Manny Pacquiao]

MANILA, JANUARY 4, 2009 (STAR) By Rudy Fernandez - Almost half a century later, another boxing great, Gabriel Elorde, who was later to be exalted as “Flash Elorde,” dominated his weight division (flyweight) in the boxing world.

Like Pancho Villa, he was a poor boy who left his town (Bago, Cebu) to seek his fortune in Cebu City at age 10.

At the “Queen City of the South,” Elorde sought his older brother working in the waterfront. His brother gave him P2 to invest on a shoeshine box. Thus, he became a bootblack roaming the city.

His baptism in fisticuff came when another older and taller bootblack tried to bully Elorde away from an American customer.

In their brawl that ensued, the southpaw Elorde bloodied and knocked down the bigger boy.

By age 15, Elorde had become interested in boxing after he had often heard of some local boys earning big sums of money in the sport.

“He silently dreamed of becoming a champion, Dr. Fernando A. Bernardo wrote.

His break came when a boxer needed a sparring partner in one of the gymnasiums that he frequented to watch fighters train.

Elorde volunteered, decking the experienced pugilist with a vicious left to the jaw. From then on, he had plunged into boxing as a career.

His debut in the ring as a bantamweight (112-118 pounds) came in 1951 when, at age 16, he knocked out Kid Gonzaga. He fought nine bouts that year, winning eight, six of them by KOs.

The next year, he fought 10 times, losing only once.

“He started to make a name when he won and defended the Orient bantamweight crown once,” wrote Bernardo, who retired years back as deputy director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In 1954, at age 19, Elorde failed to snatch the Orient featherweight title from Japan’s Shigeji Kaneko.

The next year, he defeated Sandy Saddler of the US, the world featherweight (119-126 pounds) champion, in a nontitle fight. This paved the way for a title fight with Saddler in San Francisco. Elorde lost.

In 1956, he won the Philippine lightweight (127-135 pounds) championship, and later, the Orient lightweight championship.

“At 25, he realized his dream of becoming a world champion,” wrote Bernardo.

On March 16, 1960, at the newly inaugurated Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City, he beat American titleholder Harold Gomes in a sensational seventh round knockout. In their return bout five months later, Elorde knocked out the American in the first round.

Elorde defended his world junior lightweight crown eight more times. He lost his crown to Japan’s Yoshiaki Numata in a 15-round bout in Tokyo, when he was already 32.

Elorded died of lung cancer on Jan. 2, 1985, leaving behind his wife and seven children. He was 50.

In 1988, he was elevated to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, California. Elorde was hailed as the greatest Filipino boxer of the 20th century.

Pacquiao is the world’s best pound-for-pound today.

Much has been written about him and need not be repeated.

Income-wise, he must be one of the boxers with the biggest purse through all times in his division – having earned, according to an account, $35.5 million (easily more than P1.5 billion) in the 13 fights that he had figured in since 2003 alone.

Things this write-up wishes to highlight are the similarities in character and traits of the country’s three greatest boxers of all time.

One is their having not forgotten where they had been – poverty.

Take the case of the once bootblack Pancho Villa.

When already a world champion and was back home, a boxing promoter, Serafin dela Cruz, signed him up for four boxing exhibitions in Iloilo City.

Villa won them all. After receiving his purse, he went around the city, handing out twenty- and five-peso bills to shoeshine boys and his fellow boxers.

Pacquiao is such a generous champion, too. When he is home and during important occasions, especially after he had won another big bout, he showered his poor townmates with food items, dry goods, and cash gifts.

He has also been very generous to former boxers who did not make hay while the sun shone.

One outstanding trait of Elorde is his religiousness. For instance, he helped build the Sta. Rita Chapel in Parañaque City where his family lived, and contributed substantial sums to its St. Agnes Orphanage.

He also built the Elorde Sports Complex which included facilities where Filipino boxers train.

While still around, Elorde was conferred the highest award for a layman of the Catholic Church by then Pope John Paul II through Jaime Cardinal Sin.

Pacquiao’s devotion to God is now a byword – and one can easily appreciate his closeness or “direct line” to his Creator.

Another noticeable similarity that champions like Villa, Elorde, and Pacquiao shared was the way the Filipino people welcomed boxing heroes.

When Villa knocked out Jimmy Wilde in New York in 1923, to wrest the flyweight championship, Manila went wild over his victory.

“Ships whistled and ice plant sirens blared. Extra editions of the four Spanish, English, and Tagalog newspapers printed the news. The Philippines Free Press wrote: “You made the world pay homage to the Philippines,” Bernardo recounted.

The historian added: “He (Villa) was given a hero’s welcome in Manila in October, and was feted with a parade followed by a reception at Malacañang Palace.”

For his part, Elorde was also a recipient of the prestigious Presidential Medal of Merit from President Marcos.

Every return of Pacquiao from a successful world-boxing bout is reminiscent of the conquering hero’s welcome accorded Julius Caesar upon returning from a triumphant military campaign.

Remember: During Pacquiao’s 30th birthday party last Dec. 17, no less than President Arroyo was among the VIP guests present.

Bernardo’s book tells readers that the boxing careers of Pancho Villa and Elorde had sad endings.

Villa died a few days after losing his last fight. Elorde failed in his valedictory fight in Tokyo when he was already 32.

Pacquiao is 30. Just how many fights he will still wage, only the promoters know. But the big question is: How will his last fight be before he hangs up his gloves and pursue another career path (hopefully, not as a politician, as many Filipinos are ardently praying)?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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