In the Philippines, there’s a running joke about Filipino love and passion: the three “Bs”- basketball, beauty contests, and boxing. Indeed, these three events often unite a nation and bring excitement, entertainment, and honor. But, among the three, it’s in boxing that the country consistently dominates, with its pool of national fighters, both pros and amateurs.
Boxing may be a bloody and harsh sport for some, but it’s popular among Filipinos. In this article, we’ll learn more about the history of Philippine boxing, famous boxing legends, and the impact of boxing on Filipino lifestyle and culture.
What is Boxing?
Boxing is a competitive sport, using fists between two fighters in the boxing ring. Therefore, boxers wear protective equipment such as head guards, boxing gloves, mouth guards, boxing clothes, and hand wraps. In each round, boxers throw big punches until one fighter is knocked out or outsmarted.
Boxers traditionally wear blue or red vests indicating their ‘corner’ and the country they represent. They retreat to their corners after each round to get tactical advice from trainers and patch up.
As a popular sport in the Philippines, boxing has produced several Filipino world champions. The most popular world champions in their respective divisions are Pancho Villa in the 1920s, Ceferino Montano Garcia in the 1930s, and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde in the 1960s. Manny Pacquiao is another famous Filipino world champion in the history of worldwide boxing.
Boxing History in the Philippines
In the first decade of Filipino boxing, boxers were limited to preliminary sports and eventually engaged in main events in 1919.
American promoter Frank Churchill opened the venue for Filipino boxing to be included in the Olympics. This initiative was the start of the local boxers’ careers. When it comes to local boxing, one name that always stands out in the conversations is that of Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde. The Flash is one of the finest Filipino professional boxers and won the lineal super featherweight title in 1960. Elorde fights in the super featherweight division and is arguably one of the best. In 1963, Elorde won the inaugural WBA and the WBC super featherweight titles. In addition, he holds the record in this division for the longest reign, at seven years. If there’s a list of the most important Filipino boxers of all time, Gabriel Elorde is on that list, together with Pancho Villa and Manny Pacquiao. Like Manny Pacquiao, Elorde is not just a boxing but a cultural icon.
Other feats followed the boxing accomplishments of Elorde. There were other Filipino title holders such as Erbito Salvarria, Rolando Navarrette, and Nonito Donaire. Donaire, who fought in the junior featherweight event with Guillermo Rigondeaux, was regarded as heir apparent of Pacquiao. Each fighter has a different skill level in boxing.
Famous Boxers in the Country
So who are the most popular Filipino boxers in history? Let’s go down memory lane to discover the most popular fighters in the country.
Francisco Guilledo, known as Pancho Villa, was the first Filipino and Asian world champion. Renamed after the real Pancho Villa, a prominent Mexican revolutionary, Guilledo became an important boxing figure in the Philippines. Pancho Villa remains one of the most skillful local boxers.
As a professional Filipino boxing fighter, Villa holds the record for the world flyweight champion title. Villa is known for his perpetual motion style in boxing. One of the most notable fights is the 1923 match with Jimmy Wilde in the flyweight championship at New York’s Polo Ground.
Geronimo ‘Gerry’ J. Penalosa is a Filipino boxer who competed in two weight divisions as a world champion. Popularly known as ‘Fearless,’ Gerry was born on August 7, 1972, in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. His boxing career spanned from 1989 to 2010, with 55 wins and 37 wins by knockout (KO). He holds a record of 55-8-2 in his boxing career.
Luisito Pio Espinosa, born on June 26, 1967, was a Filipino professional boxer from 1984 to 2005. He started as a professional boxer in 1984. He played and became the title holder for Featherweight, Bantamweight, and Super featherweight boxing divisions. In 1989, Espinosa won against Kaokor Galaxy and held the WBA Bantamweight title. He lost to Israel Contreras but returned to the top, winning against Alejandro ‘Cobrita’ Gonzales. Espinosa has a record of 47-26-13 wins, wins by knockouts, and losses. He retired from his boxing career after losing to opponent Cristobal Cruz.
Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde
At the early age of 16, Elorde became a professional Filipino boxing fighter. He was born on March 25, 1935, in Bogo, Cebu. Elorde takes pride as a Cebuano and super-featherweight champion with a record of 89-27-2. Elorde played as a professional boxer for more than 19 years, and his achievements have shown his skills and capabilities. One notable fight is when he knocked out Harold Gomes at the Araneta Coliseum in 1960.
Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao
Popularly known as ‘PacMan’ and ‘The Destroyer’, Pacquiao is regarded as one of the world’s greatest boxers. He was born on December 17, 1978. Filipino boxing was already at unprecedented heights when Pacquiao entered the boxing field. But his achievements are outstanding.
The Filipinos become one whenever Pacquiao represents the Philippines. There’s this unique yet funny observation in the Philippines whenever Pacquiao steps into the ring. During his fights, the country transforms into a different nation. You will see that the streets are empty, no traffic on major roads, and theft and criminality hit a low. All these are possible because most people watch fights on television.
His fight against Juan Manuel Marquez was one of the most famous fights in the boxing history of the Philippines. But Pacquaio lost to Marquez, and they had a rematch called ‘The Unfinished Business’ held on March 15, 2008. This time, Pacquaio won via split decision against Marquez, making the Filipinos extra proud.
Pacquiao played for different divisions: light flyweight, flyweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, and super featherweight. He is also a title holder for lightweight, welterweight, light welterweight, and light middleweight. Today, Pacquiao is not just a boxer but a politician and celebrity. He served as a Philippine senator and ran unsuccessfully in the last presidential elections.
Manny Pacquiao- Philippines’ Most Popular Boxer
Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao has contributed much to shaping the Philippines as a nation. As an eight-division world champion, he is arguably one of the greatest boxers of all time. In the 2000s and 2010s, PacMan dominated the world boxing hall of fame as he fought and won over famous world boxing fighters.
When he fights, the country stops. Most Filipinos stay at home to watch the fight unfolds on the screen. For every punch that he throws, the whole nation celebrates. And whenever he falls to the canvass, you can feel the hurt and frustrations of many fans, pundits, and followers.
Pacquiao’s stellar career has represented the jewel in the crown of Philippine boxing. And, due to his success, Filipino boxing talent is in the global spotlight. Moreover, Pacquiao has shown outstanding toughness and courage that Filipinos need to surpass challenges in life.
How Boxing Affects Lifestyle and Culture
Physically, boxing is a great sport that helps improve fitness and fighting skills. It’s not just a leisure activity but a great way to exercise coordination between the mind and body. The new generation of Filipinos can benefit much from the legacies of Filipino boxers. As more Filipinos engage in their respective boxing careers, further training and innovation in the sport help boost the fighters’ skills and performance. It’s now a popular sport in local competitions, and the government runs programs supporting the local fighters.
But more than the sporting influence, boxing remains a considerable part of the nation’s culture and lifestyle. In Philippine history, the writer can’t ignore the contribution of the sport and its successful fighters.
During the centuries of oppression under the nation’s rulers, Filipino people have inherited courage and a fighting spirit. Filipino boxing champions have shown their grit and determination in every fight, the core values of every Filipino.
What appeals much to the public is the resiliency of Filipino boxers in their capabilities, even under challenging circumstances. Some fighters fight for economic survival to take their families out of poverty. Others are determined to make their nation and families proud of their victory. The cultural aspects of boxing will remain, and local boxers will always fight not just for the prizes and recognition and the country’s honor.
Why is it a National Obsession?
Everyone stops to watch a Filipino boxing hero’s jab, punch, and winning move inside the boxing ring. Filipino boxing has become a national pastime and obsession. Boxing transforms the nation into a united and firmly solid cheering crowd as Filipino fighters wave the national colors and pride. So naturally, Filipinos are saddened if a Filipino boxing fighter gets knocked down, but they still take pride in the fighter inside the boxing ring.
There are wins and losses in fights in the history of Filipino boxing. But, when a Filipino boxing fighter stands up as he gets knocked down, it boosts the morale and courage of every Filipino. So, it has become an obsession to see every Filipino fighter fight with heart and skill and give pride to the nation.
Who was the first Filipino boxing fighter who won the championship?
Francisco Guilledo, popularly known as Pancho Villa, was named in honor of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Who are the most popular Filipino boxers in the Philippines?
Pancho Villa, Luisito Espinosa, Gerry Peñalosa, Gabriel Elorde, Nonito, Donaire, and Manny Pacquaio are the most notable boxers.
How do Filipino boxers fight?
Filipino boxers always fight with a heart. Win or lose, the fighting spirit is still up.
How many divisions did Manny Pacquiao win?
Pacquiao has won major championship titles in eight different divisions. He is the only boxing boxer in Philippine history who achieved it.