By Marcus Bellinger-
The Philippines is considered a major boxing territory and with 3 current world champions, a cluster of world contenders and a number of gifted youngsters both in the professional and amateur ranks the garden would seem pretty rosy, however, if underlying problems regarding the sport in the country aren’t addressed then boxing could fade away in to obscurity which would be criminal given the rich history of fabulous fighters to have come from the Philippines.
Manny Pacquiao has carried the boxing expectations on his shoulders for his homeland for at least the last decade and whilst Nonito Donaire enjoyed good success in the US and Brian Viloria and Donnie Nietes have been quality champions in their own right the Philippines has failed to nurture enough elite fighters or mould the next superstar who can take boxing forward. Of course its holy unrealistic to expect someone like Pacquiao who completely transcended sport, let alone boxing to just reappear but the country hasn’t capitalised on having such a figure.
Not being a cash rich nation finances are an obvious hurdle with minuscule purses available early on for young fighters and sports such as basketball being a preferred and more viable option. Top amateurs are also hesitant to turn pro and give up their regular income from the national team. Many Filipino boxers are sent out on the road often from very early on in their careers and whilst this can instil great mental strength it can also have the opposite effect and shorten careers and see promising talents go to waste. We have also seen the likes of Mark John Yap, Genesis Servania and Ricky Sismundo leave home and continue their careers in Japan with a solid degree of success.
Johnriel Casimero, Marlon Tapales, Rey Loreto and even Jerwin Ancajas have been involved in world title bouts in the last couple of years but if you lived in the Philippines you may have not even known they had taken place with no TV coverage at all. Ancajas triumphant IBF super flyweight victory over McJoe Arroyo last September at home was broadcast on Rappler.com’s Facebook page, otherwise people would have had to rely on social media for updates. It’s hard to think of any other established boxing nation who would not have had even a regional broadcaster for a home world title fight. Milan Melindo’s magnificent knockout of Akira Yaegashi to capture the IBF light flyweight crown this May only received severely delayed viewing having originally been scheduled to be shown a couple of hours later.
ABS-CBN are the only TV outlet consistently showing boxing on a regular basis as the channel broadcasts ALA’s Pinoy Pride cards. The Pinoy Pride series showcases ALA’s top fighters including Donnie Nietes, Milan Melindo and numerous others. With a limited number of dates and slots it’s simply not possible for every Filipino fighter of significance to appear on these shows and the last thing the country needs is a monopoly with every boxer under 1 promotional banner. Having boxing spread across multiple TV stations can create annoying divisions at times with egos preventing different entities from working with each other but for me the healthy competition to put on the best possible product outweigh those problems.
Another stumbling block within Filipino boxing is the promotional aspect with most small hall shows taking place in malls where admission is free. This might sound good but you create an understandable apathy amongst fans who become used to attending for free and then are hesitant to part with their cash. Big ticket sellers are an essential part of the UK scene and often fighters who shift more tickets are prioritised regardless of their ability. Building a genuine draw can also make life a lot easier when it comes to securing home advantage for a fighter’s first world title bout for example.
With the way people view content changing all the time various promoters around the world have distributed shows on various online platforms giving fans access to undercards and lower profile events. Rappler.com has provided live or delayed coverage for various bills around the Philippines but promoters in the country really need to think about using the internet to showcase their fighters and at least try and build a fan base and create a buzz. There may be a cost factor preventing this from happening but a longer term view needs to be taken and with more available footage the bigger the chance that a top flite promoter in the US would be interested in signing a potential Pinoy talent. Even the Pinoy Pride bills are hard to watch for international viewers which is frustrating for the likes of myself. Note, Sanman Promotions has taken to live streaming their cards using multiple camera angles to try and gain their fighter’s some publicity.
Lastly as an outsider it really is hard to fathom why there is such a reticence to make all Filipino bouts of intrigue. Jonas Sultan won an eliminator over Johnriel Casimero to earn a crack at IBF super flyweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas. If it takes place it will be the first all Filipino world title clash since Pancho Villa fought Clever Sencio for the flyweight crown back in May 1925 which is absolutely staggering.
Being from the UK its routine that an all British tussle of significance would gain far more attention than a contest involving a brit and a good quality foreign pugilist so it’s difficult for me to comprehend the unease about seeing 2 boxers from the same country facing each other. The reasons given by many are that gaining more Filipino world champions is the priority and only then should these fights be discussed. A matchup between super bantamweights Jeo Santisima and Jack Tepora was briefly talked about before ABS-CBN put a kybosh on it for the reasons stated above along with neither man is well known. A bout like Santisima Tepora allows all those involved to gage what level their fighter is at and react accordingly.
A strong domestic structure enables everyone to identify those who are capable of moving on to world level and those who are either domestic and regional level or need to rebuild. There is also the potential to build intriguing rivalries between the gyms and promotional outfits within the Philippines. Japan is a perfect illustration and blueprint that could be followed as fighters from the land of the rising sun must prove they are the best in their country or region before ascending to a world title. Finally in my opinion the negative attitude to all Pinoy bouts whether it’s from the fans, media or TV execs badly needs to change if the Philippines is to move forward and reach its boxing potential.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features