Waiting for the Pacquiao-Margarito Fight

Tomorrow will be the Pacquiao-Margarito fight. Like many Filipinos, Time Travelling is hoping for another spectacular Pacquiao win. In two previous blog posts, we covered Manny’s fight as seen from the perspective of Filipino fans based in Puerto Rico (i.e., these blog posts were published by a local news daily):

1. Communitas in Puerto Rico: The Pacquiao-Cotto Fight

2. Pacquiao-Cotto Fight: The Bayanihan Spirit Lives On

Also, to get your daily fix on the sweet science of boxing, visit Mark Lorenzana’s great sports blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe. I have been an avid follower of Mark’s blog from way back because of his entertaining style and incisive analysis.

Meanwhile, here’s a CBS video production of the upcoming fight:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Manny Pacquiao’s Greatest Hits

Tomorrow will be the fight of boxing’s best pound for pound fighter and fellow Filipino, Manny Pacquiao. I’ve blogged about his previous fight with Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto before, which appeared in a two-part series in a local Philippine newspaper.

I am still looking for a place to watch Manny’s match against Joshua Clottey. Boxing fans here in Puerto Rico have been marking their calendars for every upcoming fight that Manny is in, so I’m sure finding a place will not be much of a hassle. In the meantime, enjoy this HBO tribute on the Filipino pugilist.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pacquiao-Cotto Fight: The Bayanihan Spirit Lives On

“Let’s meet at Macy’s. We’ll be there at around 11:30 where the fountain is at,” Edgar Guerzon replied in a chat message I left for him. I wanted to meet the Guerzon family after El Nuevo Dia, the number one newspaper in Puerto Rico, published a news feature soliciting their views on the Pacquiao-Cotto megafight.

Macy’s is at Plazas Las Americas, touted to be the biggest mall in the Caribbean. This mall is a huge box of concrete encircled with hundreds of cars of various shapes and colors. Inside the malls are shops similar to Ayala and SM except for the fact that the advertisements are all written in Spanish. It has the same feel of malls as elsewhere: a mecca of consumerism with long lines of stores that cater to any of your wants, real or imagined. In this case, however, I went there not as a mall customer but as a Filipino trying to connect with people whom I share a similar heritage and ancestry. Seated near the mall fountain were the Guerzon family and a few Filipinos assembled there to welcome an addition to the small Filipino community in Puerto Rico.

Later in the evening, I met more of them in a classy house nestled in one of Puerto Rico’s posh subdivisions right in the heart of Cotto’s hometown of Caguas. At least twenty-five Filipinos and their family members congregated there. Most of the men were at the sala watching the undercard fights on TV, while the women and children socialized at the host’s mini-clubhouse beside an avocado-shaped pool and jacuzzi. Traditional Filipino refreshments were served amidst the friendly bantering and conversations.

Zeny Kare, our host, said that there used to be more Filipino families living in Puerto Rico, the majority of which are families of Fil-Am US servicemen headquartered in the now-defunct US base of Ceiba. When the military base closed down, many of these families left and are now stationed elsewhere. Only the family of Col. Edwin C. Domingo, the decorated garrison commander of Fort Buchanan, stayed on and remains active in Filipino community activities (Col. Domingo was born in Sampaloc, Manila; see http://www.buchanan.army.mil/sites/commander/biography.asp for further details) .

Helping the boxers, Raising Pinoy Pride

At least two Filipino pugilists have visited the island to fight Puerto Rican fighters. Gerry Penalosa fought a gallant fight but was defeated against the youthful Juan Manuel Lopez for the WBO bantamweight crown. Noel Tunacao of Cebu also came and exchanged blows with Ivan Calderon but lost after an eighth round stoppage. Manny Pacquiao visited the island to promote his megafight against the Puerto Rican boxing superstar, Miguel Cotto.

These events were opportunities for the Filipinos here to gather once again and provide a much needed morale booster for the visiting boxers. Amidst hundreds of Puerto Rican fans rooting for their hometown gladiators, the few Filipinos here stood their ground and waved the Philippine flag for every wallop that our boxers delivered. Of course, like we would likely do, many of the Fil-Am residents here lined up for photo op and autograph signing chances with Manny Pacquiao. Many a boxing glove, t-shirt , and other personal mementos surrendered at the mercy of Pacquiao’s signature.

The Filipinos here did more than provide fan support. The visiting boxers were feted to the traditional Filipino hospitality. They were toured around old San Juan, a must-see world heritage site of Spanish-era forts, fortresses, and buildings (quite similar to our very own Fort San Pedro but older, bigger, and better conserved), and other tourist spots in Puerto Rico. The boxers were also welcomed in their homes and given places to rest, a much needed respite especially so after a taxing night on the ring.

Behind the Scenes

Noel Tunacao, the ex-IBO miniflyweight champ, fought against Ivan Calderon in 2005 at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum. The fight was very lopsided that Ric Solivan of DogBoxing.com describes it as follows:

“Calderón’s masterful boxing symphony in the opening rounds was as beautiful as it was deadly, his foe Tuñacao aimlessly wandered the confines of the ring receiving blistering combinations from every angle and stumbling around looking for something to hit to no avail. The ‘Iron Boy’ would not let up and instead, stepped up in his efforts to overwhelm and outbox his taller opponent, and it was quite clear by the 5th that the Filipino was frustrated and hopelessly looking for a miracle punch, one which would never arrive. “

Eventually, the Mandauehanon succumbed in the 8th round to the dismay (and probably relief) of the Filipinos who were watching the carnage at ringside. Yet the story behind the defeat is a sad commentary of the state of Philippine boxing.

As retold to me, Noel was ill-prepared for the fight and was said to be a surprise replacement for the bout. All that he had seems to be just the mere guts of a warrior and the steely resolve that he could will himself to win against a budding boxing superstar like Ivan Calderon.

Consider this: Noel came to Puerto Rico three days before the fight, tired and alone with no boxing entourage like Pacquiao has. He only brought with him some pieces of clothes and boxing paraphernalia tucked neatly inside his bag. Seeing that Noel got no one on his side of the ring—no cutman, coach, waterboy, or anyone—the Filipinos in Puerto Rico plucked several US servicemen from a nearby US base to assist his corner. “Pati masahista kami pa ang nagbigay, said one of the Filipinos who helped him.

While the tropical climate may be similar to that in the Philippines, the jetlag that Noel might have felt could be equally punishing for the 34-year old fighter. Puerto Rico is a dizzying 24-26 hour trip from Manila with lots of stops along the way (it was at least a 30-hour trip for me including the time spent for the layover at every connecting flight). “Nakakaawa talaga si Noel sa fight na yun”, she remembered.

The stories of Noel, Manny, and other visiting boxers are weaved into the lives of the Filipinos here in Puerto Rico. They are proud of Manny’s boxing genius and are equally proud of all of the Filipino boxers who carried the nation’s hopes and dreams with them despite the challenges thrown their way. I stared at Manny Pacquiao’s famous grin in his post-fight interview and said to myself, “Victory is sweet indeed. Salamat.


Communitas in Puerto Rico: The Pacquiao-Cotto Fight

Philippines and Puerto Rico share a common history that diverged after their postcolonial period. Both were Spanish colonies handed to the United States after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 10, 1898. The Philippines went on to become an independent republic while Puerto Rico maintains its US commonwealth status, giving them a measure of autonomy but under American protectorate. This shared history somehow created quite a similar passion for a lot of sporting events, notably cockfighting, basketball, and boxing (Puerto Ricans love baseball too, a sport that has not taken a hold in the Philippines. The New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada is from Santurce, Puerto Rico). It is in this light that the Pacquiao-Cotto fight, La Pelea del Año, is the most anticipated bout from fans across the islands of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico is a global boxing powerhouse that ranks third in the number of world champions produced. Wilfredo Gomez, who beat Gabriel “Flash” Elorde twice in the 1960s when the Flash went up in weight, held the record for the most title defenses in the superbantamweight division and for the most successive knockouts by a titleholder. Gomez in an El Nuevo Dia interview remembered Elorde as a “strong and hardhitting puncher” like Pacquiao although the latter is more aggressive and has a left-handed stance. Gomez considered his 1964 visit to the Philippines as very good and maintained that he is enamored by the Filipinos’ sense of hospitality. “If I was to be reborn as a boxer, I would move to the Philippines,” Gomez said.

For many Boricuas (as Puerto Ricans refer to themselves here), Cotto represents what is best of contemporary Puerto Rican boxing. Miguel Cotto is a boxing prodigy from the town of Caguas who won a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He began his professional career then on at the age of 21. In 2004, he defeated Kelso Pinto to win the WBO junior welterweight division. He also held the WBA welterweight division before surrendering the belt to Antonio Margarito who knocked Cotto twice in the 11th round. Cotto rebounded from the loss by capturing the vacant WBO welterweight belt after a lopsided victory over Michael Jennings who was pummeled in five rounds with Cotto’s signature left hook bombs.

Boxing pundits here however are well aware of Pacquiao’s advantage in this fight. Jorge Perez, a sports columnist of El Nuevo Dia, compares the Filipino boxer’s combination of velocity and power as hurricane-like and that if Pacquiao imposes his speed on Cotto and delivers a series of combinations every time he goes in, then most likely he will win in a fashion similar to how Bernard Hopkins won against Tito Trinidad (although Hopkins is considered a slugger, his change in style in that fight confused Trinidad). A boxing expert, Margaro Cruz of Puerto Rico, remarked that Pacquiao is a spectacular fighter. “If Cotto does not come out 100% prepared for the fight then he will surely lose,” he added. Even Hector Camacho, a legendary Puerto Rican fighter, said in the Manila Times interview that Pacquiao will stop Cotto because of the Filipino’s speed and unorthodox boxing style.

The Puerto Rican boxing fans however are sure of Cotto’s victory. In El Nuevo Dia’s online poll of 20,863 respondents (as of November 11), 86.8% believe that Miguel Cotto will win compared to a measly 13.2% going for Pacquiao. In my personal interviews with Puerto Ricans, they all are in chorus that Cotto has an advantage because he is bigger and got more power punches but Pacquiao is going to be a tough fight for him. A boxing fan, Juan Romero, wrote to El Nuevo Dia saying that Cotto had defeated equally fast fighters like Paul Malignaggi, Zab Judah, and Shane Mosley, a master of the jab. He remarked that “Pacquiao has a hard time fighting aggressive punchers and is unable to fight when pressed. I think when he feels Cotto’s punches, he will have to go backwards. On the other hand, Pacquiao is underestimating Cotto and has had problems in training. I will bet on my countryman and am betting a case of beer.”

On another note, the megafight also brought to attention Filipinos living on the island. In the November 8 issue of El Nuevo Dia, a story on the family of Edgar Guerzon, a biologist married to Francelin Ortiz, a Puerto Rican microbiologist, occupied a two-page spread on the newspaper. The news feature relates the couple’s love story and their opinion on the coming fight. Francelin, who hails from Dorado, is not a big boxing fan but she wants Cotto to win. Edgar, on the other hand, is a Pacquiao fan and has already taught their two-year old daughter, Gaby, to chant “Pacquiao!”

That story in El Nuevo Dia served as a venue for Filipino expats to connect with each other. After a series of emails with Edgar Guerzon, my family is set to join a Christmas party for the very few paisanos in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile while Christmas is not yet around, we all will be glued to the TV on fight day. Like Edgar and Francelin, the outcome of the fight is not that important compared to the sense of solidarity that all Filipinos and Boricuas feel during the fight, and more importantly, the communitas that we all will share after the blood and gore is over.