Manuel Medina was born in Tijuana, Mexico on March 20, 1971. Like so many Mexican boxers, especially from the tough streets of Tijuana, there was no prestigious amateur pedigree for Medina. Instead, he learned by doing in the professional boxing ring, turning pro at age 14 in Mexicali. Mexicans who come up like Medina did are often throwbacks to an earlier era, and he was not sheltered on his way up. His learning curve included losing his 3rd fight on points and his 4th by stoppage.
However, Medina kept fighting and kept getting better. He was a 5’8″ featherweight with a 70″ reach, and he coupled that with a busy style, volume punching and a capable defense to rise to the top of his profession. By the time Medina was past his prime, he would win world championships five separate times. He could be beaten, but never kept down.
Medina earned his first title shot in August 1991 against IBF Featherweight Champion Tory Dorsey. Dorsey was a former karate and tae kwan do champion who was trying his hand at professional boxing, so he was much more experienced that his 12-3-4 record would have indicated, and a lot of those losses and draws were to the likes of Jorge Paez and Tom Johnson. Medina was 40-3 by that time. It was a solid contest, but Medina outmatched Dorsey and won a convincing Unanimous Decision.
Medina made his first defense against the man who had given so much trouble to Dorsey, 26-1-1 Tom Johnson. He won by Technical Decision in the 9th. Johnson would later go on to become a major featherweight champion in his own right, so it was a notable victory. He opened 1992 by outpointing European featherweight champion Fabrice Benichou of France, and then made two more title defenses against journeymen.
That led to a February 1993 rematch against Tom Johnson. This time it was Johnson’s turn, and Medina dropped a points loss and the IBF title.
Medina responded to losing his 126 lbs title by challenging the IBF’s 130 lbs champion, John John Molina. It was a bad move, and Medina got thumped for it. Molina landed 555 punches on Medina, the #2 ranking for number of punches ever landed in a championship fight. He then tried to recapture the IBF Featherweight Title in a rubber match with Johnson in January 1995, only to drop another points loss. It was clear that Johnson had Medina’s number.
Medina got his break when he was offered a shot at the WBC champion, Aljeandro Gonzalez. Gonzalez is often forgotten today, but prior to meeting Medina he had beaten future champ Cesar Soto and he won the WBC title from puncher Kevin Kelly. Medina won a closely fought Split Decision and the green championship belt.
Unfortunately, he just as quickly lost it. In December 1995, he was defeated in Japan by Luisito Espinosa on his first defense. Espinosa was a Filipino boxing star in the days before Manny Pacquiao. He had enjoyed a distinguished reign as a bantamweight (118 lbs) and would enjoy a good run at featherweight as well. A guy used to duking it out with tough speedballs from Thailand wasn’t fazed by Medina’s pressure tactics, and Medina lost a Unanimous Decision.
Medina’s reputation as a solid, but beatable contender earned him a place on the dance card of a rising star and big puncher from Britain, “Prince” Naseem Hamed. Hamed knocked Medina down once in the 2nd and twice in the 9th, the first time the tough Mexican had ever been rocked so badly. In turn, Medina roughed up Hamed pretty badly, landing a lot of leather and giving Hamed the toughest fight he had prior to his first loss at the hands of Marco Antonio Barrera. It was a great fight for Medina.
His showy loss to Hamed got Medina a rematch with Luisito Espinosa. Meeting in the Philippines in May 1997, Espinosa came out on the good side of a Technical Decision when an accidental headbutt opened a huge gash under Espinosa’s eye and stopped the fight. He then fought and was knocked out for the first time by Roy Jones’s pal, Derrick “Smoke” Gainer.
With back-to-back losses in big fights to Espinosa, Hamed, Espinosa again and then Gainer, people started thinking that the 27 year old Medina was shot. They could not have been more wrong. When matched against fellow Mexican Hector Lizarraga for the IBF title, Medina won a landslide of a points victory. He was a champion again.
Medina defended his title once before traveling to England and fighting British banger Paul Ingle. Showing that he was slowing down a bit, and thus easier to hit, Medina was dropped twice in the 2nd and once in the 10th. In turn, Medina rallied to knock down Ingle in the 12th. It was not enough, though, and Ingle walked away with the win and Medina’s belt. The exciting see-saw fight was an instant hit in Britain, and considered by many who saw it to have been a strong contender for 1999’s Fight of the Year.
The IBF smiled on Medina again in January 2001, when they gave him a shot at the vacant belt in a rematch with journeyman Frank Toledo. Medina won easily with a 6th Round knockout, starting his fourth title reign. He was set to defend the title in April 2002 against the turbulent Johnny Tapia in Madison Square Garden. Tapia walked away with the red IBF belt in a highly controversial Majority Decision that was loudly criticized in the press.
Tapia was almost instantly stripped of the belt, however, when he refused to fight mandatory challenger Juan Manuel Marquez. Instead, Tapia wanted a lucrative bout with Marco Antonio Barrera. The result was that the IBF matched former champ Medina against the much-ducked contender Marquez. The man who would later become Manny Pacquiao’s arch-rival gave Medina a hard drubbing in February 2003, knocking him out in the the 7th.
Medina was soon back in contention, however. In July 2003 he was matched against Scottish fringe contender Scott Harrison, and won a close Split Decision to take Harrison’s WBO Featherweight Title. In November the two met in a rematch that saw Medina down twice and stopped in the 11th.
Recent Times and Legacy
In May 2006 Medina moved up to super featherweight (130 lbs) again, and fought South African Cassius Baloyi for the vacant IBF title. Baloyi knocked Medina down three times in the 11th and stopped him. November 2006 Medina met another aging featherweight in the form of Kevin Kelly and won a Majority Decision over him. That fight was supposed to be to determine who the mandatory challenger for the IBF’s red belt. However, winning that fight turned out to only earn Medina another square-off to determine #1 contender’s status, when Baloyi lost the belt. The rematch with Baloyi led to a Technical Draw when Medina suffered a bad accidental cut early in the fight. In August 2008 Medina was in another fight to determine who the #1 contender would be, this time against South Africa’s Malcolm Klassen. Klassen destroyed Medina, knocking the 36 year old out in the 2nd Round.
Manuel Medina is a shopworn fighter, but remains unretired and has a record of 67-13-1 with 31 KOs. First winning the title in 1991, Medina was one of the characters that made the 126 lbs division such a rich and entertaining environment through the 1990s. Although never a great fighter, he was certainly a good one and stood as a solid, viable contender for over a decade in a weight class where men get old early. He stands as one of the very few boxers to have won a title in the same division 5 times.
Sources: boxrec.com; live fight footage; The Ring