The last time Marlon Tapales fought abroad before he disrupted Sor Singyu in July 2016 and captured the World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight crown; he fought for peanuts. He traveled on a low-cost carrier, his manager had to lease a van for ground transport and his team even had to beg for an increase in their paltry per diem.
When Jerwin Ancajas in September 2016 wrested the International Boxing Federation’s (IBF) junior bantamweight belt from McJoe Arroyo he received USD 3,750.
When Johnriel Casimero in September 2016 defended his IBF flyweight title at the O2 Arena in London against Charlie Edwards no Philippine television channel showed the fight.
All three are world class boxers; reigning world champions. Underneath the three champs a wealth of Filipino boxers are fighting for a little more than nothing.
“It’s even below the minimum wage of Filipinos. I’m sorry, we have to include economics in the boxing of the Philippines; and really the earning is very low,” Abraham Mitra, Chairman of the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), says about Philippine boxing.
GAB is an agency under the Office of the President of the Philippines and has since 1951 been regulating and supervising professional sports in the country, including professional boxing.
It goes down and down
Furthermore; in the last five years the number of professional boxers with a license has gone down from 1,500 to 652. According to promotor Tony Aldeguer from Ala Stable it is ‘because of the astronomical expenses to get a boxer’s license, particularly on the CT-Scan, hepa test and other medical charges’. Fighting for 4,000 pesos per fight, USD 85, do not give a family bread on the table – and do not give the amount to medical and license.
One of the main problems in Philippine boxing is the lack of television coverage and sponsors:
“Boxing needs a shot in the arm. We have to make boxing sexier and salable,” Mitra states at a crisis meeting for Philippine boxing.
As the numbers of professional fighters state and Mitra says, Philippine boxing at the moment is in a crisis. Despite four reigning champions in the big boxing organizations, Johnriel Casimero (just vacated the title, ed.), Jerwin Ancajas, Marlon Tapales and the legend Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao, Philippine talents are struggling making a living out of the noble art of self defense. Some other reasons to the big problems are corruption and favoritism in Philippine boxing and GAB. A group of Cebuano boxing officials filed in December 2016 a petition to oust GAB Chief of Boxing, Dr. Nasser Cruz, because of alleged corruption, favoritism, staging mismatches and fixing boxers ratings. Apparently without luck!
The legendary boxer, a historic eight division champion, Senator and Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Sports in the Philippine Parliament, Manny Pacquiao, admits something is rotten in Philippine sports, including boxing:
“We know that the corruption in the sport is big and not good. I believe, that Philippine sports right now aren’t well run. On top of this, you have the patronage system with deserving athletes not being chosen. We have to put the right people to the right positions now and in the future,” he says about the infight in Philippine boxing and sports.
Manny Pacquiao has just now announced a bill to save Philippine professional boxing. The bill, that maybe will be a law in 2017, will benefit professional, amateur and retired boxers and coaches. The ‘Philippine Boxer’s Welfare Act’ will, according to Pacquiao, protect boxers from physical and financial exploitation through health care, livelihood programs, life insurance and other benefits – and will establish a Philippine Boxing Commission, which together with GAB will control professional boxing in the future. Among the benefits listed under the bill are death benefits worth 50,000 pesos, USD 1,071, and retirement pension of 15,000 pesos monthly, USD 321, for boxers who won in international competitions. Well over the average minimum wage for a worker in the Philippines receiving 7,500 pesos a month, UDS 160.
“The Philippine Boxing Commission shall set the policies and proper directions for the development and safety of professional boxers and providing for the welfare of boxers, trainers, coaches and support to other stakeholders,” Manny Pacquiao declares.
An everlasting love affair
Meanwhile the grassroots of Philippine boxing are fighting keeping the sport, all Filipinos love, alive. Boxing has a special place in the hearts of the Philippine people since the end of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent occupation by the United States. First with Francisco Guilledo, alias Pancho Villa. Later with Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde. In the present with Manny Pacquiao. Even today Alliances of Boxing Associations of the Philippines (ABAP) are fighting keeping poor boys in the pipeline of Villa, Elorde and Pacquiao.
“Prehistoric studies says, that there were a sport called boxing. We have a national ability of boxing. But, you know, things change. Today talent can take you long, but not all the way. Today you have to have modern science, technology, scientific nutrition and much, much more to go somewhere in boxing. But we are trying,” Ed Picson, CEO at ABAP, says to Sport Executive.
His organisazion, Alliances of Boxing Associations of the Philippines, has taken five out of ten medals for the Philippines in the Olympics since the country’s entry in 1924. But the last came twenty years ago, in 1996 – a silver medal by Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco Jr. in light flyweight.
“The culture of boxing is based on tradition. Therefore you have to work for years to change the mindset. We will try to do so. You know, most of the boxers are coming from the poor south, and the coaches too. Boxing is for them a ticket out of poverty – and it will be just that far into the future in the Philippines. Our job is to make those guys to a success,” Ed Picson ends.
And Manny Pacquiao? He lives well of his abilities in the ring and will probably run for the presidency of the Philippines in 2022…