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List of Articles by Joaquin Henson

Lopez' legacy in boxing

By Joaquin Henson
05 Jan 2017

Former Manila Mayor Mel Lopez will always be remembered as a fighting man who never compromised his principles and brought integrity back to AIBA, the global governing federation for Olympic-style boxing, by standing his ground against long-time dictator Anwar Chowdry in a bold move that eventually led to the Pakistan despot’s ouster.

Lopez passed away last Sunday night at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy of honor, honesty and humility. He served as ABAP president from 1987 to 1993 then was PSC chairman from 1993 to 1996. Lopez was also Manila Vice Mayor in 1971 and Mayor as President Cory Aquino’s designate in 1986-87 and as a duly-elected official in 1986-92.

A hands-on executive with a brilliant mind and a heart of gold, Lopez was chairman of the PNOC subsidiary Philippine National Oil Exploration Corp. and the family-owned Pacific Concrete Products at the time of his passage. He was well-loved by those whom he worked with and the millions whose lives he touched with his generosity, care and concern.

During Lopez’ term as ABAP president, the Philippines bagged two Olympic bronze medals in boxing from Leopoldo Serrantes in 1988 and Roel Velasco in 1992. His son Manny took over the ABAP reins in 1993 and headed the NSA up to 2009. When Onyok Velasco was robbed of the gold and settled for the silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Lopez was on his second term as member of the powerful AIBA Executive Committee.

Although Lopez was in the AIBA Executive Committee, he refused to play footsies with Chowdry who was notorious for dispensing favors to sycophants. Chowdry was the mastermind of bribery, dishonesty and demagoguery in Olympic-style boxing and ruled with an iron fist. He served as AIBA secretary-general from 1974 to 1986 then reigned as AIBA president starting 1986. Lopez could’ve kept silent and enjoyed the perks of a Chowdry puppet like most of the other Executive Committee members but went against the powerful establishment. Velasco’s loss was the last straw that triggered Lopez’ vigorous campaign to clean up the dirt in AIBA.

At the AIBA Executive Committee meeting in New York in 1998, Lopez spoke out and threatened to resign unless reforms are initiated. Lopez said “it was high time to fight dishonesty and corruption in AIBA” as he exposed the “manifestations of dictatorship” in the organization. Lopez supported Chinese-Taipei candidate Dr. Wu Ching Kuo in opposing Chowdry for the presidency at the AIBA Congress in Turkey that year. Chowdry, however, would not be denied a fourth consecutive four-year term as he easily beat Dr. Wu, 78-38. Chowdry, backed by alleged drug dealer and billionaire Gafur Rakhimov of Uzbekistan, paid for the travel and stay of at least 70 delegates in Turkey. Lopez then declined to run for a third term as a member of the Executive Committee but kept on fighting the dictatorship.

In 2006, Chowdry was finally defeated in the polls by Dr. Wu, 83-79. Lopez started it all in 1998 with his campaign against the AIBA Mafia and the culmination was Dr. Wu’s victory eight years later. Dr. Wu remains AIBA president to this day.

Not too many know that Lopez underwent a heart bypass operation in 1988 but that didn’t deter him from passionately pursuing his dream of making a difference in the lives of Filipinos as a politician, businessman and sportsman.

Lopez’ love for sports goes back to his Jose Rizal College (now University) days when he boxed, swam and played basketball for the varsity. He wasn’t an armchair spectator, he was an active participant. So that when Lopez would visit the boxing gym to watch over the country’s elite simon-pures in training, he never ran out of sage advice.

Lopez often pointed out that footwork was essential in creating a boxing champion and called it the missing link in the Filipino fighter’s package. He singled out as an example, Cuban Joel Casamayor, a lean-framed bantamweight who knocked out Filipino Roberto Jalnaiz in the first round of a quarterfinals bout at the 1992 Olympics. Casamayor wasn’t physically imposing but his footwork was impeccable as he drew power from his legs and his balance brought additional leverage to his punches.

Whenever Lopez invited for a get-together at the Manila Yacht Club, he would sometimes demonstrate the proper stance for a boxer and show the close coordination between the feet and hands in delivering punches with high velocity. I enjoyed our long discussions about sports, particularly boxing, and we became close friends. At Christmas time, Lopez would even drop by our home to bring presents. How rare is that for a man of his stature.

The 2012 London Olympics was special for me because it wasn’t only my first experience in the Summer Games but also an opportunity to share the moment with Lopez and his son Manny who was the country’s chef de mission. I’ll never forget Lopez’ analysis of Filipino fighter Mark Anthony Barriga’s chances to win a medal and how much I learned from his knowledge. We were all together hoping for the Olympic medal that never came.

Someday, the Philippines will win its first Olympic gold medal and it will come from boxing. When that happens, Lopez will be grinning from ear to ear up in heaven. It didn’t come in his lifetime but everyone will know the process began with him. Philippine sports owes a huge debt of gratitude to Lopez for paving the way to glory. Thank you, Mayor Mel, for your heroism, patriotism and friendship.

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