From the bleachers of a giant dome called Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines, there is no mistaking the drama that was unfolding in the square ring below.
American referee Pete Podgorski motioned Filipino IBF flyweight champion, Nonito Donaire, to stay in the neutral corner as he signaled an end to fallen Mexican challenger Raul Martinez without bothering to count.
Martinez received his third knockdown in four rounds and the referee made the judgment call that he had suffered enough. Instinctively, Martinez sprung back to life and appealed to the referee to allow him to continue the fight.
The referee was unfazed by the appeal in the face of the massive celebration that erupted after the announcement was made. It was only after being appraised of the situation by his own corner, and reassured it was alright, that Martinez gamely accepted his defeat and embraced his Filipino opponent.
Moments after the official announcement declaring Donaire the winner of the 12-round title bout, Martinez surprised the crowd when he ran circles inside the ring waving the Philippine flag to the amusement of the audience.
In the same venue not too long ago, Mexican fighter Oscar Larios, after his loss to Manny Pacquiao, declared that he had lost to a better boxer and praised the hospitality and kindness shown to him by his hosts. Despite being battered and bruised by the Pacman, he genuinely looked all smiles after the bout as he waved to the Filipino crowd.
Erik Morales, who fought local hero Manny Pacquiao in three grueling battles, voiced his discomfort when he landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila to do a beer commercial with his rival. He thought he would be mugged by Filipinos who “adore and worship” Manny.
Later on, Morales said it was a false impression and he would like to come back with his family for a vacation. And he did.
The friendship between Filipinos and Mexicans is indelibly carved in history books, particularly during the height of the galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila during the Spanish colonial era. Both countries were under the Spanish authority for centuries and even today share the same Catholic faith.
Many Filipinos and Mexicans continue to share a common fate in the United States where they face almost similar situations as menial workers and caregivers in many American homes. More recently, both groups have discovered another common bond—boxing.
While it is true that Mexico enjoys a tremendous headway in terms of boxing achievements, with more hall of famers and world champions, the Philippines has lately metamorphosed into another boxing “superpower” largely because of Manny Pacquiao, who has beaten practically every contemporary Mexican boxing star, including Mexican-American superstar Oscar de la Hoya.
Pacquiao’s success has rubbed off on other Filipino boxers, notably IBF flyweight champion Nonito Donaire, IBF junior flyweight title holder Brian Viloria, and WBO minimum titlist Donnie Nietes.
Former WBC super flyweight and the WBO bantamweight titleholder Gerry Peñalosa recently lost in his bid to win the WBO super bantamweight championship, but many other young Filipino boxers have proven their mettle inside the ring and are just waiting for their turn to shine.
Ageless boxing promoter Bob Arum believes, “there are a tremendous number of terrific, talented Filipino fighters.”
He thinks that in the next few years, “there may be as many as 10 world champions from the Philippines because they are really terrific fighters and have great loyal followings.”
From his viewpoint as a marketing guru for boxing, Arum explains, “it’s not only the Filipinos in the Philippines, but there are about 11 to 12 million Filipinos who live around the world, including about three million in the United States.”
After Donaire scored a victory at the Araneta Coliseum Apr. 19, Arum announced to the audience that he hopes to be back within the year to stage another fight at the Araneta Coliseum featuring Filipinos and Mexicans.
“Filipinos love boxing, it’s their major sport just like the Mexicans,” he said. “Great rivalries, great people.”