MANILA, MAY 9, 2006 (STAR) SPORTS FOR ALL By Philip Ella Juico - Last Saturday, Alfredo Gregorio Asuncion, Al Asuncion in professional boxing circles, was laid to rest at 76 at the North Cemetery in Quezon City after a funeral Mass at 9 a.m. in Lourdes church. Asuncion was born on Oct. 2, 1931 and passed away on May 2 at his home in Gen. Tinio in La Loma. He left behind his widow, the former Evangeline Custodio, a son (Alvin), three daughters and a number of nieces who Asuncion treated like his own daughters.

According to one niece, Grace (Galilee) Reta Benedicto, daughter of Asuncion’s youngest sister, Sylvia Asuncion Reta, uncle Al married late at 45 "to take care of her and other nieces." Grace therefore remembers having been showered with fatherly affection and care by Asuncion. Galilee, who is vice president for finance at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, said that Asuncion coined her nickname but would call her by her baptismal name whenever he was mad at her.

Another niece, Gina, claims that Asuncion taught her the rudiments of boxing and fondly remembers the late boxer bringing her, her cousins and sisters to Cash and Carry where Asuncion bought them toys and other stuff for children.

Widow Evangeline has many fond memories of her late husband but remembers a number that occurred before she even met and eventually married Asuncion. Evangeline proudly says that Al had a special friendship with the beauteous chanteuse, Carmen Soriano.

Evangeline also recalls stories of how Al struck a close friendship with undefeated world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano. Among the memorabilia displayed at Arlington funeral homes during the wake for Al were prize photographs of the 5’4", 118-lb Asuncion being carried by the heavy-set Marciano. Another photograph showed Asuncion in the Philippine delegation to the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 with, among others, Caloy Loyzaga.

My own recollection of Asuncion is he was one of the boxers training at the old Philippine Boxing Association (PBA) gym at Legarda (near San Sebastian College) when my late father, Felipe, sent me and my older brothers, Sonny and George, to study boxing in the summer of 1955. It was our privilege to be under the tutelage of Jose (Cely) Villanueva, trainer of Gabriel (Flash) Elorde and father of Tokyo Olympics featherweight silver medalist, Anthony. The latter was to become my sparring mate.

Asuncion was one of those who would playfully tease us on a number of things including our bathing ourselves with vaseline just before the sparring sessions so that our sparmate’s punches would just "brush" us and not land squarely on us. The others were flyweight Tanny Campo and a number of fighters who Asuncion faced in the ring at various points in his 11-year (1956-1965) career as a professional boxer: bantamweight Little Cezar; Leo Espinosa; Danny Kid; toy bulldog, Dommy Ursua and Army Wonder Boy.

Asuncion who won the bantamweight title from Cezar via a points win on Dec. 21, 1957, compiled a record of 15 (seven knock outs) — 8 (losses) — two (draws). In an earlier fight, Asuncion lost to Cezar, also by points, on March 4, 1956.

On Oct. 15, 1956, Asuncion fought Danny Kid for the Philippine bantamweight title. The bout ended in a 12-round draw. The first encounter between Asuncion and Kid about 45 days earlier ended in the latter’s favor also by decision.

The most memorable fights of Asuncion were against Cezar and Ursua, both of whom he fought twice. Ursua lost to Asuncion twice: the first time on Aug. 29, 1958 and the second on Feb. 21, 1959 with the Philippine bantamweight title at stake. Asuncion won the second fight on points.

The fight was held at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, considered the center of Philippine boxing after World War II. Tickets for that fight were: ringside A and lower box — P20; ringside B and upper box — P15; and ringside C — P10.

Among his many outings, Asuncion will probably be best remembered for the courageous fight he waged against world rated warriors such as Alphonse Halimi of France and Freddie Gilroy of the United Kingdom.

Never dodging the best in his division, Asuncion traveled all the way to Paris to challenge Halimi who came into the ring with an impressive 26-1 record. Asuncion lost by technical knock out in the fifth round. Against Gilroy, Asuncion once again found himself against truly world-class opposition. When the two mixed it up in Empire Pool, Wembley, London on June 2, 1959, Gilroy had won all of his 16 fights. Gilroy prevailed via a points win over 10 rounds.

Boxing enthusiasts like Cesar Medina, former coach of the national champion Quezon City amateur boxing squad in the early 1980s and son of the late boxing trainer from Barangay Sta. Teresita in Quezon City, Casiano Medina or Tatang, remember Asuncion’s last fight against Villeza Villar. Villar is probably the only professor to have been a professional boxer. Medina says Villar was a physical education professor in Wesleyan College.

The visit to Asuncion’s wake gave me the chance to reminisce with kindred souls one of the finest moments of Philippine boxing. Mang Jesus, 72, masseur of Asuncion, recalled with pride the fights of Asuncion and other great Filipino pugilists of the period. That evening served to lift our spirits about the Filipino athlete. Despite the lateness of the hour and the sparse crowd that honored Asuncion, it was time well spent.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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