NOVEMBER 19, 2006
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight No. 106 was packed with passengers who left Manila for this exciting Nevada city via Vancouver last Thursday.

There was a three-hour delay in the departure because an airplane (not PAL) overshot the runway. The long wait didn’t dampen the spirits of the passengers, most of whom talked animatedly about the upcoming bout between Manny Pacquiao and Erik Morales.

In one corner of the Mabuhay Lounge, former World Boxing Council superflyweight champion Gerry Peñalosa held court, explaining what he thought Pacquiao will do to win. Beside Peñalosa was international referee Silvestre Abainza whose round-trip ticket was paid for by Pacquiao. Also in the group were Unilever executive Chito Macapagal, Air Transport Office cabin crew consultant Jose Mari Ojeda (whose father used to be a boxing promoter) and Solar vice president for production Erick Tam.

Gov. Chavit Singson and his wife were in the lounge. So were the City of Manila counsel Popoy Monsod and his wife.

Former national football player Eric Gutierrez and his son Mico spoke excitedly about the fight. They were at the first two Pacquiao-Morales fights and wouldn’t miss the climax of the trilogy for the world.

"I think Morales’ only chance to win is by decision and that’s why Manny has to score a knockout," said Gutierrez who played varsity football for San Beda College and the University of the Philippines. "Morales is a smart fighter and very scientific. Manny is stronger and faster. I think Manny will knock him out but Morales will do his best to make it go the distance."

Gutierrez, 51, is involved in nickel mining in Tubay, Agusan del Norte. He constructed a small port in the town and rented two barges to transport the nickel ore to ships that will carry the load mainly to Chinese buyers.

"I was in construction for several years and dealing with multinationals, I learned that many construction companies are also into mining," said Gutierrez. "From construction, I moved into mining. I read about it and started the first Filipino mining company without any links to a multinational. I employ about 350 workers in Tubay. Under the law, a mining company has to plow back a portion of its earnings to the town where it operates so I’ve become very much involved in social responsibility, the environment and public welfare."

Gutierrez said he felt Morales deserved to win the first fight although the difference in the judges’ scorecards was just a round. The second bout was decisive as Pacquiao scored a knockout. In the rubber match, Gutierrez said he’s not discounting a Morales win by decision.

Macapagal said he was present in the first two fights, too.

"In the first fight, I thought Morales used a lot of gulang against Manny, like butting and hitting his head on Manny’s chin before throwing an uppercut," said Macapagal. "The cut above Manny’s eye because of a headbutt was so big you could put a thumb inside it. In the second fight, Morales had no chance to use the same tricks and was knocked out. I’m hoping the result will be the same in the third fight."

Four Congressmen — traveling at their own expense — were on the same flight to Las Vegas that landed at about 7 p.m. last Thursday (Las Vegas time). They were Reps. Prospero Nograles, Ding Roman, Aurelio Umali and Eric Singson.

Manila residents Priscilla Ong, her son Jay-R and daughter Joanna were on board, too. Priscilla’s husband Joseph, who builds and sells warehouses, flew ahead.

"We’re all Pacquiao fans," said Priscilla. "We’ve watched the first two fights so we couldn’t miss this one. My daughter is missing four days of classes at Ateneo where she’s taking up business management but she’ll make up for it. We’re very proud of Manny and we’re proud to be Filipinos."

Ojeda flew here on official business but will take time out to be at ringside for the fight. He also came to see for the first time his two newly-born grandchildren, Santino (Nio) and Emilio (Mio) who were born four days from each other. Santino’s parents are Martin Nievera and Ojeda’s daughter Katrina while Emilio’s parents are Jing Llige and Ojeda’s daughter Sofia. His wife Christy is with their daughters here.

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Pacquiao’s Filipino trainer Buboy Fernandez said he won’t be surprised if the "Grand Finale" goes the full route because both fighters are in tip-top condition.

Fernandez said Pacquiao has logged 162 rounds of sparring while Morales has trained four months for the rubber match, the longest he has prepared for any fight since turning pro 13 years ago.

Fernandez said the Pacquiao entourage will motor to Los Angeles, probably tomorrow or the day after, then leave for Manila on Wednesday.

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Among the recognizable personalities in town to witness the fight are Secretary of Education Jesli Lapuz, Rep. Monico Puentevella, Bacolod City Mayor Bing Leonardia, Gov. and Mrs. Ito Ynares, Gov. Manny Piñol, actor Rudy Fernandez, Tarlac City Mayor Aro Mendoza and Tarlac City councilor Joji David.

* * *

Aside from Pacquiao, three other Filipinos are seeing action in the Top Rank card.

Brian Viloria of Waipahu, Hawaii, and Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, tries to regain the World Boxing Council lightflyweight crown from Omar Niño Romero of Mexico in a 12-rounder.

Viloria said he’s determined to win back the throne he loaned to Romero.

"The real Viloria will be in the ring for the rematch" vowed the 2000 Sydney Olympian. "I can’t see myself losing to Romero. I’ll do what I must to beat him and get back my title. I don’t know if I’ll knock him out but whatever happens, I know I’ll be the new champion at the end of the fight."

Viloria’s manager Gary Gittelsohn said his training camp was free of distractions and described it superb.

"Brian worked out in three different gyms," said Gittelsohn. "One was a private gym. Another was Joe Hernandez’ gym. And the third was a recreational center. Joe has been great with Brian, giving him all the attention he needs. It was the best camp Brian has ever experienced and for sure, it will show in his fight against Romero."

The other Filipinos in the card are superbantamweight Bernabe Concepion and bantamweight Ernel Fontanilla.

Concepcion, who is here with manager Aljoe Jaro, boasts an 18-1-1 record with 18 KOs, and faces unbeaten Mexican Joksan Hernandez in a tenner for the WBC Youth 122-pound crown. Fontanilla, a hard hitter, takes on Oscar Blanquet of Mexico in a six-rounder.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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