Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bolo Punchers

It is 3 AM, many days after, and my mind still visualizes each round and each pound for pounding that Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao delivered on the hapless face and body of “Golden Boy” Oscar de La Hoya at their December 6 fight in Las Vegas. In the opening round, I see De la Hoya approach the center of the ring, fists on the ready, waiting for the Pacman to lower his guard so he can knock him down and beat him as all the sports pundits had predicted. But the Pacman moves warily, weaving from side to side, and jabbing with his left and right fists as he circles De la Hoya.

The image of the taller De la Hoya, with his fists extended in a conventional boxing stance, contrasted with the image of Pacquiao, constantly moving and weaving his fists up and down, reminded me of the time when American soldiers first occupied the Philippines in the early 1900s and taught boxing to young Filipinos in towns throughout the islands.

The natives had no problems understanding and accepting the rules of boxing as handed down by the Marquis of Queensberry in 1865 but it was the style of boxing the Americans taught that the Filipinos could not or would not follow.

The American soldiers taught the Filipinos to “keep their dukes up” describing the motion of their arms and their fists pointed upwards in the style of heavyweight boxing champion “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. The Filipinos, who grew up learning the Filipino self-defense art of Arnis de Mano (harness or armor of the hand), had other ideas, preferring to constantly move their bodies and weave their arms in angular and circular motions acquiring and mastering the flow.

Corky Pasquil’s 30-minute documentary, The Great Pinoy Boxing Era, covers the period from the introduction of boxing by American soldiers at the turn of the century to era of Pinoy dominance in boxing from 1920 to 1941. Among the Pinoy pugilists mentioned were Dencio Cabanella, Pancho Villa, Speedy Dado, Small Montana, Dado Marino and Ceferino Garcia.

Before Manny Pacquiao, the greatest Asian boxer was a pugilist from Negros Occidental who was born on August 1, 1901 under the name Francisco Guilledo. He stood 5-feet-1 and weighed 114 pounds. Before he died at the age of 24, this fighter who was better known as “Pancho Villa”, fought in 109 matches with an amazing record of 92 wins (24 KOs), 8 losses, 4 draws, and 5 no-contests. This fighter was never knocked down in any of his fights and, like Manny, even went out of his class to fight featherweights and even lightweights.

After winning the Philippine flyweight title from Terrible Pondo in 1919, Villa received an offer in 1922 to fight in the United States where he made a name for himself with victories over Abe Attel Goldstein, Frankie Mason, Young Montreal which set the stage for a shot at the American Flyweight title against Johnny Buff. He defeated Buff via an 11th round TKO in 1923. By coincidence, Buff’s grandson, Jimmy Buffer (well known for his trademark “Let’s get ready to ruuuuumble” announcements in wrestling) was the ring announcer for the De la Hoya-Pacquiao fight. After defeating Buff, Villa’s next fight was with Jimmy Wilde, a hard-punching British boxer, who was the world flyweight champion.

On June 18, 1923, before 20,000 screaming fans at the Polo Grounds in New York, Villa knocked out Wilde in the 7th round with a single right that broke Wilde's jaw to capture the World Flyweight title and cause Wilde to retire permanently from boxing.

Villa returned to the Philippines and received a hero’s welcome in Manila and a victory party in the Malacanang Palace. He returned to the US for a non-title fight with Jimmy McLarnin that was scheduled for July 4, 1925 at Ewing Field in Oakland.

Days before the fight, Villa's face swelled due to an ulcerated tooth. Villa fought McLarnin despite the swollen jaw and lost. The infection worsened and spread to his throat which eventually caused him to die in a hospital on July 14, 1925.

The next great Pinoy boxer was Ceferino Garcia (August 26, 1912 - January 1, 1981) who was born in Tondo, Manila, Philippines. He won renown for his ''bolo'' punch, which he wound up like an uppercut, hook and cross, which helped him achieve 57 knockouts. He also won another 24 bouts by decisions. He won the middleweight title in 1939 by knocking out Fred Apostoli in seven rounds in New York.

When Garcia was asked how he came to develop his “bolo” punch, he recounted that when he was young, he used to cut sugarcane with a bolo knife, which he wielded in a sweeping uppercut fashion.

After Garcia, the next great Filipino boxer was "Gabriel 'Flash' Elorde (March 25, 1935 - January 2, 1985 who was the WBC junior lightweight/super featherweight champion from March, 1960 until June, 1967 and WBA super featherweight champion from February, 1963 to June, 1967 - making him the longest reigning world junior lightweight champion ever.

Elorde retired in 1974 with a record of 87 wins (33 KOs), 27 losses and 2 draws, and was named 'the greatest world junior lightweight boxing champion in WBC history.' In 1993, he became the first Asian inducted into the New York-based International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was also enshrined in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

With his decisive victory over De la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao now joins that hallowed pantheon of Filipino boxing superstars.

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