Throwback Thursday: Orlando Canizales Seizes Kelvin Seabrooks’ Belt Late, Violently

(photo via)

Just as there cannot be rebirth without death, there cannot be dark without light.

It’s all relative to belief, but the idea that one extreme cannot exist without another is a basic philosophy that eats its way into the physics and chemistry of it all.

In boxing terms, at its simplest, one fighter’s victory is another fighter’s loss. Triumphant fighters require backs upon which to climb, so as to see the entirety of the pugulistic landscape in all its glory, from high above the muck.

The changing of the guard is a necessary idea in boxing, and the only true counterpunch to time is retirement — retirement before the shift change. For the rest, the party has to end sometime.

Orlando Canizales brought Kelvin Seabrooks’ celebration to a close on July 9, 1988, giving him the “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” treatment.

An excellent amateur fighting out of Laredo, Texas, Canizales compiled a reported record of 108-12 before turning professional with a knockout over Juan Perez in August of 1984. Canizales cruised to 11-1 before dropping two divisions for a crack at NABF flyweight belt-holder Paul Gonzales. Dropping a decision in 12 rounds, Canizales racked up six more wins before taking the belt he had failed to win against Gonzales, but this time from Armando Velasco.

A quick win over Louis Curtis for a vacant fringe belt at junior bantamweight put Canizales in the position to challenge shaky IBF bantamweight titlist Seabrooks. With a record of 19-1-1 (16KO), Canizales became known as a crafty power puncher, and in a few different weight classes. The question was whether or not he could summon his reserve in a new division.

In almost five years as a professional, Seabrooks’ record stood at 18-13 (14 KO). Bouncing between bantamweight and junior lightweight took its toll, as did facing opponents at the last moment, generally far away from home. Orlando’s brother Gaby, who is five years older, fought Seabrooks for a fringe bantamweight belt in 1984, taking a points verdict in 12 rounds.

But in 1988, Seabrooks was riding a seven-fight win streak that lasted over two years — a veritable miracle, for him. Seabrooks, a potent smasher himself, had become known for being too conservative with his attacks, prone to following fighters around the ring and giving away rounds.

Nonetheless, Seabrooks picked up three wins and the USBA belt at bantamweight, which led him directly to an opportunity to fight for the vacant IBF belt against Colombian Miguel Maturana, and on hostile turf.

Seabrooks prevailed, despite being down on the cards, but was off once more to someone else’s backyard, defending against Thierry Jacob.

Against Jacob, Seabrooks was down twice in the 1st round after sending Jacob to the canvas seconds into the bout, and again went lateral in the 8th. In round 10, the bout was stopped when facial Jacob’s facial damage was ruled too severe for him to continue. Officials on hand in France initially called the bout a No Contest, but the verdict was later upheld as a TKO victory, and it served as Seabrooks’ first official defense.

It wouldn’t be the last time Seabrooks hit the deck in a win, though. In his next bout, against Ernie Cataluna in Italy, Seabrooks again couldn’t stay upright for three minutes, going down in round 1. True to form, he rose to bust two of Cataluna’s ribs for the stoppage in the 4th.

A relatively uneventful defense against Fernando Beltran had Seabrooks winning by stoppage in two rounds. A bit of an anomaly, Seabrooks dominated, and put him on the path to square off against Canizales, a rising contender, on CBS Sports.

Before the bout, Robert Seltzer of the Philadelphia Inquirer said of Seabrooks, “Kelvin Seabrooks spends so much time on the canvas, usually flat on his back, that he must think it is a chaise lounge. One thing about his trips to the floor, though: instead of putting him to sleep, they wake him up.”

At a press conference days before the bout, Seabrooks said, “I’ve been working on my defense. I learn from my mistakes. I think my opponents have ended up on the canvas more often than I have.” The jovial reigning titlist couldn’t help but grin his way through the media day, playfully smacking at Canizales and laughing off criticism, while the challenger remained more focused, saying, “He’s a good, durable fighter. But I’ve been working on several things for this fight. And, once I step into the ring, you’ll be able to see what they are. This fight won’t go the distance.”

It took less than a round for Canizales to seem like the more honest of the two, as Seabrooks reached in for a punch and was countered with a right hand, which sent him to the canvas. It was Seabrooks’ fourth trip down south in as many fights.

But once more, Seabrooks fought his way off the ground. Stumbling back into the competition like a marionette on roller skates wasn’t pretty, however, and Seabrooks ate a number of flush punches before surviving the 1st round, and wobbling his way through the 2nd.

The sellout crowd of 750 spectators at the Sand Casino Hotel in Atlantic City — a lot closer to home for Seabrooks than France, Italy or Colombia — witnessed Seabrooks somehow scrape himself together for a respectable round 3, where he finally managed to connect leather on Canizales here and there.

And the fight refused to be contained from there. Seabrooks got his timing down better, and Canizales zeroed in with smacking combinations, the action evening out considerably as the fight progressed.

But one-third of the way through the scheduled 15-rounder, a close up of Seabrooks’ corner before the 6th round revealed that his face wore every ounce of Canizales’ effort, in style.

Mechanically speaking, Seabrooks was buying into Canizales’ feints, and the latter’s foot work helped to render the defending titlist helplessly inactive in spots. Canizales’ movement was precise and deliberate, and Seabrooks had difficulty reaching him when not directly engaged. Spurred on by the idea of defending his belt one more time, however, Seabrooks walked through much of what caught him hard, even if walking through it stole his balance from time to time.

The story, though, was Canizales generally leading with the more stinging punches, landing nicely, but having to be wary of Seabrooks’ return fire, which looked to be improving as Canizales lost steam. Rounds 7 and 8 in particular saw Canizales shaking his hands, appearing to have hurt them somewhere along the way.

Round 10 was a back and forth assault, but Canizales taking aim at Seabrooks’ body, and Seabrooks snapping short right hands and quick hooks upstairs. Both men bled like it was going out of style.

Just prior to round 12, both men were mistakenly told by officials that it would be the final round. Whether it had any actual effect or not is unclear, but Seabrooks began to be pushed back by Canizales’ combinations. He was still punching back, and still dangerous, but his resolve was withering. Canizales moved and commanded much of the outside action, and Seabrooks found his back on the ropes far more than usual in the final few rounds.

Finally in the 15th, a right hand about one minute into the round floored Seabrooks again. Up relatively quickly, Seabrooks was swarmed by Canizales and clearly having his flame doused with the follow up. After about 15 unanswered punches, the referee had seen plenty, jumping in to halt the action, hugging Seabrooks, who hugged him right back.

IBF commissioner Bob Lee immediately called the bout, “The fight of the year.” Canizales raised his arms in elation.

Seabrooks’ manager Bill Reynolds said of the referee, Rudy Battle, “He was a good referee. But he had never been in the ring with us before. He didn’t know how well Kelvin comes back.”

But that ignored the will of the new champion. Canizales said in a post-fight interview, “I wanted this fight in the worst way. It didn’t matter how many rounds it went, I was going to be there. [Seabrooks] was durable; he wanted to fight back all the time. He made this a tough fight for me.”

Canizales’ trainer, Jesse Reid, remarked, “One of the things we were worried about was Orlando punching himself out. I was also worried about Orlando’s mental state. When this guy kept coming back, I didn’t know how Orlando was going to handle the 15 rounds.”

Indeed, both men took a trip to a local hospital; Canizales for a huge knot on his forehead, a cut over his left eye, and a comically swollen left hand, and Seabrooks for a gash on his right eyelid.

It would be the last 15 round title bout in the bantamweight division.

Kelvin Seabrooks fought only 10 more times, going 2-8, and all of the losses but one by stoppage, including a rematch with the younger Canizales in 1989. Seabrooks carried away with him whatever it was that Canizales brought into their first bout.

Canizales held the IBF belt for six years. In 1990, Orlando’s brother Gaby won the then-fringe WBO belt in the same weight class — another feat in itself. The two never dreamed of fighting one another, though. In an interview years later, Orlando would say, “Gaby and I sparred a thousand times, but we would help each other out to prepare for upcoming fights. I respect my elders, and my brothers, I don’t think that we would ever gotten into the same ring, not even for a million dollars, and I think he feels the same way.”

Whether Seabrooks ever returned home or not, he rang the bell for Canizales’ coming out party. Canizales would later call the victory his greatest achievement, and strangely, leaving pieces of himself all over the ring may have also been the finest stamp on Seabrooks’ ledger.

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @VoiceOfBeard