A fighter’s father till the end

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The year was 1991. An eerie silence swallowed the entire dugout of the Araneta Coliseum shortly after Luisito Espinosa yielded his World Boxing Association bantamweight title to Venezuelan Israel Contreras. It was a helluva fight, with Espinosa knocking down Contreras early on before running out of steam and losing by fifth-round knockout before a shocked hometown crowd.

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A number of sportswriters, including this backpack-trotting deadline-beater, gathered at the dugout to check on Espinosa’s condition. While everyone was zeroing in on the fighter, I approached Louie’s manager Hermie Rivera who had isolated himself in a corner. “That’s it, folks,” quipped a visibly forlorn Hermie. “I’m sorry we let you down.” Rivera’s face then turned pale and as he started having difficulty breathing, he asked the crew for bottled water. Rivera was clearly fighting back tears and the dim scenario only lightened up when basketball superstar Robert Jaworski entered the dugout and consoled everyone with inspiring words.

Espinosa was Rivera’s first world champion and the bond between them was unlike any other in pro boxing. You can just imagine my surprise when, a few months later, Hermie gave me a call and asked me to proceed to the L&M Gym in Sampaloc, Manila for a one-on-one chat. It was there that he broke the news that he had severed his ties with Espinosa. He thought Espinosa was manipulated by the people around him, but spoke no further as he chose to keep the good memories. “I lost a son, I lost a son,” Hermie kept telling me.

Rivera produced one more world champion in 1992, when Fil-American Morris East stunned Japanese Akinobu Hiranaka for the WBA junior welterweight title. Rivera did not just guide East to the world title, he also used his connections in the United States to help Morris find the father who abandoned him. East’s reign was short-lived and equally tumultuous, and down the road Hermie distanced himself from the emotionally draining job of managing boxers. With his unique flair for writing and public speaking, Rivera dabbled into writing and providing commentary for several big fights.

Settled overseas, Hermie made it a point to visit the country every now and then to renew his ties with the boxing folks. If he was not treating us to his sumptuous kalderatang kambing, he was sharing over and over the great fistic stories of yesteryears at his favorite hangout in Malate, Manila. Like a father, he spoke with great pride when he found out that I had become a lawyer and was a budding commentator on television. “You know, Ed, until I met you I thought nobody could match me when it comes to coming up with metaphors,” he once told me. To which I replied: “Just following in your footsteps, Hermie.”

Hermie had sent out another invite for a future chat when his family broke the news that he passed away following a major stroke. Hermie had lived a full 77 summers, but I always felt that he had more to give local boxing. He was that hooked on the sport.

As per our last conversation, in large part through the magic of Facebook, he was writing a book and wanted me to check some of the thoughts he had scribbled down. He never veered away from boxing and every time our conversation ended, he always asked me about one thing: “Ed, kindly update me on the progress of Louie’s case. Sana maka-kolekta na siya (I hope he can finally collect his purse).” Espinosa, for those not in the know, has not been paid his purse for his 1997 defense of the featherweight title against Carlos Rios in Koronadal City.

Indeed, down to his last heave of breath, Hermie was a fighter’s father.

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For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@yahoo.com.

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