There was a time when boxing placed the country at a standstill.
On December 26, Marlon Tapales will attempt to accomplish something that has never been done before: Beat Naoya Inoue. If he slays The Monster, he will also be the first-ever Filipino boxer to hold all the belts from the four major boxing organizations, as Tapales will stake his unified WBA and IBF straps for Inoue’s WBC and WBO crowns in the super bantamweight division.
During Manny Pacquiao’s heyday, a fight as big as the one Tapales is about to have would generate an insane amount of attention. It’ll have a documentary series—maybe even a visit from the opponent to drum up interest in Manila. TV rights would already be known alongside pay-per-view options at home or in different bars and even cinemas.
However, things have been very different from Pacquiao’s peak years. While he ushered in a new golden age of Philippine boxing, now we’re in the difficult era of what comes after.
When Pacquiao was the king of the pound-for-pound rankings, Nonito Donaire Jr. would not be that far behind. And there would be, more often than not, other Filipino world champions at the same time in Brian Viloria, Donnie Nietes, and many others.
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Now, Tapales is the only current Filipino world boxing champion, as Dave Apolinario’s IBO flyweight championship is not recognized by the four major organizations or by The Ring Magazine.
There was a time when Filipino boxing fans were certain that there would be a lot more Filipino world champions in the pipeline. We baptized a handful of them as the next big thing but this rarely ever panned out. From the likes of Boom-Boom Bautista and Bernabe Concepcion, who never won a world title, to someone like Marvin Sonsona, who had a flash-in-the-pan reign in 2009, the Philippines was not able to produce many dominant world beaters, with only Jerwin Ancajas having more than two successful title defenses.
John Riel Casimero, a three-division world champion, has had his stretches of brilliance, but he's not exactly a big-name draw despite his colorful character.
As a result, Philippine boxing has struggled to keep its spot on television as well. ALA Gym closing down was a big blow, as they promoted a steady stream of live events but, as of the moment, most local fight cards are only available via streaming on YouTube and Facebook.
Only the revived Blow by Blow under Pacquiao gets consistent airtime as boxing has also labored to get sponsors.
There are still many promotions all over the country that invest in boxing. Sanman Promotions has been the most successful as of late, with Tapales, Apolinario, and former champion Melvin Jerusalem all fighting under their banner. They’ve managed to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic and even continued having fight cards with bubble setups to keep their boxers busy.
I’ve been lucky enough to still watch and sometimes cover fight cards in the past few years. Elorde, Omega, and ARQ are just a few organizations still heavily investing time, effort, and money in Filipino boxers. The support of the fans is still there with Facebook and YouTube videos still getting thousands of views. The passion also remains, led by the Games and Amusements Board.
Nothing is broken in Philippine boxing. We’re just coming off a really big high that will be difficult to match. Getting a couple of once-in-a-lifetime athletes in Pacquiao and Donaire might have spoiled us a little bit but boxing can still make a comeback.
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Maybe it just needs a shock in the system. Maybe it needs The Nightmare to end the dominance of Inoue to get Philippine boxing back on the right track.