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In Papa’s footsteps


PhilBoxing.com


The late Lope (Papa) Sarreal, Sr. is the only Filipino who wasn’t a fighter inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. Only two other Filipinos have been enshrined----former world champions Pancho Villa and Flash Elorde. Sarreal passed away in 1995 at 90 and was honored posthumously in 2005 for his contributions to the sport as a promoter, manager and matchmaker. He played a key role in the development of Asian boxing, introducing the sport in China and Indonesia and staging big fights in Korea, Thailand and Japan. Sarreal produced 22 world titleholders, including his son-in-law Elorde, Masao Ohba of Japan, Saensak Muangsurin of Thailand and Ricardo Arredondo of Mexico. He wasn’t only a major influencer in Asia but also the world over, rubbing elbows with boxing luminaries like The Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer, promoters George Parnassus and Dewey Fraggeta and icons Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Barney Ross and Willie Pep.

A musician when World War II broke out, Sarreal was incarcerated in a POW camp in Shanghai by the Japanese with American soldiers. He was the only Filipino in the camp and probably the most popular inmate as a cook. After the war, his American friends encouraged him to engage in trading surplus goods in Japan. That led to Sarreal opening a restaurant and trading company in Tokyo. Then, boxing began to boom in Japan and Sarreal jumped aboard the bandwagon, bringing Filipino fighters over in the 1950s. One of the fighters was Elorde. Before long, Sarreal was totally immersed in boxing and his savvy paved the way for global recognition as a promoter.

Sarreal’s son Lope, Jr. or Jun followed in his footsteps and lived in Japan for many years, learning the language, developing friendships and building a strong bridge to ferry Filipino and Japanese fighters to rings around the world. Today, Jun is 90 and as a dedicated Rotarian, is involved in establishing academic scholarships for boxers’ children. It’s a legacy he hopes to imprint in history books in his father’s honor. Jun’s late sister Laura, who was Elorde’s wife, also devoted her life to boxing with their seven children similarly embracing the sport to provide a platform for fighters to break out of poverty.

At the 1st Pacquiao-Elorde Awards Night last Sunday, Jun was with Japanese boxing gym owner Takashi Misako and his mother who’s 92. Jun said Misako’s father Hitoshi was one of the first Japanese fighters to invade local shores, losing to Danny Kid in 1954. It was Jun’s father Papa who made it possible. Hitoshi fought from 1950 to 1958, compiling a record of 31-14-5 with six KOs. He started the Misako Gym in 1960 and retired in 2014 for his son Takashi to take over. Misako died in 2019 at 85. From the Misako Gym emerged several world champions, including Koichi Wajima, Tadashi Tomori and Ryota Murata. Takashi was in town with trainer Kenta Kato who worked Kenshin Kidoguchi’s corner against Ronerick Ballesteros in a six-round lightweight fight during a Blow By Blow show preceding the Awards Night. The bout ended in a split draw. Boxing owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Elorde and Sarreal families for elevating the sport in Asia to a global level and giving fighters a pathway to a better life.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.


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