Filipinos: Boxing like a boss

Lois Joy Guinmapang
How boxing became a favorite among Filipinos, and a source of pride

FUTURE PACQUIAO. Elementary school boxers compete in Palarong Pambansa 2011.

MANILA, Philippines – There are remarkable instances in Philippine history when criminals take a timeout, rebels and soldiers lay their guns down, and the traffic in EDSA dissipates for a while.

These are simultaneous, prescheduled moments, when every household tunes in to the TV set, when mall-goers occupy the cinemas, when peddlers and passersby crowd in front of outdoor LED displays, all holding their breath in anticipation of the most awaited match of the year.

“Let’s get ready to rumbleeee!”

The bell rings, the first round begins, and the rest would be written in boxing history.

This is what happens when pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao fights.

The moment he steps onto the ring, Filipinos from all walks of life drop everything to watch, cheer, and celebrate.

After a winning bout, Pacquiao’s face is plastered all over the papers. His victory is broadcast on the news for weeks.

Legions of adoring supporters endure the afternoon heat to applaud him at his victory motorcades. Public officials offer him cash gifts, congratulating him on a job well done.

Filipinos have been in love with boxing since time immemorial -– and Pacquiao’s back-to-back achievements are constant reminders of the fact that ever since boxing has graced local rings, Filipinos have always been exceptionally good at it.

Boxing’s beginnings

The earliest records of boxing were sculptures and bas relief carvings of fist-fighting men from the Sumerian, Assyrian, and ancient Egyptian civilizations.

In 688 BC, boxing officially became part of the Olympic Games, and was widely played by the Greeks.

Although interest in boxing declined with the fall of the Roman Empire, the sport was revived as “prizefighting” or “bare-knuckle boxing” in 18th century England. This was also the first time the word “boxing” was used to refer to the game.

Prizefighting differed from modern boxing with the fighters’ added use of spears and clubs, which resulted to exciting yet bloody competitions that attracted the working class of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1867, several changes in basic gameplay were formalized in the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. These rules remain to be the foundations of modern versions of the sport.

As boxing became a worldwide sensation, 8 professional weight divisions were established to accommodate a greater number of fighters: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and (unlimited) heavyweight.

In 2004, ESPN named boxing the world’s toughest sport.

The birth of great Filipino fighters

Pinoys are famous for packing a powerful punch.

According to Don Stradley of ESPN Sports, Filipinos were already playing a similar sport before modern boxing was even introduced in the country. They were engaged with the bare-handed martial art known as suntukan which evolved from a native knife fighting technique called kali.

Stradley wrote that in suntukan, the combatants would occasionally charge forward to throw “chopping punches” that would ordinarily be fouled in American rings.

While prizefighting was still illegal in the Philippines before 1921, members of the American navy still taught boxing to local natives and invited them to friendly challenges.

And when modern boxing was legalized in the country through the efforts of Frank Churchill and brothers Stewart and Eddie Tait, the local Olympic Boxing Club was popularized.

This gave way to the rise of the legendary Pancho Villa.

Francisco Guilledo, or most widely known as Pancho Villa, was Asia’s first boxing hero. He bagged the World Flyweight Championship in 1923 and successfully defended it several times. Although he died at his prime, he left a staggering boxing record, never having been knocked out in all his 108 bouts.

Gabriel Elorde, also known as The Flash, is also on top of boxing’s honor roll. He won the WBA and WBC Super Featherweight Championships, has kept them for 4 and 7 years respectively, and has been declared by the WBC as the longest-running title holder of his category.

The list goes on: Little Dado Zapanta, Ben Villaflor, Boom-boom Bautista, Roland Navarete. Donnie Nietes, Drian Peñalosa, Brian Viloria, Nonito Donaire Jr., Manny Pacquiao.

Boxing in Palaro

Over the course of decades, more than 40 Filipino boxers have had their names immortalized as part of boxing’s elite, clinching one belt after another in various international championships. But even if it seems like local boxers have already dominated every ring in the world, there are still 5 rings waiting.

Olympic rings, to be precise.

All these years, the Olympic gold has been elusive to the Philippines. Young Pinoy boxer Mark Anthony Barriga is attempting to change that in the London 2012 Olympics.

At the age of 18, Barriga has already competed in the AIBA World Championships and the Southeast Asian Games.

Barriga has also won multiple gold medals in the Palarong Pambansa, representing Panabo, Davao del Norte.

Palarong Pambansa, the nationwide sporting event that pits elementary and high school students against the best of other regions, has been a breeding ground for Filipino boxing superstars.

And there is no reason why this year will be any different.–

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