Before Pacquiao there was Pancho Villa
Those planning to watch the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight next month on pay-per-view might be interested to view the first boxing matches seen in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. These fights, filmed in black and white, are readily available on YouTube as the Johnson-Burns fight in 1909 and the Johnson-Jeffries fight in 1910.
What is significant about these films is John Arthur “Jack” Johnson (1878-1946), a black boxer at a time when boxing was largely dominated by whites. When these grainy films were shown in Manila, some racist Americans worried that having a black winner in the ring would dent the myth of white superiority and encourage brown Filipinos to question their inferior place in a social ladder determined by skin color. The films were screened in Manila without a fuss, although the Johnson-Burns fight filmed in Australia was heavily edited such that we see the end of the fight and not the painful scenes of the white Burns beaten up by the black Johnson, who became the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion.
I was a boy in 1975 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier slugged it out in Araneta Coliseum in a fight that has come down in history as the “Thrilla in Manila,” and through my young eyes I came to think of boxing as a black man’s sport. So when the members of this young generation catch the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight billed as the “Fight of the Century,” we have to look at the history of boxing and remember the racial element in it.
In March 1919 the Olympic Club stadium in Manila was the venue of a fight between the “Filipino Tiger” Francisco Flores and Australian lightweight champion Llew (Llewellyn) Edwards. Flores, of course, had a hometown advantage, but all the cheering for him didn’t make him win. What is surprising about all this is that there was an unenforced boxing ban in the Philippines at the time.
There are three big Filipino names not just in Philippine boxing but also in international boxing. Before the “Pambansang Kamao (National Fist)” Manny Pacquiao, there was Gabriel Elorde (1935-1985), better known under his boxing name “The Flash” (not to be confused with the Marvel comics hero who wears red body-hugging tights). Before Pacquiao and Flash Elorde, there was Francisco Guilledo (1901-1925), better known under his boxing name “Pancho Villa.” All three—Pacquiao, Elorde and Villa—are names enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Pancho Villa came to mind recently in the controversy over the real name of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who was found to have been using an alias all along. Lawmakers have failed in their efforts to extract from Iqbal his real name, and I was amused when a Philippine bank note was presented bearing the signature of one “Joseph Ejercito Estrada” that made it legal tender. It seems there is a law regulating the use of aliases in the Philippines, and it exempts aliases that are used for literary, cinematic or athletic purposes. Since Iqbal does not come under those exemptions, our lawmakers have made it their mission to ferret out his real name.
When you do an Internet search on “Pancho Villa,” you will be given a choice between Mexican revolutionary Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula (1878-1923), who is often shown in pictures wearing two bandoliers or ammunition belts forming an X on his chest, and Filipino boxer Francisco Guilledo. Both men were better known as Pancho Villa.
There are two versions of how Guilledo got his alias. One version is that the name was based on the Mexican revolutionary and was given to Guilledo by his American boxing promoter Frank E. Churchill. The other version maintains that Guilledo’s Filipino manager Paquito Villa (who also managed an ice plant) adopted the young boxer in 1918 and gave him the name.
Guilledo was born in Negros. He was abandoned by his father and raised by his mother, very much like Pacquiao who was mainly raised by his mother Dionisia. He moved to Iloilo, befriended a boxer, and sailed to Manila to seek his fortune. To cut a long story short, he learned to spar with friends and tried his luck, eventually defeating Terio Pandong to become Philippine flyweight champion. In 1922 he sailed to America and became world flyweight champion. If we are to believe Wikipedia, Guilledo took part in 103 fights with 89 wins (22 by knockout), eight losses, four draws and two no contests. He was never knocked out in his entire career, and it is ironic that he died, not from injuries wrought by boxing, but from an infection that followed a simple tooth extraction.
I have yet to dig up the old newspapers that document Guilledo’s triumphant return to the Philippines in September 1924, which was marked by a parade and a reception at Malacañang, as well as his second to the last fight in May 1925 where he defeated Clever Sencio to cheers from his fans in Wallace Field. His last fight was in July 1925 in Oakland, against Jimmy McLarnin. He lost this match because he used one hand to shield a face swollen from an ulcerated tooth.
Two days after the fight, Guilledo had the tooth pulled and defied doctors’ orders to rest, resulting in the infection spreading to his throat and causing Ludwig’s angina. He fell into a coma during emergency surgery and died on July 14, 1925. He was buried in the Manila North Cemetery.
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