Boxing in the Philippines is a leading sport in generating accolades for the country across international competitions. Long before the stunning Manny Pacquiao career, other great boxers have put this Southeast Asian country on the world map.
Over the years, Filipino boxers have won over 45 major world championships. This number is one of the highest numbers in the world. New Filipino boxers keep emerging through the management and promotion of the sport by the Philippine boxing federation. However, Filipinos are yet to win gold in the Olympics in this competition though they have won eight world titles.
In boxing history, the country has produced some of the greatest players. This popular sport developed in various phases to the individual sport it is today. Initially, the traditional Suntukan or bare-hand fighting evolved from the knife fighting technique to the current western style of boxing. Below is a deep dive into the origin of boxing in the Philippines.
The beginning of boxing in the Philippines
Historically, Filipinos were involved in their kind of boxing before the Spaniards and the Americans’ invasion. This sport was known as Suntukan or bare-hand fighting, related to martial arts.
It evolved from Kali, a Filipino knife fighting technique. The Spaniards banned martial arts after their invasion leading to underground sports. The players lacked knives and rattan leading to fist-fighting.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, US servicemen introduced boxing in the Philippines. In 1898 during the Spanish-American war, the Americans took control of the Philippines. It is reported that soldiers of the 11th US Calvary found a pair of boxing gloves made by Sol Levinson of San Francisco. These gloves were then abandoned in the Luzon Village in San Mateo.
Most of the boxers in the Philippines during this period between 1899 and 1902 were African-American. They formed most of the troops sent to this region during the war. Also, some white soldiers practiced boxing in the Philippines during this time.
The Americans later established a YMCA in 1904 to keep the soldiers training in boxing. There’s a belief that three Americans, namely Frank Churchill, Eddie, and Stewart Tait, are responsible for modern-day boxing in the Philippines. They ran carnivals and horse racing tracks in Manila. Eddie, a boxing enthusiast, attracted the crowds by teaching western boxing lessons to Filipino boxers.
It became legal to play boxing in the Philippines in 1921. During this period, the Americans organized Olympic Boxing Club in Manila. The sport started to thrive, and famous boxers such as Dencio Cabanela, the Froles brothers, and others emerged.
Golden ages of Philippine boxing
The first golden age of Philippine boxing
The end of the Spanish-American war marks a crucial point for boxing in the Philippines. Apart from introducing Western-style boxing to the country, the arrival of the three Americans, Eddie, Frank, and Stewart, was another milestone for the game.
After boxing was legalized in the Philippines, the three Americans established Olympic Boxing Club in the Capital, Manila. As a result, the first Filipino boxers emerged.
These boxers include Pete Sarmiento, Dencio Cabanela, Sylvino Jamito, Speedy Dado, The Flores brothers ( Franscisco, Elino, Ereneo and Macario), Macario Villon and Pancho Villa.
Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo became the first Filipino World Flyweight Boxing Champion by beating Jimmy Wilde on June 18, 1923. This accomplishment remains to be significant in philippine boxing to date. This great Filipino world champion defended his title three times. He also boxed in the Philippines against the Filipino boxer Clever Sencio in a 25-round game.
Pancho Villa was also inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame in 1961 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994. This glorious era ended after the death of Pancho Villa, Dencio Cabanela, Clever Sencio, and their influential promoter, Frank Churchill.
Other Filipino fighters during this age include Luis Logan, who also won the title Oriental welterweight and heavyweight champion. His boxing career began in 1925 until 1940, spending most of his career in Argentina and Spain. Additionally, the fighter Cafeniro Garcia also won the NYSAC middleweight championship held in America against Fred Apostoli in 1939.
The world boxing champion also defended his title inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex against a fellow countryman On December 23, 1939. It was the first world title fight recorded in the Philippines. In his career, he played against the best boxers, such as Barney Ross and Henry Armstrong. However, he sustained a loss against Ken Overlin and failed to retain the title.
The second golden age of Philippine boxing
Boxing in the Philippines experienced another golden era in 1955. It happened when in a non-title fight, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde beat the reigning featherweight champion, Sandy Saddler, at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
The Filipino later won the World Super Featherweight Championship against Harold James on March 16, 1960. He won through a seventh-round knockout.
Continuing with the great success of previous players, Elorde kept this title for 7 years and 2 months. He defended it successfully 10 times, including a one-round knockout fight rematch.
Elorde often traveled to fight internationally, and 20 world champions emerged during his reign. They include Roberto Cruz, who won WBA World Light Welterweight title. He had a career that spanned from 1955 to 1968. In his third fight, he beat Piping Cortez with a knockout in the third round to start his career. However, he won his first title on October 1, 1959, when he beat Leo Espinosa in the Philippines Games & Amusement Board (GAB) Featherweight title.
Gerry Penalosa was another influential Filipino boxer in this Golden era. He competed from 1989 to 2010. He is also a two-weight world champion.
Additionally, there was a formation of the Big Four Professional boxing bodies during this second golden era. These bodies include The World Boxing Association (WBA), The World Boxing Council (WBC), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Organisation (WBO).
However, sports popularity began to decrease until the third age of boxing popularity in the Philippines began.
Third golden age of Philippine boxing
Manny Pacquiao joined the boxing scene, proof that the sport is here to last on Philippine soil. Before his international fame, Manny was in a local television boxing show named Blow-by-Blow. It was run by the promoter Rod Nazario. Viewers quickly grew used to Manny’s style and look, ushering in a new golden era of boxing.
He began his reign of boxing in the Philippines by upsetting the Thai Champion Chatchai Sasakul in Thailand on December 4, 1998. In this bout, he won the Lineal and WBC flyweight championship. However, during his title defense, he lost weight on the scale as he did not meet the weight limit.
After losing his title, the Filipino boxer gained weight, skipping the super flyweight and Bantamweight to play in the super bantamweight division. He boxed against the South African Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, IBF super bantamweight champion. He was the heavy underdog in this box and managed to dethrone the South African. This win led to titles in two different weight divisions.
The Filipino boxer went for the Lineal and The Ring featherweight championship in 2003. He beat the reigning Mexican champion, Marco Antonio Barrera, in a knockout in the 11th round.
Later, Pacquiao won four major world titles and three lineal titles. They include WBC, IBF, and six different divisions. These are flyweight, super Bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, light welterweight, and super featherweight.
During his reign, there was a renewal of interest in boxing in the Philippines. He inspired Filipino fighters such as Nonito Donaire and Donnie Neites. The list also includes the female Filipino fighter Nesthy Petecio who won a silver in the featherweight division in the 2020 Olympics held in 2021.
She is the 6th most famous boxer, and her biography has been translated into 17 languages. She had previously won a silver medal at the 2014 World Championships and gold in 2019.
The formation of an association of boxing alliances in the Philippines to manage amateur boxing also led to the sport’s popularity.
Who Are The Famous Personalities of Boxing in The Philippines?
Famous boxing personalities in the Philippines include Pancho Villa, Manny Pacquiao, Small Montana, Little Dado, Ceferino Garcia, Dado Marino, Flash Elorde, Roberto Cruz, Pedro Adigue, Nonito Donaire, Donnie Nietes, Sonny Boy Jaro, Jerwin Ancajas, Nesthy Petecio, Pedro Taduran, Rene Mark Cuarto and Mark Magsayo among many others.