A look at the history of boxing in the Philippines
At the turn of the 20th century, Filipino martial arts were not just sports; they were techniques for survival. Three Americans, however, found a way to attract Filipino crowds by creating American-style Filipino boxers. The rest was history.
Originally Published: June 25, 2008By Don Stradley | Special to ESPN.com
JOEL NITO/AFP/Getty ImagesWhen Manny Pacquiao fights, the Philippines stand still. But PacMan isn't the first fighter to capture the island's imagination.Manny Pacquiao has thrilled boxing fans around the world, but that's not enough for him. "It's very important to me and my country to put my name into boxing history," Pacquiao said last week, referring to his upcoming challenge of WBA lightweight titlist David Diaz. But Pacquiao is already part of history. In a way, Pacquiao's achievements are the culmination of a 100-year cultural journey that encompassed martial arts, Spanish oppression and Yankee influence, all of which combined to create Filipino boxing as we know it today. Perhaps most important to the evolution of boxing on the islands was the unified vision of three men: Frank Churchill and the Tait brothers, Stewart and Eddie.
|TV lineup up for the HBO PPV card on Saturday night (9 ET) from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas: • Lightweights: David Diaz (34-1-1, 17 KOs) vs. Manny Pacquiao (46-3-2, 34 KOs), 12 rounds, for Diaz's title • Featherweights: Steven Luevano (35-1, 15 KOs) vs. Mario Santiago (19-1, 14 KOs), 12 rounds, for Luevano's title • Heavyweights: Tye Fields (40-1, 35 KOs) vs. Monte Barrett (33-6, 19 KOs), 10 rounds • Junior lightweights: Humberto Soto (43-6-2, 27 KOs) vs. Francisco Lorenzo (32-4, 14 KOs), 12 rounds, for a vacant interim title -- Dan Rafael|
While Tait hustled the sweet science like snake oil, Churchill established the Olympic Club, described by some as a converted cock-fighting pit, complete with a thatched roof and bamboo poles, followed by the more grandiose Olympic Stadium in Manila, which opened for business in 1918. By 1921, boxing was legalized and flourishing in the Philippines. Churchill hired Stewart Tait to manage the Olympic's finances, and Eddie acted as matchmaker. Joe Waterman, another promoter stationed on the islands during the first World War, acted as a scout who would send young talents to Churchill. According to legend, the first Filipino to fight publicly wearing gloves was Churchill's driver, Leoncio Bernabe, in 1916. The teen, whose job was to pull Churchill around Manila in a rickshaw-like contraption, made his debut at the Olympic, where Wednesday nights were reserved for inexperienced locals. "These boys would storm the club on Wednesday night, begging for a chance to go on," Churchill said in 1924. "Many of them didn't have enough money to buy an outfit of ring togs, so we always kept a supply of trunks, shoes, etc., available for them. Lots of 'em wouldn't use shoes. They were accustomed to going barefoot and shoes cramped their style." From this wave of eager beginners emerged such stars as Speedy Dado, the Flores brothers Francisco, Elino, Macario and Ireneo, Pete Sarmiento and the almost mythical Pancho Villa. The American press of the day was fascinated by Filipino fighters, depicting them as exotic little warriors hell-bent on pleasing the audience. In fact, the island audience was just as fascinating as the fighters were, as California writer Jim Brann chronicled in a 1924 report from the Olympic Club:
Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesPancho Villa was one of the boys eager to join the Olympic Boxing Club.
Twice during the early stages of the fight, fans clinging to rafters became so excited that they lost their grip and tumbled directly into the ring, delaying the fight momentarily. But it was only for a moment, for they were instantly thrust out, without even pause to see if they were injured.
-- California writer Jim Brann, on overzealous Filipino fight fans at the Olympic Club in 1924