From hoops to boxing

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Markus Tongco never imagined he would someday join the Philippine boxing team in the SEA Games as playing basketball was his priority before the pandemic. The 6-5 Tongco was recruited by coach Jimuel Gican to play for the De La Salle Zobel high school varsity in the UAAP and in 2016, saw action for the Junior Archers who battled NU in the finals of Season 78.

Tongco said the finals appearance was a highlight of his three-year stay at Zobel. The Bullpups were bannered by Justine Baltazar and John Lloyd Clemente while Tongco recalled some of his teammates were Aljun Melecio, Brent Paraiso, Marco Sario, Jaime Cabarrus and Miguel Fortuna. Coach Jeff Napa’s NU squad swept the elims with a 14-0 record and enjoyed a thrice-to-beat advantage in the finals. Zobel delivered the only stain in NU’s record with a 71-60 upset in Game Two but couldn’t hold back the Bullpups who won Game One, 78-58 and Game Three, 96-75.

From Zobel, Tongco moved to College of St. Benilde and Perpetual but couldn’t crack their senior Team A lineups. He went back to his Cagayan de Oro hometown and played two years with the Xavier-Ateneo de Cagayan varsity. Tongco completed his undergrad studies with a Business Administration degree, major in marketing, last year and will receive his diploma during graduation rites in July.

When the pandemic struck, Tongco stayed home to wait out the storm. He kept in shape banging a heavy bag, did shadow boxing and pushed himself in calisthenics. As things normalized, Tongco decided to continue training at the WLS gym in Cagayan de Oro and coincidentally, the facility is where the city’s boxing team works out. Eventually, he was invited to try sparring and embraced the discipline of boxing.

“I weighed over 100 kilos then I started to go down,” said Tongco, the oldest of three boys. “Iba ang challenge ng boxing. It’s not playing, it’s fighting.” Coach Elmer Pamisa taught him the basics and now that he’s in the ABAP pool, Tongco continues to learn from other coaches like Don Abnett, Ronald Chavez, Mario Fernandez and Jerson Nietes. In the gym, Tongco has been told to focus on building stamina, delivering 1-2 jab-straight combinations and toughening his defense. His coaches want him to take advantage of his height and reach in dominating opponents. Tongco has fought only one official fight and lost a decision to an experienced ex-pro in a three-rounder in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, late last year. With little experience, Tongco will rely on what he’s learned from the ABAP coaches in the SEA Games. Since only three fighters are entered in the 92kg heavyweight class in Cambodia, Tongco is assured of a bronze medal even if he fails to win a single bout. “I’m prepared,” he said, recounting his typical training day of running three to six laps around the oval starting at 6:30 a.m., doing drills from 11 to 12 noon and going back to the gym for 1 1/2 hours at 3 p.m. in Teachers Camp, Baguio. He’s hoping to make his father (an OFW seafarer), mother (housewife) and two brothers proud.

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