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Each Nation’s Best: The Philippines

By Derek Bonnett: The Philippines is an archipelagic nation comprised of 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia and is called home by almost 90 million people. Its culture has been greatly influenced by Hispanic, American, Arab, and Chinese culture. Each nation has had its impact on food, music, literature, art, and dance in the Philippines.

Surprisingly, boxing is among the most prominent sports in the Philippines and its history in relation to the sport is a rich one as it hosted one of the most famous bouts ever: The Thrilla in Manila. The present and future of Filipino boxing just might be even brighter.

Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde, Luisito Espinosa, and Manny Pacquiao represent the nation’s best from the 1920’s to this day. When all is said and done, each of these men should be enshrined in the boxing hall of fame. While each of these combatants has received enormous affection from their homeland as world champions, only Pacquiao has been able to transcend the sport of boxing and attain a level of idolatry few athletes ever reach.

With world championships in three different weight classes (112, 122, 130), Pacquiao is part of an elite group of fighters as whole, not just in the Philippines. With two victories over Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, it’s easy to understand why. When you compile his wins over Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar Larios, and Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, it becomes as clear as day. Later this month, Pacquiao will vie for a fourth world title in the lightweight division.

Manny Pacquiao may not need an introduction to the boxing world, but the archipelagic nation sports a number of other capable champions and world-class fighters. The following are four of the best of the Philippines.

4.) Florante “The Little Pacquiao” Condes is a twenty-eight year old southpaw champion at 105 pounds. Condes is by no means the heir apparent to Ricardo Lopez’ or even Ivan Calderon’s legacies as strawweight champions, but is regarded by many as the premiere fighter in the division…for now. Condes has compiled a 22-3-1 (20) record since turning professional in 2002. Condes’ defeats have come to opponent type opposition such as Sonny Boy Jaro, Greg Mangan, and Benjie Sorolla. He’s also drawn with Robert Rubillar.

However, Condes is riding a nine-fight win-streak, which includes a title winning split decision on the road against Muhammad Rachman. Condes’ twice dropped the champion with his considerable power. Though little known, the bout was a highly competitive classic easily overlooked due to the size of the fighters.

A rematch with Rachman has failed to materialize despite having had a date set. On June 14, Condes will travel to Mexico to meet the dangerous and unbeaten Raul Garcia in his first defense after almost a year of inactivity. A victory over Garcia will strengthen Condes’ claim to strawweight supremacy and clear the way for a Rachman rematch.

3.) Z “The Dream” Gorres campaigns at 115 pounds and also fights out of the southpaw stance. At twenty-six, Gorres holds a record of 27-2-2 (15) and has faced a handful of world-class fighters with mixed results. He suffered a ninth round KO loss to journeyman Edgar Rodrigo earlier in his career and dropped a close split decision to Fernando Montiel last year. In his most recent effort, he got off to a good start against former champion Vic Darchinyan before he faded late and was awarded controversial draw.

While some look at the Montiel and Darchinyan fights as signs of what Gorres is capable of, he has not been able to win the big one. However, he does own good wins over Glenn Donaire (KO1) and Eric Ortiz (KO8). Both men have good world championship experience and are still recognized as fringe contenders.

Gorres returned to the ring on May 31 with a unanimous shutout of Nick Otieno in Cebu City. His standing in the division is still uncertain until he can win a bout at the next level. Having fought on even terms with both Darchinyan and Montiel in the past year and a half, it’s most likely to happen against the Darchinyan-Dimitri Kirilov winner. However, there is talk of a rematch with Montiel on the Cotto-Margarito undercard in July.

2.) Gerry “Fearless” Penalosa became an unlikely WBO champion at bantamweight at the age of thirty-five. Ten years prior, Penalosa held the WBC super flyweight championship for about a year and a half. The strong chinned Filipino has never been stopped as a professional and all of his defeats were in 12 round title bouts to fighters such as Daniel Ponce De Leon, Masamori Tokuyama (twice), and In Jin Choo (twice).

Penalosa’s greatest win came late last year when he trailed on points to Jhonny Gonzalez, but changed the course of his career with a single body shot to become WBO bantamweight champion. Quality victories over Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (KO6 and KO8), Keiji Yamaguchi (KO1), and Hiroshi Kawashima (W12) build a strong foundation beneath the Gonzalez win.

Penalosa has defended the title once with a repeat KO victory over Vorapin. As of this writing, Penalosa has a bout scheduled for July 19 in Cebu, Philippines, but no opponent has been scheduled.

1.) Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire is an exciting orthodox world champion at flyweight. While he is not on the level of a Pacquiao, the twenty-five year old is emerging into his prime and is unbeaten since a five round decision defeat in his second pro bout. The big punching Donaire’s dossier stands at 19-1 (12).

The Filipino Flash upset the balance of the boxing world when he came out of relative anonymity to stop the unbeaten Vic Darchinyan of Armenia in five rounds. The victory instantly put Donaire atop the flyweight division with this upset of the year and knockout of the year candidate. Donaire has made a single defense of his title with a less impressive eighth round drubbing of Luis Maldonado to close out 2007.

Donaire does not have a bout scheduled for 2008 as of this writing, but we can expect to see him back in action before long. Donaire’s greatest challenges will come against 115-pounders such as Fernando Montiel and Christian Majors and the boxing world should be on their knees calling out for these match-ups.

The Philippines continues to produce quality world-class fighters at an alarming rate. With Manny Pacquiao’s prominence as the second best fighter pound for pound and the future feats of these four men, one can expect this nation to remain a boxing powerhouse worthy to be mentioned alongside the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Thailand.

June 9, 2008

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