Prisoners turn to prizefighters at CPDRC

Mars G. Alison

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Four prisoners at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center were the star attractions of a boxing card, which featured prison amateurs against fighters from the outside world

Members of the CPDRC Supermax Boxer Team (L-R): Jimmy Berian, Robert Marayan, George Salugaol and Marvin Narte. Berian and Narte are locked up on murder charges while Marayan is incarcerated for rape and Sulagaol for drugs. Photo by Mars Alison

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Already famous for its dancing inmates, the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) once again took on a festive atmosphere last Saturday night, May 23 as all 2,397 inmates flocked to the prison ground to witness the facility’s first professional boxing event.

The maximum security prison facility, which is located in Kalunasan, was a raucous scene as observers cheered on members of the CPDRC Supermax Boxer team, who had a decided homecourt advantage.

During one of the four bouts featuring inmates against non-prisoners, someone from the crowd shouted “Ayaw ug dagan, murder imo kaso, ayaw kahadlok, ato ning balwarte (Don’t run, your case is murder, don’t be afraid, this is our place), eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Bati ang tan-aw namong mga piniriso pero monindot tungod ani kay mabalita nga nag boxing mi,” said 29-year-old Jimmy Berian, one of the four prisoners picked by CPDRC consultant in jail management Marco Toral to fight.

(We prisoners are being viewed with a bad perception but it will become good because it will be written in the news that we are into boxing.)”

Berian of Catmon in northern Cebu, who has spent the last five years imprisoned on frustrated murder charges, lost his bout against Luid Bartolome of the Phil Aust Boxing Club via a split decision.


Berian’s three other teammates all won their bouts to the approval of the crowd, plus about 600 outsiders who showed up to watch the boxing event.

Toral, a boxing and MMA enthusiast, said that the CPDRC Supermax Boxing Team was started in July of 2013 as part of the prisoners rehabilitation and physical training. They first recruited 46 inmates but were left with only 26 after the medical screening.

They first hired Jojo Fajardo to train the aspiring boxers but later on settled with an inmate trainer, Robert Marayan, 29, of Consolacion, northern Cebu, who had boxed for two years as an amateur before being jailed for rape.

Since then, Toral said they have been having boxing bouts within the CPDRC facility with his team going up against IPI-Omega boxers. Saturday night’s event, however, was the first that professional bouts were held there.

Fighting for freedom

Rex “Wakee” Salud, who promoted the professional portion of the show, said that he got the idea of holding a professional boxing event inside the CPDRC when he visited the facility with Manny Pacquiao about a year ago.

Toral said that when Salud called him up about it, he immediately agreed because it was in line with the rehabilitation program that he has in mind for the inmates.

Having been an inmate himself for seven years, Toral said the ultimate goal of putting up a boxing team at the CPDRC is to give them hope, that someday one of them may become a professional boxer and a champion.

“Maybe if they become a national champion then perhaps their sentence can be lowered,” said Toral, adding that maybe Salud or other boxing promoters may see potential among the inmate boxers and decide to pay for their bail.

Should the inmate boxers be offered a big fight outside the prison facility, Toral said it may be possible via a court order.

Aside from Berian and Marayan, Toral also tapped George Salugaol of Sogod, north of Cebu, and Marvin Narte of Camotes, an island off Northern Cebu for the event. All four are die hard fans of Pacquiao.

Toral said the four are the bests among their boxers. The jail consultant, however, said that despite their constant training, this is still not enough because they are just inside the jail so “kuwang sila ug hangin (they lack air).”

600 fans joined 2,397 inmates to watch the boxing matches, which featured 4 of the prison's boxers in action. Photo by Mars Alison

This was evident in Berian’s bout against Bartolome wherein in the middle of it, the prison boxer asked to do away with the headgear, to the crowd’s delight and which the officials agreed.

Brix Flores, head trainer of the Noy Pacing Flores Gym, explained that the use of headgear is no longer mandatory under the new rules of amateur boxing.

Marayan says that being made a trainer has given him new purpose after nine years in prison.

Nalipay ko kay unsa akong nakat-unan sa gawas akong ma-share sa uban diri nga ganahan sad ug boxing,” said Marayan.

(I am happy because I am able to share what I have learned outside to people here who like boxing)

Marayan won his own bout against Marjon Sabinorio via a unanimous decision.

Another prison boxer who said the sport has made a positive change in him is Marvin Narte, 22, who showed impressive form against Dove Espina, winning via unanimous decision.

Pinaagi sa boxing nausab ko. Nakat-on ko nga di maayo magpadala sa gibati (I was changed through boxing. I learned that it is not good to always follow my emotions),” said Narte who has been a jail resident for two years for murder.

He said that should he be given a chance to get out of jail, he would pursue a career in boxing.

George Salugaon, the oldest among the prison boxers at 34 years old, showed that being advanced in years would not slow him down as he won his fight via technical knockout in just 39 seconds of the first round against Jonax Berden.

Salugaon, who has been incarcerated for nine months on drug charges, said he is very happy to be given this chance.

Purse bonuses

Even boxing promoter Naris Singwangcha of Thailand marveled at the atmosphere that the event generated within the prison. He said it was his first time to watch a professional boxing event inside a jail facility.

Singwangcha also fueled the excitement by giving out cash bonuses to boxers who provided the most excitement.

Singwangcha gave P3,000 each to Elias Joaquino of Mandaue City and Ponciano Remandiman of Cebu City for keeping the crowd on its toes for the entire six rounds of their 110-pound fight. Joaquino eventually won the bout via a unanimous decision.

Adonis Aguelo, who was fighting in the 132 pound main event, also earned $200 (US) from Singwangcha for decking out his opponent, Richard Betos of Surigao del Sur, with 1:39 in the third round.

Also eking out unanimous decisions were Renoel Pael of Mandaue who went up against fellow Mandauehanon JR Salvador in the bantamweight division, M. Moya, also of Mandaue, who squared off against Bato, Leyet’s Ryan Tampus in the junior bantamweight division and Melmark Dignos of Lapu-Lapu City, who faced off against Bohol’s Robert Awitin in the flyweight division.

Another bout saw Denmark’s Morten Olson winning via technical knockout against Jonie Villacrosis of Cebu City in their junior welterweight fight.

Salud said last Saturday’s event was still a “test” before he decides to make prison a regular event. 

He added that for the next time, he wants boxers from abroad seeing action. Asked if it would be a paid event, Salud said depending on the boxers but that he wants it still to be free admission for the outsiders. –

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