MANILA, Philippines – One is a returning conqueror seeking another gold medal, while the other is a rising star stepping onto his biggest stage yet.
Flyweight Ian Clark Bautista and junior flyweight Carlo Paalam will be two of the 6 boxers the Philippines will send to the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, which kicks off this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Paalam is just 19, the youngest boxer on the team, filling in the vacancy left by Rogen Ladon, the 2012 Olympian who will instead fight at the AIBA World Championships, which runs from August 25 to September 3 in Hamburg, Germany.
He comes from a hardscrabble upbringing in Cagayan de Oro City, selling newspapers, cigarettes and vegetables to eke out an existence, and earned just a bottle of soda for his first amateur fight at age 10. Now he has the opportunity to earn much more if he brings home a medal from Malaysia.
"We're quite excited about Carlo," said Ed Picson, executive director of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP). "I saw him when he was a young boy paraded by Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno as the future of Philippine boxing. That time could be now."
Paalam has his supporters excited for his first appearance at the SEA Games following his bronze medal performance at the 2016 Youth World Championships in Russia, and when he was the only Filipino to win gold at the President's Cup earlier this year in Kazakhstan.
"I surprised myself when I played there because I won and was able to give honor to the Philippines," said Paalam, who competes in the 49-kilogram category. "I was overjoyed that the Philippines' flag was raised. It was a nice feeling to hear the national anthem being played."
As the youngest on the seniors squad, Paalam benefits greatly from being around more experienced fighters like Charly Suarez, who will fight as a light welterweight in Malaysia, plus the coaches who have a wealth of international and Olympic experience.
"Because I am the youngest among them, so I kind of follow them, whatever the seniors do, it is also what I do because I want to learn from them," said Paalam.
Bautista, 22, was in Paalam's position in 2015, but made his presence known fairly quickly in Singapore, defeating 2012 and 2016 Olympian Chatchai Butdee in the quarterfinals before scoring a violent one-punch knockout of Laos boxer Thongbang Seauaphom with a left hook that left the man sprawled out on his hands and knees.
"I was shocked and scared because I saw his eyes turned white," Bautista said of his knockout win. "But I'm happy because I got to experience something like that and won."
Photo by Toby Roca/Rappler
The final was more competitive but Bautista still managed to put a beating on his Singaporean foe to win gold, one of 5 that the Philippine boxers won in 2015.
Bautista fell short of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics at the AIBA World qualifier in Azerbaijan, but the Binalbagan, Negros Occidental native feels confident his dream to make it to the Olympics will come true in the future.
"Ian continues to be one of our most powerful boxers. He's made some adjustments that should help him get his second consecutive SEAG gold," said Picson.
Picson added that he isn't sure how steep the competition will be in this year's SEAG because they haven't seen most of their regional rivals in tournaments, but he expects the flyweight division to be "one of the most hotly contested" this year.
The close proximity of SEA Games boxing, which runs from August 20 to 24, and the World Championships, which are more prestigious everywhere in the world but the Philippines, means the coaching squad will be split up.
Pat Gaspi plus former Olympians Romeo Brin and Elias Recaido will head the team going to Malaysia, while Nolito "Boy" Velasco and Ronald Chavez will accompany Ladon and flyweight Dannel Maamo in Germany.
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