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Gabriel “Flash” Elorde: In a class of his own

Cebu City, Philippines

March 25, 2020

“The greatest fighter not named Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao and/or Luisito Espinosa is Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, bar none,” the late Hermie Rivera once said and added,” To be neutral, just ask our Mexican friends. They know their boxing.”

Back in 2012, K.O. Boxeo Mundial concurred.

The leading Spanish boxing magazine rated Gabriel “Flash” Elorde as the top Filipino fighter in its centerfold piece entitled Los Mejores Puños Filipinos (The Best Filipino Fists).

The very short list is filled with incisive remarks about four of our best---Flash Elorde, Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo, Luisito Espinosa and Ceferino Garcia, respectively.

As for the translation, you may have to ask your Spanish-speaking friends like I did.

The cover graphic features Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.

“Si Se Puede”, the front page said.

(Photo(s) courtesy of K.O. Boxeo Mundial)

Part of boxing lore is an article called Little Brown Dolls written by the late Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle and my late father Hermie for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Allow me to share excerpts of their discussion that features a gallery of Filipino world boxing champions with special emphasis on Flash Elorde and his reign.

(Courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 20, 1994)

“They were called ‘Little Brown Dolls’, but how they could fight! Twenty-seven (27) World Champions enshrined in the record books since the early '1920s attest to the ability, speed, courage, and flash of Filipino fighters, who campaigned mainly in the lower weight classes.”

“If there was a Boxing resurgence in the islands today, plus another steady stream of small ring men to the States, the problems of American matchmakers and promoters would diminish. Filipino fans still heatedly debate the relative merits of Pancho Villa, Ceferino Garcia, Flash Elorde, Ben Villaflor, and Luisito Espinosa - the only Filipino to win the World Bantamweight and Featherweight titles - as to who was the best to come out of the Philippines. There are plenty more names to go around. The old timers swear by Villa, the first ever Filipino to win a world title by a shocking knockout - no less - of incomparable Flyweight Champion Jimmy Wilde of England, the Mighty Atom, in Madison Square Garden in 1923.”

Mrs. Laura Elorde, wife of Gabriel “Flash” Elorde with a pointer before the Sandy Saddler-Flash Elorde fight at the Cow Palace, Daly City, California (Photo rights acquired by Hermie Rivera. Credit to United Press Telephoto January 17, 1956)

Gabriel “Flash” Elorde was born on March 25, 1935 in the seaside City of Bogo in Northern Cebu Island. He passed away at age 49 on January 2, 1985.

The youngest of a brood of 15, he carried himself well while helping his family working as a boot black, carpenter and setter of pins at a bowling alley.

In his formative years, he learned from his father Tatang Elorde the art of Balintawak Eskrima (Arnis Stick Fighting) - created by Venancio “Anciong” Bacon. The original Filipino martial art, known for balanced foot work and distance fighting, was named after a street in the Colon district of Cebu.

Elorde credits his friend and former boxer Lucio Laborte for showing him the ropes.

Flash Elorde, a left-handed fighter, was renowned for his superb boxing skills, relentless body punches and trailblazing techniques. One of his favorite moves is the hybrid hook/upper cut to the liver---something the great Mexican fighters adopted and popularly nicknamed Gancho Al Higado.

Famed writer Robert Lipsyte described Elorde’s nimbleness as "subtle little temple-dancer moves” which his friend Muhammad Ali emulated.

Sandy Saddler TKO 13 Flash Elorde, Cow Palace, Daly City, California.
(Photo with rights: Credit United Press Telephoto January 18, 1956)

Elorde debuted against Kid Gonzaga by TKO 4 on June 16, 1951 and followed with 10 wins that year against Young Basiliano, Mike Sanchez, Kid Santos, Star Mercado, Fighting Chavez, Little Patilla, Star Flores, Kid Independence and Lucky Strike.

Elorde stunned the boxing world when he beat the great featherweight champion Sandy Saddler in a non-title tenner in the Philippines on July 20, 1955. He earned the right for a rematch with the World Featherweight Championship on the line January 18, 1956. Elorde floored Saddler but suffered a cut in his eye in the middle rounds and lost the fight via 13th-round TKO.

Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle described it like this: "It was a dirty fight throughout and all the onus must be on the 126-pound champion's skinny shoulders. From this corner, it appeared highly improbable that he could have successfully defended the title ... if he hadn't resorted to all the so-called tricks in and out of the rule book."

Elorde’s world championship reign started when he won the world super-featherweight title on March 16, 1960, by knocking out the defending world champion Harold Gomes in seven rounds at the newly-constructed Araneta Coliseum with more than 20,000 in attendance.

It was an end to a twenty-year title drought for the Philippines since Ceferino Garcia lost his world middleweight title to Ken Overlin on May 23, 1940.

He defended the title a division record 10 times until June 15, 1967 when he lost a majority decision to a much younger Yoshiaki Numata of Japan.

Elorde remains to be the longest-reigning world junior lightweight champion in history (seven years and three months) and, to borrow a phrase, helped legitimize the 130-pound division.

Elorde was twice repulsed by Carlos Ortiz, both by 14th round knockout---the first time in Malate, P.I. on February 15, 1964. Ortiz once again beat Elorde on November 28, 1966 in Madison Garden, New York to keep his WBA/WBC lightweight crown.

Gabriel retired with a record of 88 Wins (33 KO), 27 Losses and 2 draws.

He was enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame (1993), World Boxing Hall of Fame and West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame (2018).

He was also named the 78th Best Fighter by Nat Fleischer’s The Ring in 2002.

Today, March 25th, is his birthday.

Happy Natal Day, Mr. Elorde!

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.

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