The Boxing Hall of Fame announced its 2009 inductees Tuesday. The most famous of them is Lennox Lewis. But if you lived in Charlotte in the late 1980s, another name stands out -- Orlando Canizales.
Orlando won the IBF bantamweight (118 pounds) title in the summer of 1988. The man from which he took it is Kelvin Seabrooks.
Seabrooks grew up in Charlotte, became an amateur boxing star here and still lives in town. He is the first Charlottean to win a major boxing title.
He was a big deal when he won the title in 1987. Although as an amateur he was a superior boxer, he made his living as a professional landing big punches. In the fight in which he won the title, he was knocked down three times but kept getting back up and kept pounding his opponent.
Seabrooks was an unlikely champion. At one point he had a record of 13-13, made his living washing dishes and boxed on the side. Then he went to Australia and knocked out a contender. Word got back to the U.S. before he did, and he became a contender.
He won his title long before the Carolina Panthers came to town and months before the Charlotte Hornets played their first game. Seabrooks was a big enough deal that when he defended his title against Canizales in Atlantic City, N.J., 20 years ago Charlotte politicians and businessmen chartered a plane to the fight.
Seabrooks began beautifully in the nationally televised bout but Canizales began to find him with jabs and left hooks. After one stunning Canizales punch, Seabrooks yelled, "Whoooo!" simply to acknowledge the craftmanship behind it.
Late in the fight, the challenger, who is from Laredo, Tex., took over. And as game and as couragous as Seabrooks was, Canizales finally knocked him out in the 15th round.
That night, Kelvin's career began to decline while Canizales' career took off. Orlando would sucessfully defend his title 16 times. He beat Seabrooks again in 1989.
Seabrooks was an exciting fighter, fast and powerful, and he loved his fans as much as they loved him. Even now when he walks down a Charlotte street or steps into a Charlotte restaurant strangers still call him champ.
It's a moniker he will keep for life. He earned it.