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Origins of Philippine Boxing

The Origins of Boxing in the Philippines,

By Joseph R. Svinth

Part 1

On June 18, 1923, Francisco "Pancho Villa" Guilledo beat Jimmy Wilde to become the world flyweight boxing champion, an accomplishment that was (and remains) a matter of great pride to people of Filipino descent. Unfortunately, while there has been some documentation of the many excellent Filipino boxers who subsequently followed Guilledo to the United States, there has not been as much attention paid to documenting the origins of boxing in the Philippines. This article represents a step toward correcting that omission. People with additional information or corrections are invited to contact the author at

"Pancho Villa, gone but not forgotten." Illustration by Ed Hughes, 1925.

Boxing Enters the Philippines

US servicemen introduced boxing to the Philippines during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. How this came about is that on April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, whose colonial holdings included the Philippines. So, on April 27, 1898, Commodore George Dewey ordered his squadron of five cruisers and two gunboats to steam from China to the Philippines, and there, on May 1, 1898, he issued the famous command, "You may fire when ready, Gridley." The resulting US naval victory effectively ended Spanish control of the region, and in August 1898 the US Army began the occupation of Luzon. Then, to the horror of the Filipinos, the Americans did not cede the Philippines to them: instead they decided to keep the islands for themselves. Between 1899 and 1913, this resulted in savage wars of peace whose heroes included Emilio Aguinaldo on one side and Arthur MacArthur, Frederick Funston, Leonard Wood, and John J. Pershing on the other.

Casualties in these battles were heavy and one-sided: US casualties were listed as 4,243 killed and 2,818 wounded in action while Filipino casualties are estimated at 16,000 killed, plus another several hundred thousand dead from famine or disease (generally cholera). However, after Theodore Roosevelt’s unilateral declaration of victory in July 1902, US commanders began thinking about how to reduce the rates of desertion, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, and drunkenness among their soldiers and sailors.

Boxing was offered as a potential solution. The reason was that boxers in training were taught to avoid tobacco, alcohol, and sexual activity. Furthermore, explained writer Charles L. Clay in 1887, "Boxing also makes a man self-reliant and resourceful when assailed by sudden or unexpected dangers or difficulties." This, in turn, said a YMCA director named C.H. Jackson in 1909, made young men "Christlike and manly." So, in 1902, Major Elijah Halford (a former secretary to President Benjamin Harrison) asked philanthropists for $200,000 to construct a YMCA in Manila, and by 1904, Army officers such as Edmund Butts were extolling the virtues of boxing in tropical environments such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

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Copyright © Joseph R. Svinth 2001-2005. All rights reserved. The assistance of Pat Baptiste, Hank Kaplan, Paul Lou, Eric Madis, Curtis Narimatsu, John Ochs, Michael Machado, and Kevin Smith is gratefully acknowledged.

Reprinted at with permission from Joseph R. Svinth.

Mr. Joseph R. Svinth is the executive editor of Journal of Combative Sport where he has written articles and compiled historical accounts of the different combat sports. Mr. Svinth can be reached at
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