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By Ronnie Nathanielsz

Sat, 03 Jan 2015

For the first time in as long as we can remember, we were on the verge of failing to attend the annual Mass held at the tomb of the late Gabriel ?Flash? Elorde at the Manila Memorial Park, to honor and pay our collective respects to one of the greatest world champions of all-time on the 30th anniversary of his untimely passing.

Every year, without fail, we would join Elorde?s widow, Laura Elorde, the matriarch supreme and her family and friends at the Mass to mark Elorde?s death as well as his birth on March 25, 1935. While it was a solemn occasion, it was also tinged with joy as we remembered not just the achievements in the ring of one of the most skilled and courageous champions of our time but a gentleman extraordinaire whose decency and demeanor in the ring was reflected in his attitude outside it.

?Flash? Elorde was not just a hero of our time, he will remain a hero for all-time.

When his charming daughter-in-law Liza Elorde, wife of Johnny Elorde reminded us on Friday morning of the Mass we were with our family in San Pablo City and informed her, with much regret, that we could not make the trip but would, in the rustic setting of our little farm say a prayer for ?Bai? as he was fondly called and recall with fondness our relationship through the years which was, in many respects, special to us.

Our broadcast career in sports in the Philippines began with our coverage of Elorde?s world and Oriental title fights as well as non-title fights from which grew a strong bond that stood the test of time.

In fact, when just about everybody including the Games and Amusements Board wanted Elorde to quit boxing after he lost his title to Yoshiaki Numata, seven years and three months after he had won the title with a spectacular 7th round knockout of American Harold Gomes whom he dropped five times en route to a victory that sparked a fantastic celebration by 36,000 fans at the inauguration of the Araneta Coliseum and Filipinos nationwide, we sought to comfort Elorde as we explained the public sentiment, or at least tried to.

He was pleading for one more fight to prove he still had it in him, just like many other fighters after a loss.

Elorde listened to nobody and even Laura correctly pointed out that her husband, ?Bai?, knew what was best for him and whether his physical person was up to the challenge.

We then decided to write a column suggesting that he hang up his gloves, not because we doubted his ability to continue his storied career but because we cared for him like no other and never wanted to live to see the day when he was hurt during a fight.

The memory of his crushing knockout loss to the bigger, stronger world lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz at New York?s famed Madison Square Garden which we covered for Radio Station dzHP, the ?Sound of the City? and the now defunct Philippines Herald newspaper, flashed across our mind.

We chronicled that defeat, the first knockout suffered by ?Flash? and never wanted to see a repeat. It was far too painful to bear.

Mercifully, Elorde was, as he told us later, touched by our concern and, maybe perhaps reluctantly, decided to retire.

As we remember his passing we are, in a sense, relieved that the fighter who surpassed his longtime record that stood for 34 years, World Boxing Organization light flyweight champion Donnie ?Ahas? Nietes is a man cut in the same mold and one whose skill and courage in the ring, just like Elorde, is matched by his decency and humility outside.

At the last minute we decided to drive from San Pablo City to attend the memorial Mass and return, after Liza Elorde reminded us in a gracious text message in which he said ?we will miss you more that this is his 30th year and you never missed any.? Indeed, we miss ?Flash? Elorde, a beloved friend and a champion for all-time and did not wish to miss honoring him as we?ve done for the past 29 years.

It?s the least we could do for someone who brings back cherished memories of an era where he stood tall and lived up to the words we penned some years ago in a tribute to Elorde ? ?He feared no man, but was humble before all men.?

God bless your soul ?Bai? as you find solace in the embrace of a merciful God and we find solace in remembering.

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