THOSE WHO DID NOT MAKE IT
By Edwin G. Espejo
14 Jun 2008
GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- MANNY Pacquiao’s rise to pinnacle of boxing success has been well-chronicled.
Yet, the lives and saga of more than a handful of would-have-been champion boxers from General Santos City are also now worth mentioning if only because they fought when live and satellite TV was as rare as the coming of Haley’s Comet and internet was as alien as the fifth moon in Jupiter.
Of course Manny Pacquiao will always top the list of boxers from this part of the Philippines who made it big.
But before him, there was Rolando Navarette and his younger brother Romy, Andy Balaba, Fel Clementes, Dadoy Andujar, Lorimer Pontino and other boxers such as Gerry Peñalosa, Rene Barrientos who, at one time in their careers, made General Santos their second home.
Only a few boxing aficionados would now remember that the Parish Center right besides the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Parish used to host a number of championship fights.
The late Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde once fought a Japanese fighter in that famed multi-purpose hall several bouts before the Games and Amusement Board revoked his boxing license.
When the cavernous Bernabe Coliseum was opened in the mid 70’s, it became the Mecca of professional boxing in the city. In 1975, Rolando Navarette won the Philippine bantamweight crown via a unanimous decision over then reigning titlist Conrado Vasquez in that venue, now seldom used and renamed NBC Coliseum.
Of the boxers who made a good account of themselves and generated their own horde of fans, no story was more tragic than Andy Balaba’s.
Balaba was on his way to campaigning for a world title fight when he was knocked out in the 10th round by Korean Hi-Sup Shin in Seoul, South Korea. Balaba collapsed after the bout and died several days later due to severe head injuries.
Another boxer who ended up a destitute was former bantamweight champion Lorimer Pontino who died two years ago. Pontino held the Philippine bantamweight crown from 1987 to 1990. In September 1987, he lost to a 3rd round knockout to Luisito Espinosa in a non-title fight.
There were a handful of boxers from this city who fought for a world title.
Fel Clementes lost to the great WBC featherweight champion Danny Lopez via a disputed fourth round disqualification in 1978. He likewise succumbed to a unanimous decision loss to another Hall of Famer Salvador Sanchez for the featherweight title. Clementes is now a US citizen where he fought four more times after his Sanchez bout as a journeyman. He lost all of them.
Rene Barrientos, of course, once held the World Boxing Council super featherweight crown by winning over Ruben Navarro for the vacant title in 1969. He defended it once before losing the crown to Adolph Pruitt seven months later. He fought two more times for the super featherweight title, losing both times to Japan’s Yoshiaki Numata.
Numata was the same boxer who wrested the WBA junior lightweight crown from Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde.
Barrientos never fought in General Santos City but he resided here for a while after his boxing career was over.
Reigning World Boxing Organization bantamweight titleholder Gerry Peñalosa, of course, has General Santos as his second home, having married Goody Llido, daughter of former city councilor Ditdit Llido.
No career, however, is more colorful than Rolando Navarette. Nicknamed the Bad Boy from Dadiangas, shocked the boxing world when he kayoed Cornelius Boza-Edwards in the fifth round to capture the World Boxing Council super featherweight title in 1981.
It was his second attempt at capturing a world title having lost to the famed Alexis Arquello via a fifth round technical knockout in 1980. Navarette suffered cuts on both eyebrows which led to the stoppage of the fight. But he gave Arguello several fits with his powerful punches.
Navarette would defend his crown once before losing a sorry 12th round knockout to Rafael Bazooka Limon.
Navarette (R) in a recent gathering of boxers during the Elorde Awards in Manila.
Navarette was never the same again as he was convicted for raping a Hawaiian lass and sent to prison for several years after he lost his crown. Although he came back and fought 14 more times after his release from Hawaiian prison, Navarette was never the same. He dropped all three of his last fights before retiring for good in 1991.
Now hobbled by Parkinson’s disease, Navarette has been reduced to mendicancy. He lost all properties he was able to buy during his heydays. He nearly died during a drinking-spree fracas when his buddy stabbed him in the abdomen years after he retired from boxing.
Nowadays, if Navarette gets into the news, expect it is again for some misdemeanor.
Manny’s stature in the boxing world, sadly, has not triggered renaissance of professional boxing in the city.
Gone are the days when billboards in the city would announce a good boxing card at least once a month.
Manny’s MP Promotions has forayed into promoting fight cards in the city but these are far in between.
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