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Calabarzon boxer fights to pay school fees, provide for struggling family

Naveen Ganglani
Calabarzon boxer fights to pay school fees, provide for struggling family
For a chance to see more smiles in his parents and siblings’ faces. For a chance at a better tomorrow. For a chance to live.

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – The athlete draped in blue gear enters the 4-cornered boxing ring standing at the second floor of Peñaranda Park in Legazpi City. He jumps up and down to keep himself warmed up, with occasional pauses to stretch and stay loose, but never takes his eyes off his opponent in red.

He’s now playing with the mouthguard in his mouth, then pushes his left and right arms front and back in repeated fashion, with sweat already dripping from all over his body as his shoulders join the motion. The referee calls him to the middle of the matted floor along with his adversary for the night from the Cordillera Administrative Region. They bump fists, and the fight is on.

The problem was, it was never really a fight as much as it was a clinic.

A troublesome life

John Paul Ramos is already 18-years-old yet he’s only in Grade 7, presently studying at Luis Palad National High School located in Tayabas, Quezon. He’s currently participating in the 2016 Palarong Pambansa secondary boxing tourney, where he’s representing the Calabarzon Region (4A) and hopes to take home a price of 3,000 pesos with a gold medal.

Some kids would spend that kind of money in different ways. Maybe a new television, or a new bike, or a nice dinner for the family. That usually isn’t the case for boxers, and most especially not for Ramos. 

If he takes home the 3 grand, “siguro bibigay ko sa magulang ko (I guess I’ll give it to my parents),” he tells Rappler before he’s about to hit the ring against Mark Peking. It’s admirable. Heart-warming even. Then Ramos says that after he gives the money to his folks, he’s going to have to box again right away to pay off his school fees at school. More punches to the face and gut. More hours of taking his body to its physical extremities.

It’s still admirable, though with a hint of sadness.


But such is the life Ramos has, and boxing seems like the only escape from the harsh realities the world has given him.

Mahirap din po, pero okay lang naman po saakin. Kahit ako nag bo-boxing, [basta] mag aral,” he says, with some hint of “What else can I do?” sorrow in his cracking voice.

(It’s hard, but it’s okay. Even if I’m the one boxing, as long as I can study.)

His 35-year-old mother Rose Marie works night and day to provide for her 10 children by selling suman in their town. His dad? ”Nasaamin lang (He’s just with us),” he says. What does that mean, I slowly query him, noticing his unwillingness to provide full details.

The father, 34-year-old Roner Ramos, used to work regularly but was surgically operated on to remove his appendix. He’s been stuck at home ever since, unable to support for his large family.

The onus to provide for everyone, who stay inside a small bahay kubo, then immediately fell in the hands of the elder children. John Paul’s elder siblings have gone to Manila, working as street vendors to get what little money they can. He’s stayed behind, boxing his way for a chance at an education. For a chance to see more smiles in his parents and siblings’ faces. For a chance at a better tomorrow. For a chance to live.


Ramos’ coach, 44-year-old Simplicio Rato, barks orders at his student after the bell is rung to indicate the end of round one. Ramos is clearly at an advantage, having pushed his rival to the ropes multiple times and throwing multiple jab-straight-upper-hook combos while Peking helplessly put both arms up in defense.

What the part-time Filipino teacher and part-time boxing coach is saying cannot be heard, but he looked optimistic. He had every reason to be. The fight was already one-sided just a few minutes in.


The bell rings again. Ramos is already standing before the referee even signals for him to get up. Peking slowly moves to the middle and puts his hands up. Even someone who’s not a body language doctor can see he looks exhausted.

The bell rings, and the two go at it again. Ramos becomes more cerebral in his approach. He slowly trots his feet forward and back, arms up in defense, waiting for his opponent to strike first. Peking does, aiming for the body and then the face. Neither land home. Now he also slows down, eager for an opening. 

Ramos, out of nowhere, throws a straight right hand. Peking evades it in time but it catches him off balance. Then in the blink of an eye, Ramos works on the body of his opponent with repeated punches, pushing him to the ropes. A flurry of more punches are thrown. Jabs and straights. Uppercuts and hooks. To the body and face. 

After a while, the referee halts the match. “Out na ba (Is he done)?” an awed fan in attendance wonders. The referee talks to Peking and his coaches. There’s blood coming from somewhere in the face. It might have been the nose or from the mouth. The match stops a while as Ramos continues to warm up, a fire of determination visible in his eyes. Two minutes go by, and the official allows Peking to compete again. Both go at it for a while before the bell forces an end-of-round stoppage.

There was going to be a third round, but there was no doubt who was going to be the victor.

Punching his way out of struggles

John Paul didn’t know anything about boxing until May 2013. His elder brother, Joel, was the boxer of the family, hoping for a different way to make a living. Now even John Paul’s younger brother Mark John has gotten into it. After attending a few of Joel’s training sessions, John Paul gave the sport a try, and has been invested ever since.

Ung boxing para sa pag-aaral ko po eh,” Ramos tells Rappler, then says it again: “Kasi pag nag bo-boxing po kami, pang-aral.”

(Boxing is a way to pay my studies. Because when we box, it’s to pay for our education.)

He idolizes Manny Pacquiao and was defiant when I mentioned the 8-division boxing champion’s upcoming retirement. He fails classes in school, but not because he’s an inadequate student. When you train as rigorous as he does, giving full concentration on studies can be extremely difficult, especially with so little available time.

Araw-araw yung training,” he shares. “Sa isang araw, maaga po yung training – hangang 6 am nang umaga. 4 am hangang 6 nang umaga. Tapos sa hapon, 4pm hangang mag-dilim na.”

(I train every day. In one day, training starts early – from 4 to 6 am. Then in the afternoon, from 4 pm until it’s dark.)

How many total sit-ups you’ve done in your life is likely the amount he has to do weekly. His abs are sculpted, his arms are long and toned, and his calves look like tree branches. That kind of commitment to keeping in physical shape is the only lifestyle dedicated boxers know. 

Na gustuhan ko na rin kasi nasanay na ako eh, kahit mahirap buhay,” he said. “Pag wala pong boxing, parang hindi ako makakapag aral eh.”

(I like it because I’ve gotten used to it, even if it’s a tough life. If boxing isn’t there, I won’t be able to study.)

He dreams of going to college, whether it’s in Manila or in his hometown, and knows the only way to get there is to, quite literally, strike down the obstacles in his way. 

Gustong-gusto ko talaga (go to college). Yung boxing yung nagiging [paraan] ko para makapag-aral nang maayos.”

(I really want to go to college. Boxing is the chance for me to study properly.)

Does he dream of an escape from his life; a chance to start over free of the burdens he was born into?

Gusto ko pong matulungan yung mga kapatid ko,” he says, with his family always on his mind, “para makatapos makapagaral. Parang ako na po yung bahala sakanila pag nakatapos po ako mag aral ang makakuha nang trabaho.”

(I want to help my siblings so that they finish studying. I’ll be the one to take care of them after I’m done studying and getting a job.)

The finishing punch

Round 3 begins, but it should have been over before that. Peking doesn’t stand a chance, and boxes like he knows that’s the case. He’s attempting to fight back even less while Ramos continues to pound, pushing his adversary to the ropes over and over again. 

Peking attempts to find even the slightest of openings while Ramos works on him, but the latter’s incredible speed is too much to match. Before Peking can even lift an arm to throw a last-resort counter punch, Ramos throws two more punches, each landing. “Aayaw na yan (He’s going to give up)!” whispers someone from the audience. Everyone knew it was imminent.


After a while the referee halts the fight again. He looks at the fighter in red, counting his fingers up to 8. He then talks Peking’s coach, and not long after, the fight was over. It was a TKO victory (due to injury) for John Paul at the 1:08 mark of the third round.

He then lifts the ropes to help Peking exit before taking a bow to the spectators of every corner of the boxing ring and exiting himself. He doesn’t smile even after the well-earned victory. I don’t blame him. By the sound of his life, he has a long way to go before attaining happiness. 

Sa una lang po (At first),” he admits when I ask if he’s ever afraid whenever he enters the ring for a bout, “pero pag lumalaban na, hindi (but not anymore when I start fighting).”

With that same mindset, he can knock out the challenges life throws his way as well. –

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