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Filipinos' Love For Boxing

Updated on September 25, 2015

Filipinos’ Love For Boxing

When you talk about boxing, nobody will fault you if you talk about say Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes or even Mike Tyson.

Or if you are much older, you could probably say Rocky Marciano, Henry Armstrong or Sugar Ray Robinson.

And I wouldn't argue that there would be many of us who would mention any of the great boxers of our time (me included): Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Oscar Dela Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Aaron Pryor, Julio Cesar Chavez or Alexis Arguello and easily a hundred other boxers.

And of course it would not be complete if there wouldn’t be any of you guys who would say Frazier, Foreman, Liston, Holyfield, Spinks, Louis and a host of many other great and legendary fighters.

Now what does Filipinos or the Philippines have to do with boxing?

It’s not like any of those famous boxers we have mentioned were Filipino or connected to the Philippines, well except for the Great Muhammad Ali because of the Thrilla in Manila.

But other than that and surprisingly if not interestingly enough, Filipinos (as a nation) are crazy about Boxing, along with a handful of other sports; yes another point of interest all starting with the letter B.

On the surface, you would see no reason for that (or any of that other sports beginning in B).

And in fact boxers and boxing fans from many other sports will probably say Filipinos have no idea what the sport of boxing is all about. And many would say that they are totally idiotic, moronic or simplistic when it comes to the Sweet Science, universally known as the sport of boxing.

Yes, what do they know, right?

Anyway, to some degree these overzealous fans might be right. And just a casual look at most boxing forums online, you would see how boxing fans from most developed countries would talk crap about Filipino boxing fans and their current boxing idol, currently the acknowledged best pound-for-pound boxer of the world, Manny Pacquiao, a once-in-a-lifetime and extraordinary Asian boxer. But that is another story all together.

And in case you have not seen it yet, try to check out some of the comments of boxing fans in the Boxing Section of Yahoo Answers.

But if you are old enough or if you look at history and at how boxing was first introduced in the Philippine Islands by the Americans no less, at the turn of the 20th Century, you would know better.

And of course, it was the American GIs who brought the sport of boxing to the islands and as they say, it was all downhill from there on in. Okay, I have no idea if “downhill” here means it was easy going from there or if it has gone south from there but I’ll let you be the judge of that. All I know is that Filipinos took to boxing like it was their tradition sport “sabong” or cockfighting (yes pretty much like the MMA but for fighting cocks (roosters) but fighting with sharp knives--balisongs and arnis sticks anyone?).

And you see, ever since the early 1900s, the Philippines have produced about thirty or so World Boxing Champions. I mean, that is no small achievement for such an island nation of comparatively smaller boned and smaller built and generally peace loving and friendly people of the Far East. And they were “robbed” of Olympic Gold at least twice, but that is also another story (Silver Medalists: Anthony Villanueva 1964 and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco Jr. 1996).

So for now, let us start with probably the most famous Filipino boxer of all time:

Pancho Villa, the Greatest Asian fighter in the history of boxing
Pancho Villa, the Greatest Asian fighter in the history of boxing

Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa on

Beginning in the 1920s, a Filipino named Francisco Guilledo but fighting under the name Pancho Villa (yes, like the Legendary Mexican Revolutionary) went to the United States and started beating American boxers. And surprisingly he went on to win the World Flyweight Boxing title in 1923.

And with this spectacular feat he earned the title "The Greatest Asian fighter in the history of boxing”.

But something happened along the way to full superstardom.

Villa tragically died at a youthful age, in his early 20s and at the peak of his fighting years. And although barely standing five feet and one inch tall and weighing a mere 112 pounds or so, he packed a mighty wallop, even when they were still using those awkward punching style back in the day. Now, there came about conspiracy theories on why and how he died, but that’s almost 100 years ago, so there is no need to bring any of that now.

One thing that is undeniable though, he fought for a mere six years until as I have said his untimely and surprising death, but he fought a total of 109 fights and won 92 times. And to boot, he was never knocked out.

And so only fittingly if not a tad too late, Villa was finally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994. And in 1961, Villa was added by Ring Magazine to its own boxing hall of fame and included in the 2002 Ring Magazine's List of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years

Pancho Villa knocking out Jimmy Wilde to become the First Asian & Filipino Boxing World Champion (1923)

Flash Elorde holds the world record for the longest title reign in boxing history
Flash Elorde holds the world record for the longest title reign in boxing history

Flash Elorde

Flash Elorde on

After Villa died, the Filipinos hoped, longed for, wanted and waited for another boxing hero. And they weren’t disappointed. But they had to wait some thirty something years.

And it all happened in 1955, when the Original Filipino Flash, born Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, fought, his coming-out (boxing) party against American and all-time great featherweight champion Sandy Saddler at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila. The Flash dominated that fight, a non-title bout, almost from start to finish.

Now because of that, a real title bout between the two was arranged, but now not in the Philippines but obviously within American soil.

And the following year, he was given that rematch and with Saddler's title on the line and fighting on home turf, Saddler fought differently. The fight was stopped at the 13th round (yes this was still back in the days of the 15 rounders) because of a cut near Elorde’s eye.

Jack Fiske writing for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "It was a dirty fight throughout and all the onus must be on the 126-pound champion's skinny shoulders. From this corner it appeared highly improbable that he could have successfully defended the title if he hadn't resorted to all the so-called tricks in and out of the rule book."

Yes a momentary setback but still the Flash earned the accolades of boxing fans and in due time he was given another shot at a world title, this time around back in the Philippines and rightfully so in front of tens of thousands of his adoring fans and countrymen who packed the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City (at that time this was the biggest covered arena in the world).

And in that jam-packed arena in 1960, the Flash won by TKO over Harold Gomez and won the WBA junior lightweight title, instantly making him a household name, at least in the Philippines.

But what he did next was what made him a world-wide boxing name, as he defended this title on ten different occasions, from 1960 to 1967. And to this day, this record is still unmatched and still stands as the longest title reign in boxing history.

And with this feat he was the very first Filipino and the very first Asian to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. He was also enshrined into the World Boxing Hall of Fame and like Pancho Villa, he was included in Ring Magazine's list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years, released in 2002.

Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, who was born seven years after Villa's death and still remains the most popular Filipino boxer ever. Okay, some people will argue that it is now Manny Pacquiao, but Manny is still an active boxer, so we will have to wait and see.

A ticket to that fateful day when Garcia KOed World Middleweight Champion Apostoli with his dreaded bolo punch. And he did this being a natural welterweight.
A ticket to that fateful day when Garcia KOed World Middleweight Champion Apostoli with his dreaded bolo punch. And he did this being a natural welterweight.

Ceferino Garcia

Ceferino Garcia on

Garcia still holds the distinction of being the heaviest Filipino boxing weight title holder, winning the world middleweight title in 1939 and having the most wins at 102, 67 of which were by way of KO.

He won that title despite not being a natural middleweight, moving up after losing title shots against welterweight and all-time great Henry Armstrong and Barney Ross. So like Villa before him, it came as a shock to many when he knocked out middleweight champ Fred Apostoli in the seventh round. Garcia defended that title three times until he lost to Ken Overlin on points.

Then came World War II and so Garcia (along with many other boxing champs) weren't able to take advantage of their former champ status because of the long war. And besides, Garcia was in the US Navy. Other than that, he had a few (although uncredited) Hollywood movie roles in the 1940s and he worked as a driver and bodyguard for Hollywood actress Mae West.

On another side note, it was Garcia, not Kid Gavilan, who first brought the “bolo punch” to prominence. As he is commonly referred to as the inventor of that punch, even though a 1924 article appearing in the Tacoma News-Tribune reported another Filipino boxer named Macario Flores to be using it.

Garcia, Kid Gavilan and Sugar Ray Leonard are widely recognized as three of the best bolo punchers in boxing history. Roy Jones Jr. and Joe Calzaghe are also known to have used the bolo punch in many occasions. Garcia was also inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, twice.

Now after these boxers, the Philippines have produced many other boxing champions and we will just go through a few here:

Roberto Cruz, WBA Junior Welterweight Champion, 1963

Pedro Adigue Jr. WBC Super Lightweight Champion, 1968-70

Rene Barrientos WBC Super Featherweight Champion, 1969-70

Bernabe Villacampo WBA Flyweight Champion, 1969-70

Ben Villaflor WBA Junior Lightweight (now called Super Featherweight) Champion 1972-76.

Rolando Navarette WBC Super Featherweight Champion 1981-82

Frank Cedeño WBC Flyweight Champion, 1983-84

Dodie Boy Penalosa IBF Light Flyweight Champion 1983-85 and IBF Flyweight Champion 1987

Luisito Espinosa WBA Bantamweight Champion and WBC Featherweight Champion 1989-99.

Rolando Pascua WBC Light Flyweight Champion, 1990-91

Malcolm Tuñacao WBC Flyweight Champion 2000-01

Gerry Peñalosa WBC Super Flyweight Champion 1997-98 and WBO Bantamweight Champion 2007-09

These are just a few of the world champions that emerged from the Philippine Islands and there are some more not on this list. Also all of the world champions born of one parent being non-Filipino was not included.

Also all the active Filipino boxers, some of whom are still holding world titles are also excluded. Otherwise all we will be taking about is Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Brian Villoria, Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista and hard-luck boxers Bernabe Concepcion and Z Gorres.

Now with Manny Pacquiao still on top of the boxing world and many other Filipino boxers holding world titles or are on the rise, and finally the world is giving a measure of respect to boxers from the Philippines, count on the Filipinos to be as crazy as they have been about the sport of boxing.

If ever you can see another people as a whole who would drop everything to watch a countryman box and have the entire country's crime rate to drop to almost zero while he is fighting in whichever part of the world that may be, then you can say that the people from that place is crazier about boxing than the Filipino people.

You can still argue that there might not be that many savvy or technically knowledgeable boxing fans in the Philippines but you cannot argue the fact that they do love and they do watch boxing over there and wherever they may be in the world.


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