Second life for ex-champ

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Just when it looked like things were going south, life took a positive turn for former WBA superlightweight champion Morris East. He was confined in a Las Vegas hospital for 65 days, starting last Jan. 6 and was in a coma for two weeks after undergoing a quintuple bypass heart surgery that nearly went haywire.

Miraculously, East pulled out of danger and is now recovering but it hasn’t been easy working back to normal. East, 46, was born in Olongapo City to Rosario Santillan and an American father, John East Sr. who was stationed at the Subic Naval Base with the US Navy. His father went back to the US in 1973 when East was only six months old and they never saw each other again until a reunion in a desolate Oakland motel in 1992. Three months later, East’s father passed away of prostate cancer. In 1994, East was sworn in as a US citizen and now lives in Las Vegas. 

East turned pro in 1989 and wrested the WBA 140-pound title from Akinobu Hiranaka on an 11th round knockout in Tokyo three years later. He was behind on the three judges scorecards when Hiranaka went down from a single left hook to the jaw. Hiranaka got up but Panamanian referee Carlos Berrocal waved it off after motioning the Japanese to walk towards him and the defending champion teetered on rubbery legs. Berrocal’s gesture for Hiranaka to walk is now a common practice among referees trying to decide whether or not to end a fight after a knockdown.

East was 19 years and 31 days old when he won the crown and is in the record books as the youngest Filipino world boxing champion ever. Two other Filipinos became world champions at 19 but Ben Villaflor captured the WBA superfeatherweight belt at 19 years and 166 days old and Marvin Sonsona took the WBO superflyweight strap at 19 years and 40 days old.

“God gave me a second chance in life and I’m slowly but surely getting back on my feet,” said East who has five children, three girls and two boys, living in the Philippines. “My recovery has been very challenging because I had to learn my motor skills from the beginning, including how to talk. The ventilator was down my throat for so long that it damaged my vocal chords so I had to go through speech therapy. Just to stand up was a very difficult task. I’m taking this journey at a steady pace.”

East said what keeps him going is his fighting spirit. “Once a fighter, always a fighter,” he said. “I’ve lost over 50 pounds. I’ve put my training of fighters on hold for now because I’m recuperating from major surgery but I’m still actively planning my next move. My passion is boxing. I have a group of business associates and boxing diehards in Las Vegas and we have several plans to venture into boxing themes in the future. But due to the pandemic and my current medical condition, there has been a slight delay in plans. On a positive note, I hope and pray that eventually this crisis will end. We are adamant to push through with our plans. I have several meetings set in the Philippines but of course, due to the calamity and shutdown, our plans have been altered. The coast must be clear before we proceed.”

East retired from boxing at only 22 after defeating Robert Azumah at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in 1995. “I was fed up with a lot of anomalies and unjust things going on with my career,” he said. “My father was the main purpose why I boxed so I could find him but he passed away so I fell into depression. I didn’t even get a chance to bond with him. I thought of making a comeback. I moved to Las Vegas to get my career jump-started and I was in my mid-20s but all my opponents would either back out or get injured, cancelling my fights. So I decided to go a different route into the training side of the business.”

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