Philippines, 29 May 2024
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Eustaquio Duarte: The First Professional Boxer from the Philippines

(As told by Rocque Sanchez Yballa, Circa 1989, to his friend Hermie Rivera and one aspiring writer)

In the seaside town of Daanbantayan, nestled on the northern tip of Cebu province, a legend was born on July 4, 1889. Known as Eustaquio Duarte, he would later be recognized as Eddie Duarte, the pioneering figure in Filipino professional boxing history.

During the tumultuous times of the Battle of Manila between Spain and the USA in 1899, young Duarte faced his fair share of challenges growing up and he found himself tormented by neighborhood bullies. But Duarte was not one to back down easily. He honed his skills in self-defense, practicing his punches on banana tree trunks to toughen his hands, destroying family crops in the process, much to the dismay of his parents. Before long, he became a force to be reckoned with, reigning supreme over the neighborhood.

Seeking adventure and fortune, Duarte would often trek to Cebu City on foot, a journey he was accustomed to from his days hiking the rugged terrain in Medellin and Paypay. It was during one of these trips that he stumbled upon a sight that would change his life forever—a transport ship docked in the harbor at Dakbayan sa Sugbo, now known as Cebu City.

The United States Army Transport Burnside was in town, in need of coal and supplies. Among the crew, Duarte noticed that a significant number were of Filipino descent. Intrigued by the prospect of joining their ranks, he was encouraged by the crew to stow away.

Initially hesitant, Duarte weighed his options. He saw a future for himself as one of these sailors, traveling the world and making a name for himself. And so, he took the leap and boarded the ship.

Onboard, Duarte discovered a new passion—the manly art of boxing. When duties allowed, the sailors would engage in friendly bouts, and Duarte quickly proved himself to be a formidable opponent, despite his youth and stature. His skill and determination endeared him to the officers, earning their respect and admiration.

The Filipino crew of the U.S.A.T. Burnside, Circa 1910 (Source: The history for USAT Burnside is from the US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 Vol. 4 NavSource).

The USAT Burnside valued Filipinos, 28 of 32 of the enlisted men are from the Philippine Islands, for their hard work and loyalty, and Duarte embodied these qualities. He rose through the ranks, from coal heaver to deckhand, cable layer, and eventually, fireman. But it was his prowess in the boxing ring that truly set him apart.

While his ship was docked in Tacoma, Washington, Duarte refined his skills and took part in sanctioned and also underground fights, representing himself and his fellow sailors. He soon became a sensation on the West Coast, packing arenas like the Dreamland Rink (Auditorium) in San Francisco. The crowd had never seen a fighter from the Philippines before, and Duarte was introduced to them as ‘Filipino Duarte’.

(Source: The San Francisco Examiner from a gift by Al Corona (San Francisco, California), Nov 6, 1910)

His reputation preceded him, and it wasn't long before Duarte caught the attention of fellow seafarers, including Stewart Alfred Tait and Joseph Hyman Waterman. Under promoter Tait's guidance and Waterman’s matchmaking, Duarte was given a new name—Eddie Duarte—and he became a star in the Manila fight scene.

With his strength, bravery, and unwavering determination, Eddie Duarte paved the way for future generations of Filipino boxers. He was a true pioneer, recognized and revered as the first Filipino professional boxer to make his mark both abroad and in the local ring.

Though his story may have faded from memory for some, with an unremarkable boxing record of 9 wins, 8 losses, and 8 draws, along with a few other bouts that were not properly filed, it remains a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Filipino people.

The Philippine Boxing Historical Society and Hall of Fame honors Mr. Eustaquio “Eddie” Duarte for his tremendous contributions to Philippine boxing history.


• All photos in this article are in the public domain and are re-reprinted for non-commercial use and in compliance with the United States Fair Use Doctrine.

• Photo of Eddie Duarte and that of the ship USAT Burnside are part of the collection of the Philippine Boxing Historical Society and Hall of Fame.

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

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