(Editor’s note: Yahoo! PH Sports looks back at the year that was with a series of blogs recalling the highlights and lowlights of Philippine sports.)
The Philippines has been blessed with a long line of great champions and its ranks enhanced by the exploits of the skilled and classy Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire, the reigning WBO, Ring Magazine and WBC Diamond Belt champion who won the IBF championship but relinquished the title rather than be forced to pay a sanction fee of around $25,000 and made to fight unattractive opponents in a mandatory title defense.
By his deliberate actions both inside and outside the ring, Donaire has revealed an uncanny sense of the business of boxing and what he needs to do to retain his position not just as a four-division world champion but as a fighter who is conscious of protecting his hard-earned earnings while keeping the customary hangers-on away with the assistance of his feisty wife and taekwondo champion Rachel Donaire, the former Rachel Marcial.
As a champion who knows what he wants Donaire has made sure to get the best for himself from astute promoter Bob Arum.
His initial purse of around $300,000 has steadily increased until he earned $1 million for his last title defense against Mexican warrior and former champion Jorge "Travieso" Arce whom he dropped three times en route to a third-round knockout at the sprawling Toyota Center in Houston, Texas last December 15 in a fight card aptly titled “Demolition Day”.
A national average rating of 37.4 percent with a remarkable high of 49.0 percent in Urban Southern Luzon was complemented by an audience of 1.3 million on HBO Sports in the US which was more than double the viewership of Amir Khan's title clash with Carlos Molina which drew 660,000 viewers on 'Showtime" establishing the drawing power of Donaire.
Donaire’s career path, which he himself pointed out a couple of fights ago follows that of Manny Pacquiao, a fighter he looks up to and praises for his achievements in the ring, is handled by Cameron Dunkin, a well-known manager who cares for Nonito in a very special way and resorts to getting the best deals for him by negotiating with Top Rank president Tod DuBeof rather than the tough to handle Bob Arum.
Fighter of the Year
Unquestionably, Donaire should be considered the 2012 Fighter of the Year, although Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez may lay claim to the honor because of his crushing sixth-round knockout of eight-division world champion and Manny Pacquiao.
After winning the WBO super bantamweight title from Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. of Puerto Rico on February 4, Donaire faced three more champions in an unprecedented four-fight run that set him apart and prompted ESPN to name him its "Boxer of the Year".
The prestigious Ring Magazine recognized Donaire's achievements by installing him at the No. 5 spot on its pound for pound list while dropping longtime No.1 Manny Pacquiao to No. 7.
It would be unfair to both Donaire and Pacquiao to compare their achievements side by side or to even attempt to assess their respective qualities because they are both great champions and possibly even greater Filipinos who have brought their country and people immeasurable pride and joy.
Donaire himself has often extolled Pacquiao for the type of fighter he is and the compelling human qualities of care and compassion he has shown all his life. Indeed Donaire, like most other Filipino fighters, has praised Pacquiao for his role in opening the doors for them in the international arena and helping the rest of the world sit up and take notice of the tremendous talent and fighting heart of Filipino boxers.
The All-Time Greats
There shouldn’t be any serious controversy if Manny Pacquiao is ranked as the Philippines' greatest fighter of all-time with such eminent champions as Gabriel "Flash" Elorde who reigned as world lightweight champion for almost seven-and- a-half years as challenger to the singular honor both by Elorde’s performance in the ring, his remarkable grace in and outside the ring, his religiosity, his quiet and unpublicized help to the less fortunate and his overall human touch.
It is also worth remembering that Elorde shone in an era where there was no television coverage of fights and none of the modern-day technological advances that continue to dramatize the exploits of Pacquiao, Donaire and others to a worldwide audience.
For sure the great Pancho Villa (Francisco Guilledo in real life), who stirred the interest and imagination of a large American audience by being the first Filipino and Asian boxer to win a world title when he smashed veteran Billy Wilde to the canvas in the seventh round before some 30,000 wildly cheering fans at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1923, must have an honored place in the pantheon of Filipino champions.
Villa successfully defended his title several times and never relinquished it until his untimely death some two years later.
There are a host of others such as Ceferino Garcia who first made the bolo punch a lethal weapon and was crowned world middleweight champion when he dropped Fred Apostoli three times in the 7th round of a fifteen round title fight to win by a knockout at 2:07 of the round at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden on October 2, 1939.
While Villa and Elorde were later enshrined in the Boxing “Hall of Fame”, Garcia is still awaiting the recognition that such eminent boxing writers as former Ring editor-in-chief Nigel Collins believe he truly deserves.
The Philippines has a long roster of outstanding champions including several junior lightweight champions such as Ben Villaflor, Rene Barrientos and Rolando Navarrette who were all southpaws like Elorde, two-division world champions Luisito "Lindol"Espinosa, Gerry Penalosa and elder brother Dodie Boy Penalosa, Bernabe Villacampa, Frank Cedeno, Erbito Salavarria, and Pedro Adigue and many more.
In the sometimes complex world of boxing troubled by allegations and actual discoveries of fighters found positive for performance enhancing drugs, Donaire has set a new standard by becoming the first fighter to voluntarily undergo random drug testing by the Voluntary Anti Doping Association which “aims to help protect the health and safety of athletes who are willing to demonstrate their commitment to clean sport.”
Donaire has set a fine example by his actions. In the ring his speed, punching power and consummate technical skill born out of the gift of being a thinking fighter with ring savvy have set him apart and established him – at least for the present time - as one of the Philippines’ all-time greats behind Pacquiao and Elorde.
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Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.