Retired champ OFW in Tokyo
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Four-time OPBF (Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation) welterweight champion Rev Santillan lives alone in Tokyo and makes an honest living as a trainer working from 2 to 10 p.m. at the Shakujii gym to send nearly P20,000 a month to his parents and only child in Iloilo.

Santillan, 42, was a fan favorite in Japan where he saw action in 17 fights, including his last 13 in a career that ended in 2010 when he retired from the ring to take care of his wife Annie Rose, stricken with breast cancer in Iloilo. He had been based in Tokyo since 2005, staying eight months at a time. Back home from Tokyo, Santillan was employed as a boxing trainer by Tony Aldeguer then the Elorde family. In 2012, his wife passed away and a year later, he was offered a job in Tokyo by his former manager Kikuji Okuda.

When Santillan fought in Japan, he was never in a dull fight. Twice, he faced Kazuhiko Hidaka and they swapped knockout wins in 2005. Santillan engaged Hiroshi Watanabe in a trilogy where he lost by a split decision, fought to a split draw and won by a split decision. He racked up a 9-7-1 record, with 6 KOs, in Japan and always gave the fans a treat. His overall record was 26-7-1, with 19 KOs. He was unbeaten in 17 outings here.

In 2001, Santillan took his first OPBF welterweight title, beating Korean Suk Hyun Yoon by a split decision in Cebu. Suk was decked in rounds five and seven but Korean judge Jae Keun Kim scored it 113-111 for his countryman. Judge Teddy Alivio had it 115-109 and judge Bruce McTavish 114-111, both for Santillan. Seven months later, Santillan retained his crown on a split draw with Watanabe in Nagoya. “Tapos ng laban ko kay Suk, nag-double vision ako at sumakit ang baywang ko,” he said. “Akala ko end na ang aking boxing career. Wala pa ako na-ipon at sira ang bahay namin. Two months ako nag-pahinga at kahit double vision ang paningin ko, kailangan ko mag-training at i-depensa ang korona. Swerte ako at tabla yung laban ko kay Watanabe sa aking first defense.”

Santillan was in Iloilo for the holidays to visit his only child, Reanne who turned 12 last Thursday. He was scheduled to fly back to Tokyo yesterday. “Malungkot sa Tokyo kasi nag-iisa ako,” said the 5-11 Santillan, known in boxing circles as the Gentle Giant. “Pero kailangan mag hanap-buhay. Ang sahod ko ay mga P70,000 a month kaya nakakapagpadala ako ng P10,000 sa aking anak, na inaalagaan ng aking biyenan, at mga P7,000 sa aking mga magulang. Dati, tag-two years ang working visa ko, ngayon tag-one year na lang.”

In Tokyo, Santillan trains five pros, including Japanese heavyweight champion Ryu Ueda, and about 50 fitness enthusiasts in Okuda’s gym. His dream is to someday own and operate his own gym in Iloilo to be close to his daughter. The sixth of seven children, Santillan paid for his youngest sibling’s education with his boxing earnings. Santillan said boxing has been good to him and continues to be his source of livelihood.

During the holidays, Santillan met up with former WBF welterweight champion William Magahin in Iloilo. In the 1990s, the top Filipino welterweights were Santillan, Magahin, Jongjong Pacquing and Rey Pelonia. Magahin, 49, retired in 1996 and now works as a car mechanic and driver in Iloilo. Santillan said Manny Pacquiao is his choice as the greatest welterweight fighter ever. He met Pacquiao once in Iloilo before his first fight against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003. “Si Senator ang pinakamagaling na welterweight sa mundo,” he said. “Nasa kanya ang lakas, speed at talino. Tinalo niya sina Barrera, Oscar de la Hoya at Sugar Ray Mosley. Natandaan ko, noon nag-usap kami, sinabi ko kung talunin niya si Barrera, sisikat siya. Si Senator, walang kapagod-pagod, from the first round hanggang 12th round.” It’s almost unimaginable that Santillan is only a year older than Pacquiao.

Despite long years living in Japan, Santillan said he speaks only a little Nihongo. When he trains, Santillan uses universal boxing terms like jab-straight, hook, uppercut, side-to-side, duck and block and he’s understood. “Mababait ang mga Hapon,” he said. “Dati si Mr. Koba Kobayashi ang nag-alaga sa akin. Ngayon, kay Mr. Okuda ako nagtratrabaho. Siya rin ang dati kong manager noong active boxer ako.”

It’s unusual for a Filipino to enjoy four reigns as the OPBF welterweight champion but Santillan accomplished the feat, winning three of his four titles in Japan. He’s a proud OFW, working abroad to send money to his family back home.

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