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MANILA, Philippines – The Olympic dreams of Filipino boxers Ian Clark Bautista and Eumir Marcial come down to one final tournament.
The two fighters will have one last shot at qualifying for the Rio Olympics when they compete at the AIBA World Olympic Qualification event in Baku, Azerbaijan, which takes place from June 16 to 25.
Bautista, a flyweight, and Marcial, who competes at welterweight, can join compatriots Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon in Brazil if they make it to the semifinals of the tournament, or if they lose in the quarterfinals to the eventual gold medalist. Bantamweight Mario Fernandez was supposed to make the trip, but withdrew after suffering cataracts in his left eye.
It will not be easy, Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP) executive director Ed Picson cautions, as 469 boxers from 105 countries will be highly motivated by the opportunity.
“I’m very optimistic about our chances. You’ve got two very skilled and talented, and determined boxers. But then again you know, everyone else from the entire world trained hard and would like to get into the line-up of Rio Olympians,” said Picson.
Despite being young, both Marcial, 20, and Bautista, 21, have a wealth of international experience that has prepared them for this moment. Marcial, of Zamboanga City, is a southpaw who blends speed and power with an ambitious workrate. A two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medalist, he first made his name on the world stage in 2011, when he won light bantamweight (52 kilograms) gold at the AIBA Junior World Championships. He has since grown into a full-fledged welterweight (69 kgs).
Marcial was one win away from qualifying in April, but lost a decision in the box-off bronze medal match to a Mongolian boxer at the Asia-Oceania Olympic qualification tournament.
“I feel bad there because you know, only one step, only one win I will already qualify. So I [was hurt] when I lost, and [I cried] but I said ‘it’s not the end, it’s the beginning,’” said Marcial.
Bautista, of Binalbagan, Bacolod, also won SEA Games gold in 2015, but counts his China Open gold in 2014 as his favorite achievement. He made a splash at the 2014 Asian Games, but his robbery loss to a hometown South Korean boxer set off an international furor over dubious officiating.
“Positive ako (I’m positive),” said Bautista of his chances of qualifying. “Tapos naka-depende pa rin ‘yan sa Panginoon kung ibibigay nya. Lahat gagawin ko para makuha ‘yung spots pero ‘yung desisyon nasa Panginoon. Kasi maraming pagsubok ‘pag nandun na sa Azerbaijan, maraming pagsubok na dadating sa laban.”
(Then it depends on God if he’s going to give it. I’m going to do everything that I can to get those spots, but the decision is still the Lord’s. There are many obstacles in Azerbaijan, and many more challenges coming during the fight.)
Bautista, Marcial, and the rest of the Olympic team trained in the high elevation of Baguio City at the ABAP Gym under head trainer Nolito Velasco (brother of Olympic medalists Onyok and Roel Velasco), plus former Olympians Elias Recaido, Romeo Brin, and Reynaldo Galido.
Nonito Donaire Sr, the father of pro world champion Nonito Donaire Jr, observed their training as a consultant and had previously assisted them in training visits to the United States.
“Marami akong natutunan sa kanya eh. Maging focused sa laro, tapos kumpiyansa sa sarili, tas ‘pag may goal ka, mag-focus ka sa goal mo, focus sa ensayo, makinig sa mga turo ng mga coaches, ayun,” Bautista says of what he learned from Donaire.
(I learned a lot from him; how to be focused on the game, to have confidence in myself. And if I have I goal, to stay focused on that goal, to focus on training, to listen to what the coaches teach, that’s it.)
Marcial and Bautista both started boxing at their fathers’ insistence, and developed their fighting instincts as elementary students. Both list Manny Pacquiao and Donaire Jr as fighters they look up to.
“Because my father’s dream is to be a boxer but di siya pinagpalad (but he wasn’t fortunate enough),” said Bautista, an aggressive, hard-punching fighter. “I liked it because I see my father happy.”
Marcial’s interest in boxing also resulted in the same reaction in his household.
“My father, he likes boxing very much. He always watches Manny Pacquiao. So I said ‘Father, maybe you can teach me boxing.’
“My first fight, I won, then I get P500 so it’s good money before. Then I give my mother. Then my mother is very proud of me, so I said ‘Oh boxing is good, you can make money on boxing.’”
The boxers will get the chance to make their fathers even prouder, and their families a lot richer if they succeed at the Olympics. A bill signed last year by President Benigno Aquino III raised the incentive for an unprecedented gold medal to P10 million, while a silver will net P5 million, and a bronze medalist earns P2 million.
“I want to fight [in the] Olympics because you know my father’s dream and also my dream, and also I want to bring honor to my country,” said Marcial. “Then you know ever since, we don’t have a Filipino gold medalist in the Olympics so that’s my dream to get a gold in Olympics and also my father. I love my father so I want to make [him] happy so.”
The Philippines hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1996, when Onyok Velasco earned silver in Atlanta. Five of the country’s 9 medals have come in boxing competition, and the last time the country won a non-boxing medal at the Olympics was 1936.
The nation will once again turn to boxing for its brightest Olympic hope, and Marcial and Bautista hope to be in Brazil to answer that call. – Rappler.com
Translations by Rafael Bandayrel/video edits by Exxon Ruebe