Looking Back at Flash Elorde's Career From a Different Light and Perspective
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Mon, 23 Mar 2020
Gabriel Elorde, the first and original Filipino boxer to be known internationally as Flash or colloquially, Da Flash (long before Nonito Donaire quite unimaginably adopted the nom de guerre as the Filipino Flash) would have been 85 years old this March 25, 2020 had lung cancer not cut short his life two months before his 50th birthday.
Growing up, I have two indelible memories of Flash Elorde.
The first, as a tot about to enter kindergarten gawking curiously at a huge black and white photo splashed across our favorite daily, Manila Times dated March 17, 1960 of a fighter with arms raised standing over a fallen foe.
My now deceased father who bore the same first name as Da Flash and who first stirred my interest in boxing and my patriotic identification with Filipino boxers at that young age, enthusiastically explained to me what the photo was all about.
The day before, March 16, 1960, incidentally my father's 45th birthday, Flash Elorde, to the delight of the whole Filipino nation knocked out American defending champion Harold Gomes in the seventh round to win the world junior lightweight championship at the then newly inaugurated Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City.
Account of the fight reported that Elorde knocked down Gomes eight times for the mandatory eight count in including thrice in the fateful seventh round before felling the American for the full count of referee Barney Ross, the legendary former lightweight and welterweight champion.
As a kid barely getting introduction to my Filipino identity, of course, I felt proud and elated.
My second unforgettable memory of Flash Elorde came seven years later when already a boy about to enter high school, I witnessed my mother and elder sisters crying after hearing over the radio that Da Flash has lost the treasured world championship to a young Japanese by the name of Yoshiaki Numata. Even at that time, the ill feeling against Japan over its wartime record was still strong and Filipinos would have preferred that Elorde lose the title to someone else not Japanese.
I felt sad, too. But as the saying said all good things come to an end. But then again, up to that point, some Filipinos seemed to take Elorde for granted, used they were to seeing him keep the championship time and again the past more than six years before. We never realized the value of that lone, sole world championship until we lost it.
After Elorde, came waves of Filipino world champions, a few even surpassing what he had accomplished as a boxer and titleholder including Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire who both won multiple titles in as many weight classes and Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes who not only won four world division belts but also set the new record in continuous reign as champion.
In my long years as radio boxing show host, I have encountered not a few fans who have scoffed at the idea of mentioning Elorde in the same vein as Pacquiao especially.
Few are even old enough to have seen at least a glimpse of Elorde's heydays. But many are of age that do not even have a recollection of the days when the likes of Gerry Peñalosa and Luisito Espinosa were doing the country proud in the late 80s up to much of the 90s. A great majority have known boxing only in terms of Pacquiao and probably, Donaire, Nietes and Jerwin Ancajas.
I really can't blame them for their views on and attitude towards Flash Elorde particularly if we go by his career and overall ring record which many of the young doubting fans brought up time and again in denigrating him vis a vis Pacquiao and contemporaries.
In his two decades career, from his debut in June of 1951 up to his final losing fight in 1971 (that prompted the revocation of his boxing license by the then GAB) Elorde figured in a total of 118 pro bouts. He won 89 of these, including 44 by knockout while losing 27, four by knockout and drawing two bouts.
But it can be said that Elorde's career did not follow the normal curve characterizing many if not most fighters who became world champions in boxing history, including the old and current greats as Louis, Ali and Pacquiao himself.
The normal curve runs parallel to one's age and physical peak that defines a fighter's prime, usually at late teens to the mid up to late twenties or early thirties depending on when a fighter started fighting professionally.
Elorde started fighting professionally at tender age of 16. Based on the normal curve, he should have reached his peak and fighting prime by the time he reached his early twenties when he had already logged more than five years.
But that did not happen. In fact, Elorde suffered 17 of his career defeats between 1951 and 1959, two by knockouts while fighting from bantamweight to the lightweight classes.
He had a high in 1955 when he upset then world featherweight champion Sandy Saddler in a non title bout in Manila. But after losing to familiar foe, Shigeji Kaneko in his next fight (FYI, Kaneko beat Elorde in all their four bouts between 1953 and 1957), Elorde was defeated by Saddler by 13th round TKO in their rematch in 1956.
After that, Elorde would lose seven bouts in the next three years including once more to Kaneko, twice to Puerto Rican Miguel Berrios in the USA, a Thai in Bangkok, Italian Paolo Rosi and consecutively to Vicente Rivas and American Solomon Boysaw, all in the USA.
Significantly, it was those losses that convinced Gomes to defend his world title against Elorde in Manila.
Anthony Petronella, the international coordinator of the National Boxing Association, later to be known as WBA, was even fearful for Elorde's safety in challenge of Gomes even if it was set in the Philippines.
Petronella was therefore very surprised at what happened.
"Who would believed it? If I never saw Gomes so bad and Elorde never fought a better fight in his life. I was afraid Elorde was all washed up. In his last fight against Solomon Boysaw, he looked lousy - and on television", he was quoted as saying by Associated Press.
Elorde drops Gomes.
The AP would continue reporting:
"Elorde who is listed at 25 (years old) but has a ring record dating back to 1951 astonished the experts. He was rated as a clever puncher but a light puncher. He dispelled that notion as he crushed Gomes into a dazed, bleeding hulk".
Gomes was also in disbelief.
Declaring that he would want the rematch held in the USA, Gomes was quoted as saying: "He was a good, clean boy but I don't think he can punch that hard. I think I must have been weak from the heat".
Clearly, Gomes like the rest never reckoned that Elorde had just entered his peak and prime at age 25 after fighting for nearly ten years, a period then as now considered already as a full career for most boxers.
He would have a more rude realization three months later when Elorde knocked him out in less than two minutes in the milder weather of San Francisco, California, prompting the AP to report:
"There's no doubt about it. World junior lightweight champion Flash Elorde can lick Harold Gomes any day of the week---and probably twice on Sundays."
Evidently, Elorde only hit his prime at then ripe age of 25 and he would lose only five more times in the next seven years, once to Terou Kosaka which he would avenge twice, and twice both to Carlos Ortiz (in failed lightweight title tries) and ultimate conqueror Yoshiaki Numata in failed OPBF and later world title defenses.
Elorde was only truly washed up after that.
Let us also be reminded that in Elorde's lengthy title reign, he had to compete for global as well as Filipino attention with The Beatles and a glib tongued boxing wonderkind Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali.
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone 09215309477.
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