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The fighting pride of the Philippines

Tonight is the culmination of over a decade of work behind the scenes at creating a home for champions. ALA Promotions presents ‘”Pinoy Pride XXIII” at the Araneta Coliseum. All their best boxers are fighting, including world champions Donnie Nietes and Merlito Sabillo. Nietes is chasing Flash Elorde’s record as longest-reigning single-division champion, while Sabillo is making his second title defense after taking up the sport rather late in life. It is a rare display of pride and accomplishment worth writing into Philippine sports history.

The ALA boxers are drawing additional strength from the inspiring wins of their forebears in recent weeks. Nonito Donaire’s sensational repeat over Vic Darchinyan gave them a boost in training, as did Manny Pacquiao’s unanimous decision mop job of Brandon Rios. Each of the ALA boxers dreams of getting onto the world stage and sharing the limelight with the Filipino Flash and the Pacman. It is where every boxer dreams of going, and we also hope they are moral enough to withstand Las Vegas’ assault on their principles.

Of course, there is a bigger motivation for the champions, all of whom were born and raised in the Visayas. ALA and all of its headliners have actively been supporting relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Yolanda. It is hard for the boxers not to get emotional, as parts of Cebu were also in the superstorm’s path of destruction. As is common knowledge, many of the country’s greatest boxers have come from Negros and Cebu. Lord knows the typhoon victims need inspiration now more than ever.

What is interesting to note, especially from a boxing purist’s point of view, is how pure the state of Philippine professional boxing is. If you look back at boxing in the US more than 30 years ago, it is exactly the same as Philippine boxing is now. Primarily, the sport is still close to the grassroots and fans who have followed it all their lives. Time was when world title fights in the US (then mainly the WBA, WBC and IBF), were staged in historic venues like Madison Square Garden. But promoters realized the potential for greater financial gains.

Firstly, they used to rent coliseums to hold their fights. Now, casinos bang on their doors, offering them tens of millions of dollars in site fees. In turn, the gambling venues erect their own makeshift or permanent venues to stage the events. This gives them an excuse to pull out all stops to invite high rollers to their gaming arenas, as the fights become the centerpiece of a weekend in Las Vegas. The gamers are treated like royalty, with the understanding that they will gamble away vast sums in exchange for private jet shuttle trips, suites, free food and ringside seats. What a bargain.

Culturally, though, what has been the impact on the sport? First, the proliferation of boxing organizations, which in turn have slots for contenders and champions in their rankings that need to be filled up. The result is that many would-be pros skip the normal growth process, leapfrogging past the Golden Gloves tournaments and bypassing Olympic participation and other great venues for learning the fundamentals. Many of them hasten into the pro ranks raw and without savvy. This also gives more income to patsies, boxers who just fight without ambition, but get paychecks for the privilege of getting pounded into pulp by future “world champions”.

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There is also some detachment on the part of the fans. Boxers used to be one of them. Now they’re multimillion dollar conglomerates, merchandising juggernauts, pay-per-view giants. Fans no longer have direct access to their idols, and hardly ever see them on the street. A certain relatability has been lost. That’s why it’s become harder for fans to feel up close to the fighters. All the ringside seats have been taken by those who can pay more. Hardly anyone applauds the loser’s effort nowadays.

Thankfully, ALA Promotions has done a wonderful job of keeping the sport close to the people. Their leaving their nest in Cebu to foray into Metro Manila for world title fights is a more expensive, but worthy endeavor. It began a year ago with a world title shot for AJ Banal, and continues with an unprecedented double world championship this Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum. The ordinary Juan dela Cruz can afford the tickets, and the boxers never forget to express their gratitude and give back. As a long-time fan of the sport, this is how it was, and how it should remain.

In an era of self-aggrandizement, ALA’s philosophy is simple: this is for the fans, for the people, for all those who love and protect the sport. The day will soon come when their proteges will be catapulted to the Las Vegas stage. It is unavoidable. But they will always beat the trademark of humility, fortitude, industriousness and gratitude which have remained incorruptible. After all, you have to earn the right to wear the red and black of ALA, not just as a boxer, but as a person. They have been trained to never forget where they came from,  and how far they have come.

 

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