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Torrecampo back with a bang

Lito Navarro (left) and Rustico Torrecampo

MANILA, Philippines –  The only Filipino and one of three fighters to beat Manny Pacquiao has returned to the ring at the age of 38 after a 14-year layoff. Rustico Torrecampo, who knocked out Pacquiao in 1996, came back from oblivion to stop Davao City’s Jovanie Bualan at 0:57 of the third round in Imus, Cavite, last weekend.

“I’m back,” roared Torrecampo after veteran WBA-licensed referee Silvestre Abainza stepped in to save Bualan from more punishment. “I want to show the fans I can still fight. I want to show it’s never too late to come back if you’re in shape and determined. I know I’ll never be like Manny but I want to keep fighting. I want to go as far as I can.”

Medgen 3-K Battery and Erik Morales were the other fighters to defeat Pacquiao who hasn’t lost in his last 13 outings since 2005.

Torrecampo’s manager Lito Navarro, who owns the Slim and Shape Fitness Center in Caloocan, said he’s prepared to back up the fighter all the way.

“He’s like a miniature Evander Holyfield,” said Navarro. “He’s built like a tank. He’s solid at 117 pounds. The fans mobbed him like he fought in the main event. Everyone wanted a picture with Torrecampo. His body is incredible. His abs show he trained hard for this fight.”

Torrecampo was never threatened in the scheduled bantamweight four-rounder against Bualan. He attacked the flustered 22-year-old novice, only in his fifth pro bout, from the opening bell and scored a knockdown late in the first round. Bualan managed to beat the count and survived the assault. It was all Torrecampo in the second round and in the third, Bualan turned his back as if to surrender under fire, prompting Abainza to step in. Surprisingly, Bualan protested the stoppage.

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“He turned his back so I stepped in,” said Abainza. “I thought he had taken enough punishment. Torrecampo was all over him. It looked like Bualan underestimated Torrecampo. Maybe, Bualan didn’t think Torrecampo still had it at his age. Torrecampo kept coming forward and pushing Bualan into a corner. Bualan backtracked and ran away.”

But Abainza said Torrecampo should rethink his boxing plans.

“I don’t think Bualan won a round,” said Abainza. “Still, Torrecampo got hit and I thought he was groggy a few times. Torrecampo’s punches were a lot shorter than before – which is a good adjustment. His left hook is still deadly. Bualan tried to fight back. Torrecampo was just too strong and experienced. But I don’t think he should continue fighting. Boxing is a young man’s sport. You’ve got to be disciplined, to sleep early. You’ve got to be ready to fight younger guys.”

Reminded that Sugar Shane Mosley is a year older than Torrecampo and still active, Abainza said Pacquiao’s next opponent has stayed in shape through the years. Torrecampo retired in 1997 and worked odd jobs until deciding to stage a comeback under Navarro’s wing. In 2007, Torrecampo knifed a truck driver, Ernesto Ongkit, to death in a street altercation and was served a warrant of arrest. Torrecampo is out on bail and hearings are still being scheduled to resolve his case.

Navarro insisted that Torrecampo was never groggy in the fight. “He had difficulty adjusting to the canvas and that’s why he was off-balance a lot, looking like he was groggy,” he claimed. “I’ll make sure when he returns to the gym, he trains in a regulation ring so he gets used to moving on canvas. I’m just happy he won. His wife Cecille watched at ringside and took a video of the entire fight. He’s one of a kind. I never would’ve believed he could come back the way he did. I want to push him some more in the gym, work double time.”

Navarro said Torrecampo no longer sells food in the sidewalks of Tondo. “He’s back as a full-time fighter,” said Navarro. “I’m taking care of him. I’m supporting him. He got P4,000 for the fight against Bualan. He’ll probably fight next in April, maybe a six-rounder for P6,000. He wakes up early, jogs then works out in the gym. He doesn’t move like a 38-year-old, more like he’s in his 20s.”

Navarro said Torrecampo fought Bualan with a handicap. “He had a big boil in his right arm,” said Navarro. “Anyone else would’ve backed out. That boil hurt and it could’ve burst during the fight. Torrecampo just shrugged it off like a warrior.”

Games and Amusements Board staffer Romel Gutierrez, one of the fight supervisors, said Abainza was justified in stopping the fight. “Bualan was beaten up badly,” said Gutierrez, “although I noticed Torrecampo was breathing heavily when the fight was stopped.”

International referee Bruce McTavish, watching at ringside, said Torrecampo could continue fighting – but only against four-rounders.

The win raised Torrecampo’s record to 15-8-5, with 8 KOs. Bualan’s mark dropped to 1-4, with one KO, since turning pro last year.

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