Ted Sares recounts one of the great fights of the 1990s and of all-time, really. In 1991 in San Antonio, Robert "Pikin" Quiroga and "Kid" Akeem Anifowoshe put on a stunning display of courage and ferocity that won the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
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At my signal, unleash hell.
...it was the intensity of the bout and not the gloves that had caused his fighter's injuries... you'll see a fight like this every 10 years. Neither fighter clinched. Every round was three minutes of bombardment.
--Billy Baxter, Kid Akeem's manager
The tragedy is that his [The Kid's] non-ring habits cost him the championship.
They buried Kid Akeem a week ago yesterday [January 17, 1995] in Lagos, Nigeria, but there will be no cries here against the rotten business that puts the dents in boxers' brains. When boxing kills, it usually has accomplices.
Most lists of Greatest Fights include Moore vs. Durelle, Castillo vs. Corrales, and Chacon vs Limon, but no list is truly complete without what occurred between "Kid Akeem" Anifowoshe (23-1, 18 KOs) and Robert "Pikin" Quiroga (20-2, 11 KOs) on June 15, 1991 at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio, Texas. This was about two fighters who left absolutely nothing in the ring This was about blood and guts. This was about hell in the ring. These two battled for twelve ferocious rounds for the IBF Super Flyweight Title in an ebb and flow savagery that not only was named Ring magazine Fight of the Year for 1991 but was one of the best fights ever in the super flyweight division. The twelve brutal rounds landed both fighters in the hospital and as close to the brink as two combatants can get. It brought to mind the first Ward-Gatti bout and the tragic Laverne Roach-Georgie Small war in 1950 and the equally tragic Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan battle some 25 years later.
The mind numbing blows were exchanged on an even basis with felonious intent. Heads and necks were snapped back malifically and in a way that would force a fast stoppage in such a fight today. First, one would take control; then the other. This was extraordinary back and forth action that tested and marked the courage of each fighter. Akeem would throw well-leveraged double and even triple left hooks that made Quiroga's face a bloody mess, but the San Antonio native would suddenly roar back with a violent volley of sweat-splattering and vicious punches. The crowd stood throughout and remain standing after each round roaring its approval. They sensed, indeed knew, they were witnessing something special.
The two fought to a bloody standstill, with Quiroga getting what some ringside observers called a hometown decision. Some say he really did not beat the much taller and more skilled Anifowoshe , but Quiroga imposed his will on the Kid using a straight-ahead style and his own vicious left hooks to counter the Kid's slick boxing skills, superior height and lethal leads. Both had great chins, and both took an enormous amount of punishment. In fact, post-fight reports said Anifowoshe had absorbed more than 400 blows to the head, while Pikin needed three hours of plastic surgery to repair his own injuries. While extremely close, I personally thought the undefeated Kid had won by a hair, but a draw would have been more than fair. In a perfect world, this fight would not have had a loser. I also thought the Kid had paid too much of a price. Unfortunately, this observation was later proven to be correct.
And in this connection, things quickly developed into more than simply a great fight. Kid Akeem began vomiting blood and collapsed in the ring shortly after the end of the fight. Some thought he was shocked at losing the decision, but in reality, he had developed a severe blood clot. "By the time I got into the ring, Akeem was having convulsions," said Dr. Gerardo Zavala, a neurosurgeon who thankfully was one of two attending ringside physicians that night.
As they carried him out of the arena on a stretcher in an all-too familiar scenario (with his wife Sharon following), a number of fans, reflecting the much darker side of the sport, chanted: "DOA, DOA," "Dead on Arrival." I was reminded of the 1981 Johnny Owen-Lupe Pinter fight at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles when Welshman Owen was carried out after being knocked out by Lupe, and his corner men were shoved and drenched with beer by the Pinter fans. Johnny died two months later. There can be a very dark side to boxing, and it showed its ugly face in these two fights.
The opposing fans almost got their wish as the Kid went from critical-list to coma to consciousness and finally to wheelchair., But he survived and was even visited in the hospital by Pikin, who brought a vase of flowers. The Kid checked out of Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio and returned to his home in Las Vegas, but he left against the advice of his doctor. He appeared drained and had to be helped from his hospital bed to a wheelchair. His surgeon was upset over his premature departure and wanted him to stay at least until they found a doctor in Las Vegas. There were unresolved issues concerning brain swelling and the need for more tests. Whether Kid Akeem ever permitted these issues to be addressed remains uncorroborated, but, by all accounts, they were not addressed in the U.S.1
Unfortunately, this epic battle did end Anifowoshe's title dreams and a promising career that recalled memories of Nigerian warriors Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger. One can only speculate as to how great he would have turned out. Later, the belt he won from his lone professional title, the North American Boxing Federation super flyweight championship, popped up in a Las Vegas pawn shop. He never fought again, was subsequently deported to Nigeria apparently for drug offenses, and died just three and a half years later in his home country. He had collapsed in a shower in his family home after complaining of headaches. He was 26. There are conflicting reports as to the exact cause of his death, though complications from injuries suffered in the Quiroga fight seem likely to have contributed to it. There are other rumors surrounding his death, but since I could not corroborate them, I would just as soon not go into detail about them. Suffice it to say that he was reported to have been seen training in some Nigerian gyms and planning to make a run for the African title.
Whatever the case, the memory I want is the one of a proud black warrior from the Lagos ghetto of Mushin, Nigeria presenting an almost majestic, royal presence in the ring. I was indeed fortunate enough to see him fight on more than one occasion in his adopted home of Las Vegas. He was very special.
Pikin (which means "little hot pepper") Quiroga, of San Antonio, Texas, began his professional career in 1987 at the age of seventeen and would go undefeated in his first twenty bouts. He captured the world title on April 21, 1990, by beating Juan Polo Perez by decision in England and went on to successfully defend it five times before losing it to Julio Cesar Borboa in 1993. After losing his title, he sat out for almost two years before returning and dropping an eight round decision to Ancee Gedeon, but he will always be remembered for his 1991 fight against Anifowoshe in his home town of San Antonio. He also was one of the few who knew when to walk away and at that point decided enough was enough. He retired at age twenty-five, an age when most fighters are just reaching their peak, and remarkably kept his word and never fought again. But he clearly was never the same after the Anifowoshe fight.
He found satisfaction in his post-fight career first by counseling troubled youths, bringing an authenticity to the job because of his own early brushes with the law, albeit for minor offenses. Quiroga was so humble that it took months working together before his co-workers found out he had been a world boxing champion.
Because of the low pay in the public health field and with a two-year-old daughter and an eighteen-year-old from a previous marriage, Pikin took advantage of an offer to sell cars for auto baron BJ "Red" McCombs. He excelled becoming a top seller with his infectious personality that allowed him to befriend everybody from doctors and lawyers, to insurance agents and bikers as friends.
He simply had a wonderful and charismatic personality and was a great fan favorite, particularly in San Antonio (he was that boxing-crazy city's first world champion). Not unlike many other fearless fighters, he was gentle, friendly, and humble and would always have time for each and every fan. In the ring, however, he was the quintessential Mexican warrior, and there is no greater boxing accolade than that. Sadly, his legacy also would be marred.
On August 17, 2004, Robert "Pikin" Quiroga was ambushed from behind and stabbed multiple times in his hometown. Quiroga passed away on the way to the hospital. He was thirty-four and his death was greatly mourned. I choose not to delve into the circumstance, as it would give the cowardly and soulless perpetrator, Richard "Scarface" Merla, more attention than he is worth. Suffice it to say justice has been served-to a degree-- but that's another story for someone else to tell.
Two brave men who had a combined total of just forty-six bouts. On a hot summer night in 1991, they both disregarded their own well being as they approached (and perhaps went beyond) the edge in a fight that defined their respective careers, and that is the legacy I attribute to them. Two warriors who chose to do it their way; they let it all hang out. One made it; the other did not. Tragedy would later take them both, but hopefully they are together again.
What made this indelible for me was not the spectacle of The Kid collapsing in his corner. That was chilling enough, but to hear the fans chant "D.O.A" as he was being carried out of the arena made me rethink my great affinity for this thing called boxing. From that day forward, the pendulum of guilty pleasure started swinging in earnest toward something more realistic.