Golden moments in amateur boxing
BOXING is our country’s most prolific sport. The Pinoy athletes’ superb performance in the on-going 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics is a testament to this. With four more days to go as of this writing, the Philippines boxing contingent has already won a silver, courtesy of Nesthy Petecio, and assured of two more bronze medals.
Nesthy is one of the finest female amateur boxers our country has produced. While she narrowly missed the gold after losing to her Japanese opponent in the finals, two male boxers are still in the running for gold. Our collective prayers go to pugilists Eumir Marcial and Carlo Paalam. One or both of them may still deliver the elusive gold in boxing, a sport event where a number of our compatriots who have competed in professional boxing have become world champions. No Filipino Olympian has struck gold until weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz accomplished the feat in Tokyo last week. She surpassed her silver medal finish in the same event in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The country’s total medal haul before the Tokyo games was 3 silvers and 7 bronze medals. Two of the silvers were won by boxers—anthony Villanueva in 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Both athletes are related to former Olympics winners. Boxer Leopoldo Serantes added another bronze medal during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Thus far, boxing has contributed a total of 5 Olympic medals, not counting the medal harvest in the current Tokyo Olympics.
Before the war, amateur boxing had its heyday. Prominent pugilists included the fearsome Padilla brothers—carlos, fondly called “Leleng”, and Jose, better known as “Pempe”. They belonged to the famous family of actors and politicians. Their father, Jose Padilla Sr. was a former governor of Bulacan. Another sibling, Roy Padilla Sr., father of Robin Padilla, served as Governor and Representative of Camarines Norte. Leleng fought in the welterweight division where he sowed fear among the fighters in the said weight class. He is the father of Carlos “Sonny” Padilla Jr., an actor who became a famous international boxing referee. Sonny officiated many world championship bouts. He is now better known as the father of Zsa Zsa Padilla. Leleng and Pempe represented the Philippines in the 1932 Olympics. The Padilla brothers were not only outstanding boxers but were considered as the most handsome fighters in the ring. When they fought, roses adorned the sides of the ring and beautiful ladies sat at the ringside. It was also in Japan where the Padilla brothers made their names in amateur boxing. Their ring exploits in the Far Eastern Games hosted by Japan in the 1930s instilled fear in their foreign opponents, which brought pride and joy to their countrymen back home. Pempe made mincemeat of the Japanese featherweight champion and he became the featherweight champion of the Orient at age 19. At the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932, he failed to win a medal unlike his teammate, Jose Villanueva, who brought home a bronze medal. In the same year, Pempe fought in Japan and defeated the Japanese lightweight champion. He eventually became the amateur lightweight champion of the Orient while a top movie star. In his action flicks, knocking out the villains was not choreographed. Pempe again joined the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but he lost in the quarterfinals and failed to medal. However, his movie, “Multo sa Libingan,” was a box-office hit in the Philippines. The brothers Leleng and Pempe Padilla were the original and real “pretty boys” in boxing. Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather Jr. is just a pretender.
Before the war, Jose Villanueva won a bronze medal in boxing at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. His medal-winning feat was replicated 32 years later when his son, Anthony, won a silver medal in 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Another pair of brothers won Olympic medals in boxing, Roel Velasco who won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco who captured the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Winning Olympics medals is in their DNA.
Another popular amateur pug that became a matinee idol was the late Senator and Ambassador Rogelio de la Rosa. While a student of Far Eastern University where he completed his Liberal Arts degree, de la Rosa, an all around athlete who excelled in many sports, became the intercollegiate welterweight boxing champion in 1932. This was the time when the Padilla brothers dominated amateur boxing. It was inevitable that Leleng Padilla and de la Rosa, both welterweights, would mix it up in the ring. The fight was an epic battle, which glamorized the ugly world of boxing. Both fighters had solid aficionados who followed their amateur careers. Stories have it that it was the only boxing match where more ladies watched the fight than men. Leleng Padilla, an Olympian boxer, had beaten de la Rosa black-and-blue resulting in the latter’s hospitalization for several days. The handsome ring gladiators brought life and excitement to amateur boxing. They brought the multitudes to the boxing arenas where the poor and the elites mixed, where adoring ladies swooned, roared and screamed with the unruly spectators goading their favorite fighters to dish out their best. The pre-war years were the first golden era of boxing.
Another pre-war famous personality who also dabbled in boxing is the late charismatic Mayor of Manila, Arsenio H. Lacson. In his youth and as a student in Ateneo, Arsenic was a superb athlete who loved basketball and football. He was the team captain of the Ateneo football team and he even represented the Philippines in the Far Eastern Games playing football before the war. Even as a law student at the UST, his passion for the game continued. But he remained a boxing disciple all his life. How do you think Lacson got his dented and broken nose? But that’s another story.