JUNE 18, 1923: PANCHO VILLA BECOMES ASIA'S FIRST WORLD CHAMPION
By Eddie Alinea
18 Jun 2016
On this day in 1923, a bantam-sized but fast, two-fisted Filipino fighter gifted the Philippines, and Asia, for that matter, their first world boxing champion.
Pancho Villa, then only 22, knocked out cold Jimmy Wilde of Wales in the seventh round to bring home the world flyweight championship and became the first from this shore to own a world belt.
Two years after his coronation, the son of a vaquero (cowhand) and an abandoned housewife died, 18 days before turning 24. But not until after having elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, 36 years following his demise, the first of only two Filipinos so far to have been accorded the distinction.
At the end of the last millennium, a group of international media men named Villa the "Best Flyweight of the Century, " citing his overall seven-year career of 99 bouts of which he won 22 by knockout, 49 by decision.
The diminutive Filipino lost five, drew four and had 19 no-decision outcome in bouts fought in areas where boxing was illegal.
Top photo: Jimmy Wilde boxing Pancho Villa in New York. Painting by Pat Nicole.
Pancho Villa and Wilde before the opening bell.
On that 18th day of June 93 years ago, the world famous Polo Grounds in New York was packed by the 23,000 fight fans, most of whom were Filipinos who paid a handsome $94,950, then considered one of the highest, to witness history unfolded.
Pancho dominated throughout the less than half-an-hour showdown pummeling the Welshman with telling combinations, dropping the enemy four times in that short period of time to claim the title.
When Pancho and his handlers entered the ring that Monday night as reported by journalist Manuel Villa-Real, who covered the bout for TVT chain of newspapers, the shouts "Viva Villa" filled the cavernous arena. The Americans considered him as their own although the Filipino came into the fight the underdog at the betting odds.
Villa weighed 110 pounds, Wilde 109, Villa-Real, grandfather of four-time Bowling World Cup champion Paeng Nepomuceno, wrote. Pancho was clad in shorts with a color he called "hoodoo green." Pancho was superstitious about colors. He abhorred green yet he wore the same color against Wilde.
Young and at his prime, clever and fast who possessed lightning left jabs, murderous one-two-attacks and the pugnacity of a killer, Villa rendered Wilde's face bloody mess right in the opening round.
By the third, blood flowed from the gash on Jimmy's eye, which was then closed. Pancho kept his attack in the next round sending the opponent down as cries to stop the massacre mounted. He sent his rival sprawled to the canvas in the fourth.
Wilde refused to surrender and Villa pressed further in the fifth stanza dropping the Welshman for the second time . Pancho looked to have begging the referee to stop the annihilation. But the game Jimmy insisted on going on.
This led Villa to ease up his attack in the sixth forcing his manager and foster father Francisco "Paquito" Villa to ask him what was going on. Pancho told him that it was a senseless slaughter.
Villa finishes off Wilde.
"Finish him off then," the manager shouted back. So when the bell rang signaling the start of the seventh canto, Pancho feigned a right lead inducing Wilde to raise his guard, inviting a left to the stomach from Pancho.
A smashing right to the defending champs' jaw saw Wilde on the seat of his pants for good. The "Mighty Atom," was finished. He was lying flat in the canvas for five minutes. The fight was over.
As Pancho gently helped his opponent back to his corner, a woman, who turned out to be Wilde's wife, approached him and thanked him for his gesture. The crowd gave the new champion a thunderous ovation.
Jimmy was carried to his dressing room with a bleeding mouth, gashed cheeks and eyes closed. Reports later had it that he wouldn't see again.
Manila went wild over Villa's victory. Ships whistle and ice plants sirens blared the announcement of his title triumph, Extra editions of all newspapers sold like hot cakes.
His wife Gliceria (nee Concepcion) who was left in Manila, asked by the media outfits for reaction had this to say: "You cannot imagine the happiness I felt upon receiving the first notices of the victory of my husband. I cried not because of pain but emotion. I was hoping for his triumph."
General Emilio Aguinaldo, voicing the sentiment of the entire nation said: "Congratulations, Pancho, Come back to us and defend your title here."
A hero's welcome greeted Pancho when he disembarked from the "SS President Grant," the same luxury liner that brought him to the United States on April 2, 1922 to launch his campaign in the land of promise.
A reception at the Malacanan Palace hosted by then President Manuel Quezon followed a massive parade from the airport passing through Manila's major streets where thousands greeted the returning sports hero.
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