Broken ex-champ Navarrete cautions about the dangers of drugs
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – He was 18. She was 14.
He was a member of the Philippine boxing team then, and she was the beautiful manicurist he just couldn’t take his eyes off of.
She worked in a small-time salon in squalor-deep Tondo, a densely populated Manila district where his training gym was.
He wanted her but didn’t know any better at that time.
“Eh desperado eh (I was desperate),” said the former junior lightweight world boxing champion in an interview in his run-down home in General Santos City.
At 59, Rolando Navarrete Sr recalls the moment he got hooked on prohibited drugs. He was consumed with teenage heartbreak at that time.
He had loved Lisa, but she was too young. (He would later have kids with Lisa, who like all his women would later leave him.)
He said his desperation for Lisa’s love during their teenage years drove him to seek the counsel of a friend he recalls as Boy Rabid, who introduced him to marijuana.
It was his first taste, and each time since the relief would wear off. Stoned. Momentary.
“Nagsisimula ‘yan sa barkada (It starts among your peers),” he warned.
Much later in his career, he tried shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride in the privacy of his own home.
It’s been one disaster after another since – a womanizing streak, a rape conviction resulting in 3 years in US prison, his children and wife leaving him, losing his assets gained from boxing wins, and bout losses one after the other.
His life today offers no relief for the former WBC junior lightweight champion and one of the most celebrated knockout artists of his time.
He lives in a drab, unfinished two-story house – a space he would have wanted some 20 years ago to transform into a boxing gym where he could train would-be fighters who like him come from the poor in his city.
That dream – a dream that could have enabled other dreams – is dead.
He emerges from his foul-smelling bedroom shirtless, cross-eyed, and with a heavy quiver in his stride.
Inside the room, dirty underwear hangs on the sides of a small bamboo table looking as if it was a quick jab away from tearing apart.
He still keeps mementos of his now-faded glory, including a tattered black-and-white photo of him winning his world title.
In slurred speech, Navarrete now asks for cash from whoever, whenever he feels like it.
On February 14, during his birthday, it was 8-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao who gave him P2,000 (around $40). He immediately used the cash to buy himself a silver watch and necklace.
At the city hall while waiting for his stipend, it was a local labor leader who handed him P50 (around $1) to help him get by through the day.
In the mornings, Navarrete – the Filipino boxing superstar of his generation – is in the city fish port buying and selling fish for a living.
Sometimes there’s money to be had; other times there’s none.
Talent and discipline must combine
In his home, Navarrete is accompanied by his 21-year-old son who also bears his name (two other sons also bear his first name) but goes by the nickname Muko.
Muko moved in with his father two years ago. The son lives with his 28-year-old girlfriend on the second floor of the house.
Navarrete said he wants his son, an amateur fighter, to continue with the craft.
“To keep up my name,” he said, but admits the younger Navarrete has problems maintaining a training regimen.
“Puro laban lang. Di nageensayo (All fights. No training),” said an irritated Navarrete.
He tells his son he shouldn’t just fight his way through every 3-round amateur match relying solely on the power of his punch inherent to a Navarrete. Discipline in lifestyle and commitment in training develops a fighter’s stamina and tactical advantage, which when combined with power punches make for a well-rounded fighter.
The son said there was a time he fought every week at the city oval for P300 (around $6) a fight, and his body could still handle the pounding owing to his genes.
“Minsan, araw araw (Sometimes, I even fight daily),” said Muko with pride, who holds a record of 48 wins, 14 losses so far. Muko had trained briefly in a Cebu-based gym owned by a US citizen.
“Nakakasabayan ko pa nga noon si Marvin (I used to fight alongside Marvin),” Muko added, referring to his fellow General Santos native and former WBO super flyweight champion Marvin Sonsona. (READ: Marvin Sonsona: The new ‘Bad Boy from Dadiangas’)
Unlike Marvin, Muko never turned pro.
Some young boxers training to become pro no longer know Navarrete. Young professional boxers at the top of their game consider him a cautionary tale.
His son said his father’s body still longs for its rope-bordered stage and some fist-to-face contact. Navarrete said he still trains in their home over an hour at least twice a day, in the morning before he goes to the fish port and at night before he sleeps.
He shadow boxes, performs drills on his own, and stretches like a madman still clinging to his old glory days.
There is no equipment. His punching bag, like many of the people in his life, had given up on him.
“Dito na siguro ako mamamatay (Perhaps it is here where I’ll die),” pondered Navarrete, as he gazed over a house that is now simply a reminder of broken dreams.
In the Philippines, records show shabu or the poor man’s cocaine is the drug of choice taken by an overwhelming majority of substance abusers – stirring violence at home and in the streets, fueling crime and gang wars, flushing lives down the drain.
“Pag andiyan ka na, di ka na makaalis (When you start taking regularly drugs, you can no longer stop),” Navarrete said of his drug addiction.
His wrong choices in the past have come back to haunt him, with visible physical signs of his drug abuse.
Keep your mind busy
Because each time the high withered, the pain he was trying to bury reincarnates into a ferocious monster. The first time, it was his heartbreak over Lisa. The next ones were each his own demon to overcome.
He tells her name with fondness, as he sits down the dilapidated rattan bench in front of his home.
He spells it out.
He stops for a second, and then says it again one more time.
Seemingly pondering for a time, he then starts talking in slurred speech.
He proceeds to give out the advice to younger boxers he wished he himself followed before.
“Keep your mind busy… Laban… Kondisyon (Keep your mind busy… Fight… Conditioning),” he said, admitting regret.
“Ensayo na lang. Pag suntok mo sa bag, mawawala ‘yung nasa dibdib mo (Just train more. One punch to the bag, and the heavy feeling in your chest will ease).” – Rappler.com
Buena Bernal is a freelance journalist and creator of the online portal Workers of PH (http://WorkersOfPH.com), dedicated to celebrate the courage and grit of the Filipino working class. She occasionally trains on the Filipino combat discipline of Yaw-yan.