turned professional in February of 1989 and would go 21-0-1 with 13 KO’s over the next 3 1/2 years. He would get his first crack at a world title when he faced South African Welome Ncita.

They met on 12/02/92 in a very small arena in Tortoli, Sardegna, Italy for the IBF Jr. featherweight championship. The early rounds were a back and forth war waged on the inside. In the middle portion of the fight, McKinney began to find his range with his right hand. He was setting up the right hand with his left jab and hurt Ncita many times in the sixth, seventh and eighth rounds. The pace picked back up in the ninth as both fighters had they’re moments.

In the 10th, Ncita would have his best round as he rocked McKinney and almost had him on the canvas. The 11th round was the best round of the fight as Ncita rocked McKinney with a combination. McKinney was hurt, turned his back and went down. It appeared McKinney had quit; however he got up and took the count. Ncita went in for the kill, landing hard shots to the body and head; however he punched himself out and McKinney once again found his range. Towards the end of the round while against the ropes, McKinney landed a flush right hand that put Ncita down and out. It was a tremendous ending to a great fight and McKinney was now a world champion. He would successfully defend his title five times over the next 15 months, two by KO including a majority decison win over Ncita in a rematch.

On 08/20/94, McKinney traveled to South Africa to defend his title against then unknown South African challenger Vuyani Bungu. It wasn’t McKinney’s night as Bungu controlled the bout with his crisp boxing en route to a convincing 12 round decision in Ring Magazine’s upset of the year. McKinney would take a year off from boxing and returned the in August of 1995 with an eighth round TKO over unbeaten John Lowey to claim the WBU super bantamweight title. This setup a showdown with future Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera.

Barrera came into the bout with an outstanding record of 39-0  with 27 KO’s and he successfully defended his super bantamweight title four times. They met on 02/03/96 at the legendary Great Western Forum in Englewood, CA for the WBO super bantamweight title. It would be the first main event on HBO’s legendary Boxing After Dark series. Earlier in the week at a press conference to promote the fight, McKinney got under Barrera’s skin by telling him that he couldn’t beat him and how dare he try to come in and beat him while calling him “Boy”. Barerra got upset and stood up and clocked McKinney with a right hand; therefore it was a very intense atmosphere going into the bout.

It was a pro-Barrera crowd that night and the Forum crowd booed when McKinney was introduced. The first round was all action as both men had their moments. McKinney was successful with his jab and was able to get in a couple of hard right hands. Barrera however was unphased as he landed hard shots of his own to the body and head while taking the round. The second round was more of the same as McKinney was able to weather Barrera’s vicious attack and stuck to his game plan by throwing his jab to set up his terrific right hand and had better success than the previous round.

The third and fourth rounds were much of the same as McKinney controlled the pace with his jab and right hands. He used his longer reach to his advantage by not allowing Barrera to get on the inside and his punch output began to increase. As the bout neared the midway point, McKinney elected to abandon his jab and go toe to toe with Barrera. Both men landed hard shots to the body and head and it was nonstop as the bell sounded to end the sixth. In the eighth, the tide turned in favor of Barerra as he landed a hard combination that put McKinney on the canvas. Barerra, known as being a great finisher went in for the kill landing hard shots and put McKinney on the canvas again. McKinney was able to get up and survive Barrera’s onslaught to make it out of the round.

Barrera continued to pressure McKinney in the ninth and would put Kennedy down again with an accumulation of punches. McKinney showed amazing heart by getting up off the canvas again and make it out of the round. McKinney regained the momentum in the 10th as he was able to land his right hand at will, stunning Barerra and causing him to back up. In the 11th, McKinney re-established his jab and he was able to land a hard flush right hand that buckled Barrera, causing his glove to touch the canvas; therefore it was scored as a knockdown. McKinney had the momentum going into the final round; however McKinney’s corner told him he needed a knockout.

In the early stages of the 12th, Barrera put McKinney down with another quick combination; however McKinney appeared to slip and didn’t feel it was a true knockdown. In either case, it was scored a knockdown. McKinney elected to stand and trade with Barrera, giving it his all. Barrera would put McKinney down with a hard body shot, however referee Pat Russell unusually ruled it a slip. McKinney was hurt and Barrera went in for the kill to put McKinney down with a straight right hand as referee Pat Russel stopped the bout.

Larry Merchant said it best, “A fitting end to a great, great prizefight“. It was a great way for boxing to start off 1996 and it was 1996’s “Fight of the Year”. Despite taking the brutal punishment, McKinney was back in the ring only three months later and won his next two bouts by decision, however the performances were subpar. 14 months after the sensational war with Barerra, McKinney was back in line for another title shot as he went back to South Africa to challenge Vuyani Bungu in a rematch, however he would once again come up short by losing a close 12 round decision. McKinney once again wasted no time and he was back in the ring only a month later as he won a unanimous decison over former world champion Hector Acero-Sanchez. He would win his next fight by TKO to set up another title shot. This time against super bantamweight champion “Poison” Junior Jones.

Jones was on a high as he was coming off of two big wins over Marco Antonio Barrera. He was in the top 10 pound for pound and was confident he was unbeatable at 122 lbs. They met on 12/19/97 at Madison Square Garden, New York City. It was the co-feature on a huge night headlined by “Prince” Naseem Hamed, who was making his American debut against Kevin Kelley. Jones was hoping to land that big money fight against Hamed and was very confident he would overpower McKinney. McKinney appeared to show Jones no respect by turning his back during the referee’s instructions. McKinney also said that Jones had a glass jaw and the fight wouldn’t go eight rounds.

Jones, an excellent boxer with a great jab and controlled the pace of the first two rounds. In the third round, Jones picked up the pace and put McKinney on the canvas with a good combination to the body and head. McKinney got up off the canvas and Jones went in for the kill, hoping to take his man out. In the middle of Jones’ onslaught, McKinney was able to land a hard right hand that buckled Jones towards the end of the round. Jones came out in the fourth, still dazed and winded from punching himself out. McKinney patiently began to stalk Jones, landing right hands at will. Within the last half minute of the round, both men threw right hands, however McKinney’s landed first and it landed hard, putting Jones on the canvas. Junior was able to get up, however he had nothing left and when the referee said fight, Jones then stumbled and fell forward, causing referee Wayne Kelly to stop the fight.

It was a great comeback win for McKinney and he was back on top as he was once again a world champion. “Prince” Naseem Hamed would score an impressive fourth round knockout of his own in the main event. McKinney came into the ring after the fight with his new title belt to congratulate “Naz”, hoping he could get that big money fight. Negotiations began for a mega fight between Hamed and McKinney and it was close to being scheduled for “Halloween” night, 1998 in Atlantic City, however Hamed elected to fight Wayne McCullough instead.

McKinney then decided to move up to featherweight to challenge WBC champion Luisito Espinosa. They met on 11/28/98 in Indio, CA and the winner of this fight was promised to get a shot at “Prince” Hamed. McKinney was coming off an 11 month layoff and the ring rust showed in the ring as he was destroyed in two rounds. It would be the end of Kennedy McKinney’s career near the top. He would go 3-2 from 1999-2003 before retiring with a record of 36-6-1 with 19 KO’s. Today he runs a boxing gym in Olive Branch, MS. He was a hard nose, blood and guts warrior who was right there in front of his opponent for every second of every round. Probably the most successful American super bantamweight of all time and he put the division on the map in the 1990’s. We hope to see him in Canastota someday.

Barrera vs McKinney