While chatting with boxing officials (who are fans of the sport deep down in their hearts), we couldn’t help but have throwback talks on how we all got together and know each other through the sport. It’s way of making friends and grow with them for as long as we’re involved in the sport, whether as a fan, official, manager, promoter, trainer, boxer or sportswriter. Among the many boxing topics that we talk about, the year 2000 stands out. The turn of the century also turned out to become a focal point of Cebu Boxing.
This is when Cebu Boxing had a taste of a re-birth after years of stagnation. When the ALA Boys slowed down in 1996, boxing activity also took a break. The 90s featured the likes of Edito “ALA” Villamor, Joma Gamboa, Noel Tuñacao and a host of boxers who excelled in the amateur ranks. This all faded away in the mid 90s. A revival of sorts got going when the so-called “Golden Boys” Malcolm Tuñacao, Randy Suico, Rev Santillan reigned in the late 90s. The year 2000 was also when Cebu Boxing met a guy named Leon Panoncillo. It was the first time for many to meet Leon who brought up the idea of bringing the World Boxing Organization closer to home. He was received with reserved-cum-open minds in a “Let’s see what he can do for us” stand. At that point, the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation were the main boxing bodies that Pinoy Boxing dealt with and this resulted into a number of world championships for the country. Most, if not all Filipino world champions won titles with these three boxing bodies including the likes of Cebu-based champions Dodie Boy Peñalosa and Malcolm Tuñacao. At the regional level, Suico and Santillan reigned as Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation champions, the Asia Pacific’s affiliate of the WBC.
Panoncillo’s strategic choice to tie up with the Cebu Boxing scene was logical and practical. After touching base with local boxing promoters and managers, the WBO made its inroads in Pinoy boxing. The WBO set up regional titles in the Philippines, thus giving Cebu boxers the opportunity to be rated among the top 15 in their weight classes and the chance to fight for world championships. When you hear about a WBO Oriental or WBO Asia Pacific championship, that’s not yet a world title but a stepping stone towards the top. Donnie Nietes, the country’s longest reigning world champion was a WBO minimumweight and junior flyweight champion throughout his reign. Before becoming a world champion, he was once a WBO regional champion under the supervision of Panoncillo. The other Pinoy world champions today include WBO world champions Manny Pacquiao and Marlon Tapales. The Pacman and former world champion Nonito Donaire obviously didn’t need to go through the regional title path, but Tapales and Nietes did. The WBO regional path has become an important tool for boxers looking to win a world title, but it’s not guaranteed. Not all regional champions go on to win a world championship. That bar up there is one tough mountain to climb. Panoncillo has now spread his influence to China and Japan, the two biggest and richest boxing markets in Asia. But I can assure you he isn’t leaving the Philippines behind.
At last night’s “Who’s Next? 4 Pro Boxing Series” event at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, WBO Oriental junior featherweight champion Jhack Tepora of the Omega Boxing Gym defended his title for the first time against challenger Yon Armed of Indonesia. Tepora’s stablemate Christian Araneta gunned for the WBO Oriental junior flyweight championship against Demsi Manufoe of Indonesia. (I don’t have the results as I’m writing this piece before the fight took place late last night.) Omega Pro Sports International, the promotions arm of the Omega Boxing Gym, has also made the strategic decision to work with the WBO in building its boxers’ careers. Tepora and Araneta are on board for this and are being built up slowly but surely. Both are barely 22 years old and still have a lot of learning and growing up to do in boxing. Will they win a world title? Again, it’s not a guaranty. A regional championship will give them the confidence, learning experiences and maturity that are very much needed in one’s career. If this is accompanied by the proper guidance, training and self-sacrifice, who knows how far they’ll go? Despite his busy schedule that has him all over Asia for boxing events, Panoncillo made time to be at last night’s fights, and for this Cebu Boxing is grateful. His message for boxers is simple. The WBO Asia Pacific team will help you reach your dreams of becoming world champions. But it won’t come on a silver platter.
It’s both ironic and timely that a simple visit in 2000 has now turned into one big boxing market for Cebu Boxing. With more opportunities and fights, no other boxing body has given Pinoys the chance to chase their dreams. And this includes Pinoy WBO boxing officials who officiate in other parts of the world. Had we been stuck in the past, the quiet scene of the late 90s could’ve remained silent until today. Here’s looking forward to a booming Cebu Boxing scene, thanks to Leon’s visit in 2000.