By Rene Bonsubre,Jr.
It is hard to believe that the Philippines, a country that has produced professional boxing world champions on a regular basis, has not yet won an Olympic gold medal. Two Filipino boxers have delivered with a silver medal but in those two occasions, Filipino fans cried foul and felt they were robbed.
Anthony Villanueva won for the Philippines its first Olympic silver medal when he advanced to the gold medal match of the 1964 Tokyo Games. He lost to Stanislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union in a keenly-contested final in the featherweight division with the judges going 3:2 in favor of the Soviet fighter. My search for archived articles for that bout yielded one fight report by Ricky Llanos of the Manila Times which stated that 7000 fans booed the decision. Historical reports also state that the result was disputed by Ring Magazine founder Nat Flesicher, New York Herald Tribune’s Jesse Abramson, Peter Wilson of the London Daily News and the renowned columnist Red Smith.
Villanueva's father, Jose, won a boxing bronze during the 1932 Games in Los Angeles.
A Filipino boxer managed to stand on the winners' podium 24 years later when light flyweight category Leopoldo Serantes got a bronze in Seoul 1988 and followed by another light flyweight bronze courtesy of Roel Velasco in Barcelona 1992.
Roel's brother Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco reached the finals of the light flyweight class in the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta but was once again, the victim of questionable scoring.
Mansueto Velasco's opponent was Bulgarian Daniel Petrov Bojilov. The entire Philippines was in a festive mood that night knowing the gold medal was finally within reach. Mansueto Velasco is pound for pound the best amateur boxer produced by the Philippines. But the nation fell silent when on live television all the points that apparently should have been credited to Velasco were being awarded to Bugilov instead in the opening round. Despite the electronic open scoring used by the AIBA, a boxer was seen on live TV earning points by getting hit.
Filipino sportscaster Ron delos Reyes, who was covering the bout on television helplessly screamed on air: “It’s a robbery in Atlanta!”
Velasco lost by a score of 19-6. He retired after the Olympics and became a TV comedian regularly appearing in local sitcoms.
What was more tragic was the fact that the Philippines never won a medal in Olympic boxing since that ill-fated night. In Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 no Filipino boxer even entered the quarterfinals. It got worse after that, with only one boxer qualifying for the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games. In Rio 2016, light flyweight Rogen Ladon and lightweight Charly Suarez both lost in their first bouts.
The Philippine amateur boxing team fared better on the AIBA World Championship stage with Harry Tañamor winning two bronzes and a silver (2001, '03 and '07) and Rogen Ladon a bronze in 2015 followed by Eumir Felix Marcial's silver medal finish last month in Russia. He lost in the finals to Russian Bakshi Gleb 5-0.
Marcial also won a gold medal in the AIBA World Cadet / Junior Championships (15-17 years) in 2011. The 23 year old Marcial could very well be one the Philippines’ best bets for another Olympic medal.
In the women’s side, from 2005 to 2014 there were a host of world championship bronzes won by Gretchen Abaniel, Mitchel Martinez, Alice Kate Aparri, Josei Gabuco, Annie Albania won a silver in 2008 until Gabuco finally won a gold medal in the light flyweight category in 2012.
Nesthy Petecio won a silver in 2014 before winning the featherweight gold last October 13 in Russia where she beat hometown bet Liudmila Vorontsova by a 3:2 decision. Her aggressiveness paid off in a tight contest with 3 judges – Australia (30-27), Korea (3027) and Ireland (29-28) – giving Petecio the nod, while judges from Japan (30-27) and Argentina (29-28) had it for the Russian.
Women’s boxing became part of the Olympics in 2012. There were only three weight categories allowed – flyweight, lightweight and middleweight. Unfortunately, Gabuco, the best female boxer from the Philippines is a light flyweight. However, for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the welterweight and featherweight classes have been added to the women’s side. That would be good news for the 27 year old Petecio.
The bad news on the men’s side is that the light flyweight class, where the Philippines got its last three Olympic boxing medals, will not be part of the Tokyo Games.
There was controversy regarding who will run boxing in the 2020 Olympics. It was reported last May that the controversial AIBA was stripped of its right to host the Olympic boxing tournament.
Qualification will be tough for the 8 weight divisions for men and the aforementioned 5 for women. The Qualifying tournament for the Asia-Oceania region will be held in Wuhan, China on February 3-14, 2020.
There are six slots for Asia-Oceania in the women’s 51kg division and 4 slots in the four heavier categories. In the men’s side, there will be six slots from flyweight to lightweight, five slots from welterweight to light heavyweight and four slots in the heavyweight and super heavyweight classes for Asia-Oceania.
Boxing is sport that has been embedded in Philippine society. It would be fitting that in the Manny Pacquiao era or the so-called Golden Age of Philippine Boxing, the elusive Olympic gold will finally be won.
Photo – Nesthy Petecio (left) and Eumir Felix Marcial
These articles are submitted by guest writers and sites. They aren't submitted by the usual folk behind Asian Boxing and don't fall in line with our editorial stance, giving a fresh view on various boxing issues from the Asian boxing scene.