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Unveiling the Legacy of Francisco Labra: A Pioneer in Philippine Boxing

Francisco Labra emerged as a pivotal figure in the rise of Filipino boxers during the 1910s and 1920s. Joe Waterman, the renowned matchmaker, booster, and promoter, once hailed Labra as the first Filipino gloved fighter, amateur or otherwise, under the accepted format set by the United States military and the local Filipino government. At the time, boxing was in its infancy and illegal in the Philippines, which prevented the establishment of any commissions to set firm rules.

Born on January 1, 1895, Labra grew up in Cebu Province before migrating to Manila, where he worked as a carromata cochero — Spanish for horse carriage coachman— for boxing promoter Frank Churchill. As an all-around helper for the Churchill and Tait enterprises, he immersed himself in the boxing world, watching boxers train and spar, which ignited his passion for the sport.

Under Waterman's tutelage, Labra witnessed numerous fights and sparring sessions between American soldiers and sailors at the old Olympic Club, inspiring him to step into the ring. Despite lacking formal training in the sport, Labra absorbed boxing fundamentals through osmosis, convincing authorities at the Olympic Amateur Athletic Club of his potential as a fighter.

Following his maiden victory over Filipino debutante Battling Joe Gans on January 2, 1913, Labra maintained a frenetic fighting pace, winning more than he drew in 22 starts until his first defeat against Silvino Jamito in his 23rd fight.

In his fourth fight on Saturday night, March 8, 1919, Francisco "Fighting" Labra faced fellow Filipino Daniel Alberto for the title of the best bantamweight of the Philippine Islands. It proved to be a serendipitous and victorious occasion as Labra filled in as an emergency for the main event star who fell ill. The crowd at the Trozo Boxing Club in Palomar Park, Tondo, Manila, witnessed Labra showcase his superior fighting skills and footwork over the crafty Alberto, forever altering the landscape of Philippine boxing.

Notably, the main event fight between two Filipinos, Labra and Alberto, was unprecedented, signaling to the predominantly American crowd that Filipino boxers were here to stay.

From the dusty confines of the makeshift cockpit called the Olympic Club in Quiapo to the grandeur of the newly inaugurated Olympic Stadium, Labra fearlessly faced all challengers, including rough-and-tumble Americans and Australians like Vince Blackburn, Herb Taylor, Taggie Young, Jerry Monaghan, and the great Harry Holmes. He withstood the onslaught of Filipino stars Silvino Jamito, Francisco Flores, and Dencio Cabanela. Compiling an official record of 24 wins, 18 losses, and 20 draws, as documented by, Labra's raw skills, rooted in Filipino Martial Arts—Eskrima, Kali, and Arnis—ushered in a storied career.

Labra, after a four-year hiatus from the ring, reportedly enlisted in the US Army, and re-emerged in 1925 and fought 10 times until 1925 in military boxing matches mainly in the East Coast. His last fight was against Billy Ryckoff on May 9, 1925 at the 14th Regiment Armory, Brooklyn, New York.

Sparse reports suggest his involvement in World War II, reportedly fighting alongside American forces in the Philippines before meeting a tragic fate at the hands of the Japanese Army.

Francisco Labra's legacy endures as a pioneer of Philippine boxing, his contributions to the sport and influence on Western boxing techniques reverberating to this day.

The Philippine Boxing Historical Society and Hall of Fame proudly commemorate Mr. Francisco Labra for his tremendous contributions to Philippine boxing history.


• All photos in this article are in the public domain and were based on news clippings from CableNews-American (circa 1913-1919) and are reprinted for non-commercial use in compliance with the United States Fair Use Doctrine.

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

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