Gathering of champions

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

It was a night of fireworks and glitter at Okada Manila last Saturday. A seven-fight program provided the fireworks in a “Blow By Blow” telecast that started mid-afternoon then the 23rd Flash Elorde Awards and Banquet of Champions showered the Grand Ballroom with glitter all the way until 1:30 a.m. The Elorde family continued the tradition of gathering the country’s best boxers – past, present and future – to recognize their achievements, courage and skills in an annual legacy event commemorating the birthday of the late Gabriel Elorde who reigned as world junior lightweight champion for over seven years up to 1967.

Awards of distinction were presented to Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire. Cited as Boxers of the Year were former world champions Jerwin Ancajas, Johnriel Casimero, Pedro Taduran, Vic Saludar, Rene Mark Cuarto and Mark Magsayo and IBO flyweight titlist Dave Apolinario. WBO minimumweight ruler Melvin Jerusalem was not included among the honorees as he won his belt this year and the period of reckoning was from 2019 to 2022.  About 100 Philippine and world/international/regional titleholders walked up the stage to receive Oscar-like trophies with a statuette of ‘D Flash in a fighting pose on top of the base.

Donaire, 40, arrived from Las Vegas with wife Rachel, sons Jarel and Logan and in-laws Gerry and Becky Marcial last week. He’ll train in Cebu for his fight against Mexico’s Alejandro Santiago for the vacant WBC bantamweight throne.  Date and venue will be announced shortly. Gerry Marcial said a lineup of tough Filipino sparmates is being assembled for Donaire who chose Cebu to set up camp. Santiago, 27, is unbeaten in 23 of his last 24 outings and once held Ancajas to a draw. The Filipino Flash has won world titles in four divisions and is in the elite class of champions to reign in three consecutive decades with Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, Evander Holyfield and Erik Morales. During the festivities, Donaire and former world champion Luisito Espinosa had their fists cast in a mold.

Casimero, 34, was introduced in the ring in between fights on “Blow By Blow.” He’s coming off a second-round disposal of Japanese Ryo Akaho in Incheon. The explosive three-division world ruler has won his last eight assignments, seven by KO and is set to battle defending WBO Global superbantamweight champion Filipus Nghitumbwa of Namibia at Okada Manila on May 13. Casimero is now campaigning in the 122-pound division where Naoya Inoue has moved up so there’s bound to be a collision course sometime.

Ancajas, who’s training in Las Vegas, sent a video message of thanks and was represented by wife Ruth in receiving his trophy. Magsayo texted and apologized for not being able to attend as he’s training in Los Angeles. Olympic and SEA Games gold medalists were also feted. Former world champions who graced the occasion included Rene Barrientos, 81; Rolando Navarrete, 66; Tacy Macalos, 57; Erbito Salavarria, 71; Donnie Nietes, 40 and Ronnie Magramo, 51. Four-time world title challenger Pretty Boy Lucas, 56, attended the affair. He retired in 1995 after slipping into a coma with a blood clot in the brain from a knockout loss and undergoing two surgeries in Japan. Lucas survived the ordeal and it’s now nearly 30 years since the mishap.

Former Japanese world champions Masayuki Ito and Tomoki Kameda were in attendance, too.  Ito will promote the Casimero-Nghitumbwa fight. Liza Elorde, the chief organizer of the fireworks-and-glitter event, said the May 13 fight will be a dinner-boxing show.  “Johnny and I met with the Japanese promoters and we’re being asked to handle the promotion,” she said.  “That’s why they came over as they observed and checked my layout.” Senate Committee on Sports chairman Sen. Bong Go came and President Marcos spoke in an inspiring video congratulating the boxers for giving honor to the country.

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