By Ronnie Nathanielsz

Somebody must pay for the senseless need for former world bantamweight and featherweight champion Luisito Espinosa to keep on fighting at the age of 37 in order to provide for his family. The fact that Louie has to continue taking a battering in the ring, each one worse than the previous one, is a crime for which those who haven't as yet paid this great fighter his purse for his title defense against Carlos Rios in Koronodal, Cotabato on December  6, 1997 must answer.

God forbid if Espinosa is allowed to continue fighting by the California State Athletic Commission and suffers irreparable injury in the ring. The men who didn't pay him his just due would be guilty of a heinous crime and their  conscience burdened forever.

There is some doubt over who is really responsible for this shameful act where a champion who brought our country so much honor by his exploits in the ring has had to go to court to seek redress. Adding to the anguish is the fact that Manila RTC judge Rosario Cruz appears to be taking her own sweet time in ensuring that justice is done. One wonders what the lady is waiting for. Perhaps she wants to see Espinosa crippled for life before she is moved to render justice!

By all accounts this appears to be an open and shut case. Espinosa defended his title in Koronodal in a fight that then governor Larry de Pedro capitalized on to trumpet his administration and that of then President Fidel Ramos. The usual milking cows of government such as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation or Pagcor and the office of the Presidential Management Staff - PMS - among others, were directed to come up with the money to fund the world title fight. Sponsors subsequently refused to honor their commitments because there was no "live" coverage as promised and the fight was telecast the following day.

De Pedro was the guilty party since he failed to keep his word to provide the facilities that would enable a "live" telecast of the fight not only in the Philippines but also by satellite to Argentina. He made promises but hadn't a clue about how to fulfill

them which even resulted in the Argentine TV network threatening to sue Vintage Enterprises which covered the fight. In addition, every accepted rule of the Games and Amusement Board which at that time was headed by chairman Doming Cepeda was obviously broken when Espinosa was not paid before entering the ring although the challenger was obviously paid.

Japanese matchmaker and journalist Joe Koizumi who was Espinosa's manager at the time and signed the fight contract along with a representative of governor de Pedro and Rod Nazario didn't want the champion to enter the ring after de Pedro failed to come across with his purse but in the end caved in and allowed Espinosa to fight. Fearing a riot by the thousands who had gathered at the open air arena if Espinosa didn't fight, a letter of guarantee was signed by De Pedro stating that the purse would be fully paid in cash on December 16. The document was noted by Nazario and endorsed by Cepeda, a lawyer. In more ways than one there appears to be varying degrees of culpability in what seems like an act of collective responsibility.

Indeed, because of the honor that Espinosa brought our country,the Philippines, this, in a sense, becomes a national responsibility. For he was one of our shining stars at a time when we had no one else to lean on as a world champion just as Manny Pacquiao is to us, today. We must, in some way, all share in the guilt and channel that feeling of guilt to pressure those responsible to see that even at this late stage, justice is done and Espinosa gets paid. He was supposed to receive some P4 million given the exchange rate that prevailed in better times. We don't even suggest that the $150,000 be converted into pesos at the current rate. That's for the court to decide and Espinosa to accept. What we wish to see is that the fighter gets paid. Period.

When we sometimes hear or read about the criticism leveled at international promoter Murad Muhammad and business manager Rod Nazario about the purse of Pacquiao we shudder at the pittance owed Espinosa and the gross injustice. For the Erik Morales fight Pacquiao's purse is $1.75 million or some P98 million. Yet, before him there was a champion of epic dimensions who is destined to be enshrined in the "Hall of Fame" and all he is crying for is some P4 million he earned through the sweat of his brow and his flashing fists. Espinosa should never have had to wait this long and he should never have had to go to court to get his due.

The story is almost as pitiful as the sight of this once proud champion looking old and weary, getting battered in the ring by young Mexican fighters, all because he needed small money so he could put some food on the family table.