Boxing in Cebu

Today the Cebuanos go crazy with boxing. For the first time in a decade or two, title fights will be staged tonight right here, the home province of world titlist Gabriel "Flash" Elorde. Like Pacquiao's name today the name Elorde was a household word in the fifties and sixties. He was an icon of a boxer for many a young man in those days, one whose rag-to-riches story was an inspiration.

Largely because of Elorde's ring successes (he won the junior lightweight title in 1960), boxing became a popular sport in Cebu. Bouts were held almost every month at the old Cebu Coliseum where new and seasoned fighters showed their mettle. It was during this bountiful season in local ring events that such top-rated boxers as the elder Peñaloza, Balog, Espinoza and others had their early attempts for championship belts.

TV sets being a rarity in those days, those monthly (or bi-monthly) bouts were a crowd drawer. These were scheduled Saturday evenings but by early afternoon people would line up for tickets and oftentimes the Coliseum would be filled to capacity. I was one of those who frequented the bouts. A college instructor, I would arrange that my weekend evenings would be free just so I would not miss the fights. At fight nights my companions and I would take our meals early then hie to the Coliseum so that we would not miss the preliminary fights.

These preliminary bouts were for new recruits. But they were funny and entertaining as the fighters would punch each other without lit up until exhaustion caught up with them. Betting also made the skirmish more interesting. Before each bout the place would resound with calls from bettors making the atmosphere similar to that of cockpit dens. We too tendered our bets for rated pairs, but the amounts were tame knowing as we do that gambling seldom pays.

In the 1970's and 1980's boxing slowed down in Cebu. Regular fights even for low rated fighters were no longer conducted. Promoters lost their zeal as the general enthusiasm for boxing waned. However, with the revival of the DepEd's Palarong Pambansa after EDSA I in which boxing was a contest event, the sports started to attract once more the interest of Cebuanos. Such interest was generated by the good performance of Cebu's student boxers in that annual sports fest. Their godfather: Antonio "Bidoy" Aldeguer.

Aldeguer's coming to Cebu (he hails from Iloilo) was the best thing to happen to Cebu boxing. With his well-furnished stable in Talamban, he developed, using his own resources, dozens of student boxers who for years became standouts in local and national competitions. From 1989 to 2000 his team of Palaro punchers were the undisputed perennial champions besting even seeded freighters from the capital city. Such boxers as Tuñacao, Suico, Mayol and others who later became rated fighters in the national and zonal scene, got their early workouts from Aldeguer's training camp. From him too owe their fistcuff know-how some contemporary fighters such as Z. Gorres and Rey "Boom-Boom" Bautista, tonight's star gladiators in the Moment of Truth fistorama.

After tonight's ring event, boxing will surely resurface in these parts as a major sports craze. Stable managers will emerge and many a young Cebuano, especially the out-of-schools ones, will look at boxing as a possible ticket to prosperity. Gorres and Bautista, whatever tonight's outcome, are already shining stars among their kind. Young and promising, one of them or both may yet do a Pacquiao in foreign arenas. They will then be idolized by millions of Filipino youth, a happening which will make boxing a favorite preoccupation among young men hereabouts.

Even at present this licensed fist fight is becoming a well accepted sports in these parts. In the previous Pacquiao fights, for instance, paid tv outlets had standing room viewers and their replays glued hundreds of thousands to their tv sets. Surprisingly, it is not only the men who have gone ago-go with boxing. The women too have, even the elderly ones.

Yes, boxing may be coming of age in Cebu and the Visayas. Although this kind of sports is not exactly the favorite of church men (they believe hurting other's body is anti-God), it may yet teach young adults the need for discipline, hard work, and courage in order to succeed in life. And who can say these traits are unChristian?
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