Sparring with sandals: A boxing trainer fights for support in Leyte
TANAUAN, Philippines - At the town plaza in Tanauan, Leyte, Manly Minguel lines up two teenagers and sets them up in their boxing pose. Right hands affixed to their chins, left hands held high out front poised to jab.
Back and forth, Mark James Lopera, 17, and Nevel Busi, 16, move in and out of punching range, repeating their new lessons until it becomes second nature.
“I don’t only teach boxing but also how to have strong discipline that makes them become better people,” says the 54-year-old Minguel in his native Waray-Waray dialect. “Some boxers that I trained before were rugby boys. When I trained them they kept away from doing drugs.”
After a few drills, Minguel wants to see what sort of power they have. He instructs one of the boxers to remove his tsinelas (sandals) and puts them on his hands, the way a trainer would a pair of Winning brand punch mitts. And like an Emanuel Steward or a Freddie Roach would, Minguel catches the punches without a second thought to the absurdity of the scene.
After his equipment was washed out by Typhoon Yolanda, Manly Minguel trains young boxers in Tanauan, Leyte using their tsinelas as mitts pic.twitter.com/Iawc7Wj5NU— Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) May 21, 2017
Training boxers is something Minguel has done for the past 20 years, sometimes in the town plaza against the backdrop of better equipped basketball teams and tennis players, and sometimes in the marketplace.
He had worked with Leyteño boxers like former two-time world champion Johnriel Casimero and respected journeyman Marvin Tampus as amateurs, and was the mentor for ill-fated boxer Sonny Boco, the Tanaueño whose career was cut short after 6 fights by a serious brain injury suffered in Cambodia in 2002.
When Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) came through in 2013 and washed out the town, leaving scores dead in the region and destroying his boxing gear, Minguel continued on training without handwraps or gloves to protect their hands, or head guards to properly spar, or a punching bag to build power.
“Without equipment, I can’t train them the way I want to train them,” Minguel concedes, but he’d rather train them under these circumstances than give up on the sport he’s been involved in since he was 14. By the time these two boxers fight their first fights at the Ormoc city anniversary on June 21, it’ll be the first time either boy has worn a pair of gloves or a head guard. They enter the ring at a disadvantage against any boxer who has proper equipment.
“Training here without the equipment will shock them when they get to wear the real equipment,” says Minguel, who trains 3 other boxers, including Nevel's younger brother Edgar, 15, plus Christian Cesar, 21, and his younger brother Rolando, 20. They comprise the de facto boxing team of Tanauan.
Even if the boxers don’t make it to the world title like Casimero, boxing still provides immediate help. A tricycle driver can make P150-200 a day in Leyte, but a boxer can make P800 to 1,000 per fight, depending on the tournament, minus the P150 travel fare.
What’s the difference between Leyte, which isn’t known as a boxing hotbed, and places like Cebu, Negros Occidental and General Santos City, which produce boxing champions? Gyms, a local fight scene, and the support of the community, in summary.
Minguel’s hope is to get support for the boxing team to provide hand wraps, mouth guards and gloves for the boxers, and a medicine ball and mitts to condition them. It isn’t unheard of for balikbayans abroad to adopt a boxing club and send equipment, like the case of New Yorker Arvee Eco, who led a social media campaign to collect equipment like gloves, shoes and head guards to send to his hometown of Basud, Camarines Norte earlier this year. The boxers thanked him by renaming their club after him.
After Ormoc, the boxers will fight again at the Tanauan fiesta on August 15. The town borrows the gloves from Baybay and the ring from Ormoc, and there are expected to be 16 fights which will entertain the crowd and make the boxers a few pesos.
In an area known as the Philippines’ skimboarding capital, he sees the untapped potential for Tanauan to make its name in boxing as well.
“I can guarantee [there’d be champions],” said Minguel. – Translations by Trell Songalia-Morallos/Rappler.com
Editor's note: A previous edition incorrectly stated Nevel Busi's surname as Busipractice.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.