The grapevine had been abuzz with talks about the Pambansang Kamao being motivated lately by ethical things and the Bible. He reportedly had renounced his sins and bad habits on the way to becoming an “ambassador” of the Catholic Church. This augurs well on what’s ahead of Pacman considering that there are mentions about him retiring from the ring.
The eight-division world champion and top pound-for-pound fighter is certainly a phenomenon and deserving of all the accolades and honors strewn his way. As everyone may have already known, he had been bumped from sergeant to colonel in the reserved corps, has a doctor honoris causa, a kind of movie and TV celebrity and a legislator besides.
But sooner or later the question is bound to pop up as to whether or not there would come a point in time when all these acts of adulation can go too far for even the likes of Manny Pacquiao. Would this kind of hero-worship ultimately spur misconceptions especially on the part of foreign observers who may think that perhaps what we have is a fluke in the boxing stable and that maybe our country is bereft of other champions to represent us in international competitions?
Additionally, are we being unfair to our other world-rated athletes whose endeavors and sacrifices to achieve honors for the homeland are likewise laudable and deserving of the same attention and respect? Is our media focused only in spotlighting lucrative sports programs like professional boxing? And coming as a hint from my editor at PWD, is there Philippine sports outside of Manny Pacquiao?
Certainly the greatness that is Pacman would not be diminished a bit if other sports and sports greats are afforded equal opportunity in the limelight. That could help arouse slumbering sense of national pride and patriotism especially among the youth who may no longer be aware that once upon the annals of our nationhood the boxing world reverberated with the name and fame of Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, the “thinking fighter” whose skill and sportsmanship in the ring was only surpassed by his charity, kindness and gentlemanly qualities. In 1974 he was regarded as “the greatest world junior light-weight boxing champion” for successfully defending his title for seven years.
There was also Ceferino “Bolo Punch” Garcia, the great Filipino middleweight who once ruled that weight class and defended it successfully three times. Garcia became a boxing legend when he knocked out war hero Barney Ross in 1937 and Henry Armstrong in 1938. He was at that same time the Welterweight Champion of California.
Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo, at 5’1” and never weighing more than 114 pounds won the World Flyweight Championship in 1923 and was acclaimed in his time as “ the greatest flyweight of the century.” Pancho Villa was Asia’s first world champion in boxing. Never knocked out in his entire boxing career, the toughness in him was no match to the ripper who got him at the age of 23 following complications from a tooth extraction.
Luisito Espinosa had held for five years two different world boxing titles: the World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight crown and the World Boxing Association (WBA) bantamweight belt. He was feted the “Athlete of the Year” award twice. He was one of the longest reigning Filipino world boxing champions.
Gerry Peñalosa won the WBC super flyweight crown in February 1997 and defended it three times. In June 1999 he clinched the same title in WBA. At age 36 he also became WBO bantamweight champion.
Other ring gladiators who brought honor to our country include Dodie Boy Penalosa, who overcame his polio to become a two-division world champion. Then there was world flyweight champion Erbito Salavarria, world junior lightweight champion Rolando “Bad Boy from Dadiangas” Navarette, Eleuterio “Little Dado” Zapanta who was WBA flyweight and WBA bantamweight champion, WBA super featherweight champion Ben Villaflor and WBA super featherweight champion Jesus “The Hawaiian Punch” Salud.
THE OLYMPIANS. People who are not aware of Victoria Manalo-Draves could not be faulted in thinking that the Olympic gold remains an elusive goal for our sports greats. Draves, attractive and graceful, was the first athlete of Filipino descent to get the gold. In fact she won two gold medals in diving, the first woman to do so. She was also the first Asian American to win an Olympic medal.
Another Olympian of Filipino ancestry is US-based Natalie Coughlin. Her 3 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze medals made her the most decorated female athlete at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is also the first woman ever to win a 100m backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympic Games. Presently she’s in the thick of training for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Coughlin, the New Pantene Brand Ambassador, is at home with cooking Filipino food.
Still on the Olympic medal, boxing standouts Anthony Villanueva and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco won a silver each — in 1964 Tokyo and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, respectively. The Philippine team won a bronze medal in the 1954 World Basketball. Also bronze winners were Teofilo Yldefonso in swimming, 1928, Amsterdam ; Simeon Toribio, men’s high jump in 1932, Los Angeles; José Villanueva in boxing, 1932, Los Angeles; Teofilo Yldefonso in swimming, 1932, Los Angeles; Miguel White, athletics, 1936, Berlin; Leopoldo Serantes, boxing, 1988, Seoul; and Roel Velasco also in boxing, 1992, Barcelona.
OTHER SPORTS GREATS. Rafael “Paeng” Nepomuceno is six-time world champion and the acknowledged greatest international bowler in the history of the sport. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized him as the youngest ever to win a world title at the age of 19 and for having won the most number of World Cups achieved in each of three different decades. The World FIQ, the governing body of the sport, named Paeng as the “International Bowler of the Millennium” in behalf of 100 million bowlers.
On the distaff side Olivia “Bong” Coo is a four-time World Champion and the only bowling athlete who has won the All Events titles in regional level, Asian Zone level and world level championships in major quadrennial and biennial bowling competitions. She also owned the All Events records on those tournaments at one time in 1986. Like Paeng, Bong is still actively contributing to the sport. The current crop of Filipino greats in sports include 29 year-old Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire, Jr. He already has two world bantamweight titles under his belt when early this month he also got the World Boxing Organization’s super bantamweight from Puerto Rican Wilfre do Vasquez, Jr.
Patricia Llena, a 15-year old honor student from San Antonio, Nueva Ecija, bagged three gold and one bronze medals during the 2009 World Sub-Junior & Junior Powerlifting Championships held in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Michael Martinez, 14 years old and dubbed as the Prince of the Rink in a country that’s in the tropics, will be the Philippine representative in the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria next year. He had won 187 medals in various international tournaments, it is said.
The 29-year-old Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton won the IBA female super bantamweight title to become the first Filipina world boxing champion. In 2008, Dorothy Delasin and Jennifer Rosales of Team Philippines won the 4th Women’s World Cup of golf in Sun City, South Africa. They also did well on LPGA Tours. Also in professional golf, Juvic Pagunsan is the first Filipino to win the coveted Order of Merit trophy.
Efren “The Magician” Reyes is a two-time world pool champion and considered one of the all-time greats in the games of nine ball and one-pocket. Francisco “Django” Bustamante was World’s Number One Billiard Player in 1998, twice World Pool Masters champion and got the Asiad Gold Medal in 2002. Dennis Orcollo, 32, recently won the world 8-ball championship and was hailed as the Player of the Year by the World Pool and Billiard Association.
Johnriel Casimero of Ormoc City won the recent riot-marred IBF light flyweight championship in Argentina. Former WBO super flyweight champion Marvin “Marvelous” Sonsona is coming back from a 20-month layoff. SEAG boxer Rey Saludar had a gold in the Games. Donnie Nietes is WBO minimum weight and Brian Viloria, is IBF light flyweight champ. Highly-touted Edrin “The Sting” Dapudong was WBC silver flyweight title holder until he got trounced by Mexico’s Wilbert “Hurricane” Uicab. There are also great players of Filipino ancestry in several other sports like baseball, basketball, football and professional wrestling.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Obviously many of the renowned athletes mentioned at the early part are nowhere around anymore. Then there are those who may have retired from active participation. Eric Buhain used to be the most accomplished swimmer of his generation. He won the Best Male Athlete of the SEA Games after winning five gold medals and in the process broke two Games records. Eugene Torre was Asia’s first chess grandmaster at the age of 22.
Elma Muros won in different events in the Southeast Asian Games and was dubbed the Southeast Asian Games heptathlon queen in 1997. Gerald Rosales was an Asian Games silver winner and Southeast Asian Games two-time champion in golf. Lydia de Vega was Asia’s fastest woman in the 1980s. Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, an accomplished equestrienne, won the gold medal for the Individual Show Jumping competition in the 2002 Asian Games.