Quiroga vs “Kid” Akeem: 20 Year Anniversary

By Joseph Herron: On June 15th, 1991, in a packed HemisFair Arena, the city of San Antonio was, at long last, hosting a Championship title bout between undefeated Nigerian fighter Akeem Anifowoshe and the Alamo City’s first World Champion, Robert Quiroga. The highly anticipated Championship bout was for “El Pikin’s” IBF super-flyweight title. On this night, Quiroga was the epitome of heart and determination and wouldn’t relinquish his title to the powerful challenger who was originally from Nigeria. Robert Quiroga not only fought the fight of a lifetime, but the San Antonio champion cemented his legacy as one of the toughest fighters of the modern era by giving the fans the “Fight of the Year” for 1991.

Alongside Quiroga, during his entire journey to greatness, stood Jose Angel Lopez, often referred to by many in San Antonio as the “Trainer of Champions”.

“I remember going into that fight being very nervous,” recollects Lopez. “I was really, really worried. Akeem was 23-0 with 19 knock-outs and had a massive reach advantage. My boxer looked at me before the fight and told me he was the world champion for a reason and that meant he would fight anyone with no problem. Robert told me not to worry and proved that he was indeed a world champion that night. I’ll never forget that.”

“That was the extraordinary thing about Robert. A lot of fighters now are very selective when they choose their opponents,” notices the San Antonio trainer. “Not Robert. He would face any challenge…that’s what made him so special.”

“Kid Akeem was a talker, and nothing motivated Robert more than someone saying that he couldn’t do something,” remembers Jose Lopez. “It fueled him for this fight. I knew that we were in for a real classic.”

Both men were in their prime as athletes and fighters, and the two combatants would enter the ring with championship swagger.

The referee in charge of the action was Barry Yates from Houston, TX, and the three judges at ringside were Torben Seemann Hansen from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dave McCullough from Houston, TX, and Jim Traylor from Virginia Beach, VA.

The table was set and it was time for the main course…no one at ringside realized that the epic battle they were about to witness would be a brutal war of attrition, and shockingly Kid Akeem’s very last professional bout.

Both men started fighting at a feverish pace which featured the champ trying to use feints and head movement to work his way inside the challenger’s long arms and effective jab. Robert was relentless, and although he was moving his head with regularity, the champion was getting caught with the Nigerian native’s left hook as he was moving in.

“El Pikin” was willing to walk through fire to deliver his brand of punishment, working his way aggressively through kid Akeem’s long rangy jab. By the end of the round, Robert started to land effectively to the challenger’s body and head despite a deficit in reach of about 4 or 5 inches.

Throughout the first couple rounds, Quiroga had implemented a game plan which would pay off in the mid to late rounds of the scheduled 12 round fight. He started to effectively land to Anifowoshe’s body and began to internally break down the challenger.

In the third round Quiroga developed a dangerous cut over his left eye lid as a result of a Kid Akeem overhand right. Although it was bad, it was indeed serviceable. Between rounds, while Lopez began to work on the cut, Anifowoshe’s trainer, Miguel Diaz, would ask his fighter to continue to work the overhand right to open up the cut even more and hopefully stop the champion.

Throughout the first four rounds, Kid Akeem seemed to have the advantage over the hometown champion, but Quiroga continued to gradually work his way in and effectively land brutal combinations to the body and to the head.

By the fifth round, the momentum began to shift in favor of the champ, and Kid Akeem would spend the majority of the round trapped on the ropes, while taking vicious shots to the body and 4 or 5 punch combos to the body and head. The challenger began to realize why this kid from San Antonio was the champion. If Anifowoshe was going to take the title on this evening, he would have to endure a wicked battery of shots throughout the remainder of the fight.

In round six, the Las Vegas based challenger continued to work the eye of the champion and opened another cut over the eyebrow of Quiroga. The champion now had a cut over the brow and lid of his left eye. Although cut-man Beto Martinez did everything he possibly could to stop the bleeding, a crimson stream would be regularly seen running down the cheek of the San Antonio champion throughout the remainder of the fight.

Back and forth action, ebb and flow, both fighters fought through each other’s best shots. The fans at ringside were witnessing a classic war of will and no one really knew how much longer either fighter would be able to last.

By the seventh round, as a result of a regular body attack, Quiroga had eliminated the challenger’s height advantage, and was able to get inside to basically land at will. By effectively breaking down his opponent to the body, Kid Akeem would lean into the champ in an effort to protect his body. Jose Lopez’s plan of using a relentless body attack to slow down the taller and more active challenger began to take a very noticeable effect.

In round eight, the tenacious champion hurt “Kid” Akeem with a looping right hand and backed the challenger against the ropes. Quiroga began to pummel the Nigerian born fighter with a wide array of shots. Although, the round easily belonged to the champion, an elbow on the inside opened up another cut on the side of the left eye and dangerously began to hinder the sight of the champion.

In the ninth round, Anifowoshe began to land effectively again due to the cut which encumbered the vision of the courageous champion. Kid Akeem was relentless and was dishing out punishment while keeping the champ on his heels. The challenger from Nigeria had experienced his best round since the beginning of the fight.

“Between rounds nine and ten, I actually wanted to stop the fight because Robert was bleeding so badly and the cuts were getting wider,” recollects Jose Lopez. “I told the champ I was going to stop the fight, and Robert told me that if I stepped in, he would quit boxing for good. Robert told me that he would never quit in the ring and reminded me that I taught him to never surrender…to never give up.”

“It was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever had to make,” states Lopez. “It hurt me deeply to see Robert cut and in pain the way he was, but he told me to let the fight continue and so I did. Robert was so tough and so determined to hold on to his title in front of his friends and family…it was the most courageous performance I’ve ever witnessed in the ring.”

To begin the championship rounds, the two 21 year old fighters came out with bad intentions and the action was unbelievable. The champion and the challenger were throwing great flurries, with the action shifting back and forth throughout the entire round. In the final seconds of the round, Quiroga landed a massive right hook and hurt Anifowoshe, sending him against the ropes. Robert jumped on top of the strong challenger and the round ended with the Nigerian born fighter taking punishment in the corner.

With two rounds to go, the unofficial ringside scorecards from the national commentators had Quiroga losing by 1 point. The fight hung in the balance, and whoever won the final six minutes of the fight would more than likely win the IBF Super Flyweight World Championship.

“Robert knew that it was a close fight and he was prepared to leave his heart and soul in the ring,” claims Lopez. “I knew going into the final two rounds that Robert was going to win this fight. When he told me that he was going to win, I knew that it would get done exactly like he said. He was a true champion in every way.”

Although “El Pikin” was too determined to quit, Kid Akeem wasn’t going to make it an easy task. Both men began the 11th round by exchanging combinations and Anifowoshe started pressing the action and moving forward. It was obvious to everyone in attendance that the Las Vegas resident was pushing for the knock-out. Quiroga stood his ground and threw beautiful combinations to the head and to the body. Both men were exchanging and landing, which made the eleventh round a very difficult one to score.

To begin the 12th and final round, neither fighter would concede to their opponent, while both men continued to battle at a feverish pace. Akeem started the round again as the aggressor and pressed the action. Anifowoshe wanted to become the new IBF champion and was relentless. Quiroga knew he had to fire back or he would risk losing the entire fight. Robert showed why he was a champion and began to charge Akeem. He fired back with vicious combinations and began to get the better of the exchanges. Both men were exchanging, while putting on a great show until the final bell sounded.

The fans in attendance knew that they had just witnessed a legendary performance by both men.

The judges at ringside scored the bout: Seemann Hansen 115-114, McCullough 116-112, and Traylor 116-112…the winner by unanimous decision was Robert “El Pikin” Quiroga in one of the most dramatic and action filled fights of the modern era of boxing.

Although the fans had just witnessed a boxing classic, the celebration was short lived.

Anifowoshe collapsed after the scorecards were announced, and was rushed to the hospital to discover that he suffered from cerebral hemorrhaging and would never be allowed to fight again.

Kid Akeem died just three years later after collapsing in his shower at his home in Nigeria.

“Even though Robert won the fight and proved that he was a real world champion, he was never the same after this fight,” states the legendary trainer. “He just could never relentlessly attack another opponent after what had happened to Kid Akeem. He never admitted it, but I knew that he had lost his killer instinct in the ring.”

Robert “El Pikin” Quiroga would go on to defend his title four more times before losing his IBF championship to Julio Cesar Borboa on January 16th, 1993, at the historic Joe & Harry Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX.

Quiroga would lose again in January of 1995 and retire shortly after.

Sadly, Robert “El Pikin” Quiroga was stabbed to death in 2004 outside of a bar in San Antonio, TX.

“I miss Robert terribly,” confesses the famed trainer. “I have cried for him many times. There will never be another person like him and I really miss what we had, but I find comfort in knowing that he will always be in my heart and in my mind.”

What took place at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio, TX, on June 15th, 1991, will forever be considered by many as one of the greatest prizefights of the modern era of boxing. Both brave men left everything in the ring that night for our entertainment and became legends.

Article posted on 15.06.2011

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