By Manny Piñol
31 Jul 2011
Long before Manny Pacquiao was named Best Boxer in the World Pound for Pound and long before Gabriel "Flash" Elorde became the first Asian fighter to be installed to the Boxing Hall of Fame, there was a diminutive warrior from Ilog, Negros Occidental who thrilled American boxing fans as he displayed a non-stop fighting style described by American boxing writers as a buzzsaw in the ring.
He was known as Pancho Villa inside the ring. His real name was Francisco Guilledo, a sugarcane plantation worker's son who was only 5' 1" but who was lionized by boxing fans in the United States where he fought a total of 46 fights in only 26 months from June 1922 to August 1924.
Today, August 1, 2011 is Pancho Villa's 120th birthday and I believe it is only fitting that Filipino boxing fans are given a glimpse into the life of this diminutive fighter who is considered by many boxing experts until today as one of the greatest Asian fighters of all time and was ranked in 2002 by Ring Magazine writers 59th among the 80 Greatest Boxers of the last 80 years.
There are several stories about Pancho Villa and some of the details are not consistent.
For example, wikipedia says when Pancho Villa arrived in the US after a month-long boat ride from the Philippines along with his promoter Frank Churchill and manager Paquito Villa, the Filipino fighter immediately scored two succeeding victories. This is, however, disputed by boxrec.com which says that Pancho Villa dropped his first two fights before winning the American flyweight title with an 11th round knockout of defending champion Johnny Buff.
Sometime in the late 1980s, I had the opportunity of meeting Pancho Villa's only son, Francisco, who came to the Tempo office where I worked from 1983 to 1990 in the company of a lady who I believe was his wife. His visit was prompted by a series of articles about great Filipino boxing champions which included his father.
In those articles, it was alleged that when Pancho Villa came home to the Philippines after a two-year stint in the United States, he discovered that his wife, Gliceria, was having an affair with another man and this led to the desperation of the great Filipino fighter.
It was alleged that it was because of this that after his fight with Clever Sencio in the Wallace Field in Makati which was witnessed by thousands of boxing fans, Villa returned to the United States broken hearted and took the fight against the bigger Jimmy McLarnin even when he had an ulcerated tooth extracted earlier on the day of the fight, July 4, 1925.
He lost that fight and a few days later, on July 14, he died from Ludwig's angina resulting from an infection that spread to his throat.
Pancho Villa's son, Francisco, said that simply was not true and that his mother, Gliceria, remained loyal to his father up to the day he was brought home to the Philippines and buried at the Manila North Cemetery.
I do not know where Francisco is now but what I know is that Pancho Villa still has grandchildren both living in the Philippines and in the United States.
But whether the accounts of Pancho Villa's private life were accurate or not, one thing is certain: He remains up to this day as one of the five Filipino boxing heroes whom I consider as the perfect embodiment of the Filipino courage and the determination to excel, the four others being Manny Pacquiao, Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, Ceferino Garcia and Dodie Boy Penalosa.
We will discuss the four others and their great achievements in future columns because today is Pancho Villa's day.
Leaving the sugarcane plantation in Negros Occidental at age 11 to work as a shoe-shine boy (just like Elorde) in Iloilo City, Francisco Guilledo met a boxer who brought him to Tondo, Manila where he eventually met Paquito Villa and later American boxing impressario Frank Churchill.
In 1919, at age 18, he won his first bout and two years later he won the Philippine flyweight title.
A year later, spurned by a woman he was wooing, a broken-heated Francisco Guilledo, who by this time was already given the ring name Pancho Villa, went home to Negros and wanted to give up boxing.
(There are two accounts as to how Francisco Guilledo was given the name Pancho Villa. One account said it was Churchill who gave him the nom de guerre after the Mexican outlaw, Pancho Villa, while the other version said Paquito Villa legally adopted Guilledo and allowed him the use of his family name.)
It was only on the prodding of Churchill and Paquito Villa and the clamor of boxing fans that Pancho Villa returned to Manila to resume his boxing career.
In 1922, American promoter Tex Rickard, invited Pancho Villa to fight in the US. Accompanied by Churchill and Villa, Pancho Villa arrived in the mainland US in June of 1922 and literally took the United States like a raging storm.
After dropping his first two fights in June and August of 1922, he knocked out Johnny Buff to win the American title and virtually toured the whole American continent fighting in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New Jersey, Boston, New York and in almost every corner of California.
His fight schedule was incredible. In the month of July 1922, he fought three times and then again in March of 1923, he fought Frankie Genaro on the 1st in New York, fought Young Montreal on the 19th in Pennsylavania and went up five days later on March 24 against Willy Darcy in Connecticut.
In just 26 months in the United States from June 1922 to Aug. 1924, Pancho Villa fought a total of 46 bouts, an average of about two fights every month.
On June 18, 1923, after a series of victories and a few decision losses all over America, Pancho Villa went up against Welsh-born American Jimmy Wilde in New York's Polo Ground for the world flyweight title. He knocked down Wilde in the 4th, the 5th before finally finishing him off in 7th to become the first Filipino and Asian world boxing champion.
Newspaper accounts said the crowd of about 20,000, a mammoth crowd at the time, chanted "Viva Villa" as the Filipino buzzsaw pummelled the Welsh fighter to carve his niche in world boxing history.
Returning to the Philippines in 1925, Pancho Villa was acclaimed as a hero and according to accounts was feted in a banquet in Malacanang Palace.
Back in the US in June of the same year, Pancho Villa took a fight against the bigger Jimmy McLarnin, who stood 5' 7" and who would later become welterweight champion. It was supposed to be a tune up fight in preparation for a bigger fight but with the tooth extraction causing a facial swelling, Pancho Villa, according to reports, literally fought with only one hand, as the other was held up high to protect the swollen face.
Ten days later he was dead.
His record at the time of his death was 80 wins, 23 by knockout, 5 losses and 3 draws.
How great was he as a fighter?
Well, Manny Pacquiao now fights two or three times a year.
Pancho Villa in his prime fought twice every month.
Back to Manny Piñol's Articles Listing
Recent PhilBoxing.com In-House articles:
PhilBoxing.com has been created to support every aspiring
Filipino boxer and the Philippine boxing scene in general.
Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org