Redemption is goal in boxing finals
- Joaquin M. Henson () - December 10, 2003 - 12:00am
Since making its debut at the ninth Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1977, only twice in 13 conclaves has the Philippines finished without a gold in boxing. That means a batting average of 85 percent.

But even as the odds point to a glowing windup in Ho Chi Minh City with six Filipino fighters slugging it out in the 22nd SEA Games finals today, the optimism is guarded. It’s because five of the six Pinoys are matched against vaunted Thais and there is the lingering memory that the Philippines was blanked in the gold stakes in two of the last three SEA Games.

For the record, the Philippines has averaged three gold medals and five finalists in boxing since joining the SEA Games in 1977. The stats indicate a 60 percent probability of capturing a gold when a Filipino qualifies for the finals.

The danger is Thailand looms as the spoilsport. The three Filipinos who failed to reach the finals were waylaid by Thais. Flyweight Violito Payla bowed to Somjit Jongjohor via a 20-10 decision in his first outing. Welterweight Francis Joven lost to Manon Boojumnong while middleweight Chris Camat was eliminated by Somchai Chimlum. Payla and Joven will return home empty-handed. Camat’s consolation is a bronze medal. It’s no coincidence that Somjit, Manon and Somchai were part of the Thai juggernaut that steamrolled to six golds at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games two years ago.

The six Pinoy finalists, however, are hoping to buck the trend. They’re fighting not only for the gold but also for redemption.

Take pinweight Juanito Magliquian. The 30-year-old Talisay, Negros Occidental, native is the team’s senior statesman. He’s in the twilight of a long and colorful amateur career and his dream is to qualify for the Athens Olympics next year. In 1999, Magliquian won a gold at the SEA Games in Brunei. Now, he has a chance to claim a second gold four years later and fortify his bid for an Olympic berth.

Then there’s Harry Tañamor whose nickname is curiously, Inday. He was the country’s only boxing medallist at the Busan Asian Games last year and brought back a silver. Tañamor, 27, won a gold at the first Afro-Asian tournament in Hyderabad, India, this year and clinched a bronze at the World Championships in Ireland in 2001. He’d like nothing better than to hit paydirt in Vietnam. The only obstacle in his path is Rinonando Butar Butar of Indonesia.

Joan Tipon, 21, eased out Sydney Olympian Arlan Lerio for a spot in the SEA Games and got a break when defending champion Chotipat Wongprates of Thailand withdrew with a back injury. He won a gold at the pre-SEA Games meet in Vietnam last October and he’s out to prove the win was no fluke. His finals foe is Chotipat’s replacement Petchkum Worapos.

More than any other finalist, featherweight Roel Laguna of Catigbian, Bohol, has an axe to grind because his opponent Sutthisak Samaksaman was his tormentor in Busan. Sutthisak outpointed Laguna, 18-11, in the Asiad. Their rematch should be a humdinger. Sutthisak won the SEA Games gold in Kuala Lumpur two years ago by stopping Filipino Ramil Zambales in the finals so Laguna is out for double vengeance.

Laguna, 22, has been impressive so far, halting Ken Intha Sathi of Laos and pounding out a 20-10 verdict over Nguyen Trung Kien of Vietnam to barge into the finals.

Lightweight Florencio Ferrer, 20, has also been sensational in his SEA Games debut, disposing of Sam Skunthea of Cambodia and Marwan Muling without difficulty.

The country’s sixth gold medal bet is lightwelterweight Mark Jason Melligen who’s in the finals after knocking out Chan Samrith of Cambodia and hammering out a 28-10 decision over Aung Thu Ya of Myanmar.

It’s no secret that International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) president Anwar Chowdry declared war on the Philippines after he was denounced by the Manila press as a corrupt dictator in 1998. Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines president Manny Lopez’ father Mel even led a campaign to unseat Chowdry at the AIBA World Congress in Turkey that same year.

A reconciliation with Chowdry was apparent when Manny Lopez was voted secretary-general of the Asian Amateur Boxing Federation last year, boosting the Philippines’ clout in the region. In a sport where medals are often decided by subjective judgment and political affiliations, clout is inexorably vital.

Whatever the odds, the six Filipinos in the SEA Games finals plan to fight their way to the gold without political interference.

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