Philippine boxing renaissance

His coming out party, a sixth round lopsided battering of International Boxing Federation super bantamweight Lehlohonolol Ledwaba of South Africa, two years earlier in the Mecca of professional boxing in Las Vegas, proved to be a no fluke.

His succeeding exploits and conquests of other top caliber opponents have catapulted him as a crossover star to a very discriminating boxing audience worldwide.

And with them, a renaissance of sort in Philippine professional boxing.

Although holding no official lineal title at the moment, Pacquiao has the world drooling over his exciting style and had boxing promoters scampering to look for other Filipino boxing talents.

He is recognized as the number one and the man to beat in the super featherweight division by the prestigious Ring Magazine.

His fame and fortune opened the floodgates for other talented and struggling Filipino boxing professionals.

True enough, this year alone saw four other Filipino boxers crashing into the elite of world boxing champions whose recognition, sadly enough, has became suspect because of the many governing bodies churning out their respective alphabet soup titles.

Back in the olden days when only two boxing bodies were lording it over professional boxing, the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Association (WBA), it was not difficult to determine who were the world's best boxers in their respective categories.

The likes of Florante Condes and Donnie Nietes, reigning minimum flyweight champions of International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Organization respectively, are not in Manny's class yet.   

They still have to meet the very best in their division but with Manny still bearing the torch of Filipino boxers, they will have easier time doing it.

WBO bantamweight champion Gerry Peñalosa is another boxer who benefited from Manny's immense popularity.

He came out of retirement and, at 34 years old, is still very competitive.

He is one of the country's best tactical fighters ever and was former two-time IBF champion in the super flyweight class.

Along with Pacquiao and another former WBC featherweight and WBA bantamweight titlist Luisito Espinosa, Gerry is one of only three Filipino boxers to hold world titles in two different weight classes in the post World War II era, a distinction that eluded even Gabriel "Flash" Elorde.   

Elorde is widely recognized as the greatest Filipino boxer ever in professional boxing.  But that honor could come to an end soon if Manny continues his winning ways.

Another Filipino boxing great in the making is reigning IBF and International Boxing Organization champion Nonito Donaire who recently defended his belt with a one-sided eighth round technical knockout victory over Luis Maldonado in Connecticut, USA.

With other Filipino pro boxing hopefuls like undefeated AJ Banal, Bernabe Concepcion, Rodel Mayol, Z Gorres and others just waiting for the right breaks, Philippine pro boxing has a well deep with talents to keep the flame burning.

Philippine pro boxing has had two great eras.

The first was bannered by Francisco 'Pancho Villa' Guilledo, who reigned as world flyweight champion from 1923 to 1925.

His breakthrough accomplishment led to the rise of the likes of middleweight Ceferino Garcia, another flyweight Benjamin 'Small Montana' Gan, flyweight and later on bantamweight Eleuterio "Little Dado" Zapanta.

The favorite Filipino contact sports went into a doldrums after the war but made a mighty comeback with the crowning of Elorde as WBC and WBA super featherweight champion.   To date, Elorde is still the longest reigning Filipino world champion to ever don the mitts, holding the WBC title from March 16, 1960 to June 15, 1967.   He likewise held the WBA version of the crown from Feb 16, 1963 to Jun 15, 1967.

Elorde spearheaded another golden era of Philippine boxing and was to be followed by the likes of welterweights Roberto Cruz and Pedro Adigue, super featherweights Rene Barrientos and Ben Villaflor and flyweights Bernabe Villacampo and Erbito Salavarria who all became champions in their weight classes.

A mini-revival of sorts occurred in the late 80s and early 90s but Pacquiao's batch could compare if not surpass the eras that Pancho Villa and Elorde bannered in professional boxing.

In the age of cable television, more and more Filipino fight fans are getting a glimpse of the exploits of Filipino fighters in the world boxing arena.

Unlike in the olden times of Pancho Villa, whose conquest of Jimmy Wilde the Filipinos only came to know weeks later and Elorde's knockout victory over Harold Gomes at the newly-opened Araneta Coliseum in March 1960 which was broadcast by radio, today's boxers have the luxury of showcasing their talents live on television screens and theaters with lucrative purses to boot with the coming of age of pay per view cards.

Indeed, a new era has dawned for Philippine professional boxing. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews Contributor)