While resurgence of boxing in this city took its inspiration from favorite son Manny Pacquiao, it isn’t the 8-division world boxing champion that is spearheading a revival of the sports that has produced a long line of world and Philippine champions for General Santos City.

It is the tandem of young scions of tuna magnates that is giving boxing a renaissance of sorts.

Pretty soon, they could be producing the next homegrown Filipino world boxing champion.

Jim Claude ‘JC’ Manangquil and Dexter ‘Wangyu’ Tan have been shelling out a fortune finding, training and developing a stable of boxers that one day could crash into the world of elite marquee fighters.

They have now a stable of 12 promising fighters headed by light flyweight Randy Petalcorin who is being groomed for a shot at the vacant World Boxing Association title and former title campaigner Jether Oliva.  Another unbeaten prospect, Harmonito dela Torre had already appeared twice in the undercard of Top Rank’s Macau fights.

JC Manangquil (left) posing with his ward Jether Oliva after a victory.Pic by Edwin Espejo

All fight cards held in the city over the last two years were promoted by JC and Wangyu under their Sanman Boxing Promotions (for Tan’s family-owned San Andres Fishing and Manangquil’s SBM Tuna Traders).

Tuna connections

These young promoters are scions of tuna industry stalwarts.  They have their parents’ deep pockets to keep boxing alive in the city to lean back on.

Their latest boxing card saw them avenge the loss of Sanman’s Michael Enriquez to another promising local pug Jake Bornea in March.  In the main event of their May 24 boxing card, their ward Raymund Tabugon knocked down the previously unbeaten Bornea in the 2nd round en route to a unanimous decision win.

While the 8,000-capacity Lagao Gym box and admission seats were barely half occupied even when they are free to the public, the dinner-type ringside seats were flooded with young fans and boxing aficionados alike who shelled out P5,000 per 8-man table.  Most of the tables were reserved for tuna fishing companies.

For JC and Wangyu, promoting boxing cards featuring their boxers is a necessary investment for their protégés to grow and climb up the ladder.  It is also their way of helping young and promising boxers fulfill their dreams of following the footsteps of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

Boxing is having a revival of sorts in General Santos, home to several world champions and promising young boxers. In photo is Raymund Tabugon (right) digging to the body of Jake Bornea.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Glorious past

General Santos City has a long and glorious history of producing world class boxing champions and title campaigners.

Before Pacquiao, there was Rolando Navarette who scored a classic KO win over Cornelius Boza-Edwards of South Africa to wrest the WBC super featherweight crown.  That was in 1981, before the advent of the internet and cable TV.  I had to watch his fight in Betamax tape (hey, anybody remembers the dimension of a Betamax tape?).  Before winning the world super featherweight title, Navarette was already a big name in the local boxing scene.  I was at the cavernous but now defunct 12,000-seat Bernabe Coliseum when he won the Philippine super bantamweight crown over Conrado Vasquez.  The crowd erupted in frenzy when the verdict was announced.

Other notable Philippine champions were the late Loremir Pontino and Navarette’s kid brother Romy.

Four-division boxing champion Nonito Donaire prides himself as a product of General Santos City.  So is comebacking Marvin Sonsona who captured the World Boxing Organization super flyweight crown in 2009.

Those familiar with the 1970s and 1980s will readily remember the likes of Fel Clemente, the late Andy Balaba, Wick Tengam, Dadoy Andujar, Romy Navarette, polio-stricken Roger Aspora, and Davao’s Carupo brothers, Nene Jun and Ric Quijano who campaigned here.  Even former world junior lightweight champion Rene Barrientos strutted his boxing skills in the city in the waning years of his professional career.

Clemente went the distance against boxing legend Salvador Sanchez before losing a unanimous decision.  He also fought the likes of Juan Laporte, Rocky Lockridge, Danny Lopez, Bobby Chacon – all Hall-of-Fame worthy opponents.  Andujar, on the other hand, also failed in his title bid against Victor Rabanales.     

Those were the golden years of boxing in General Santos, then considered as Mindanao’s boxing mecca.  A time when boxers were ‘motorcaded’ around the city a day before the fight and where fight cards were distributed in the public market several days before fight night – complete with the record and Philippine rankings of boxers in the card. 

Pacquiao had the fortune (or misfortune) of coming into the boxing scene when nobody dared to put up a fight card in the city.

Unable to find his place in the sun in General Santos, Pacquiao stowed away, also driven by poverty and fear of her mother knowing he has turned professional.  Until this day, Pacquiao is yet to see action in the city he made famous for – home of boxing champions.

Home of champions

This city seems to find the bottomless pit of young quality fighters.

In addition to Sonsona who is making a big comeback and will face Wilfredo Vasquez in a rematch in the Cotto-Martinez undercard in New York, other promising pugilists are unbeaten Harmonito dela Torre – also managed and promoted by Sanman – Petalcorin, Jake Bornea and his soon to be professional brother Jade of the Amoy Boxing Stable.  Former promoter and hotelier Rey Golingan also maintains a handful of professional boxers.  So is Maasim Mayor Aniceto Lopez Jr who is back to managing professional boxers.

Pacquiao’s MP Promotions has likewise taken under its wings some young upstarts.  But after a couple of disastrous promotions in the city, the champion’s promotional outfit has opted to hold fight cards in Davao City.

Some, like outstanding local pugs like Fernando Lumacad, Jether Oliva, Ritchie Mepranum had their chances of capturing a world title but they fell short.

Many in their stead are also living the dreams of hitting the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

World title fight

JC Manangquil, barely out of college, is now a full time boxing promoter.  He is currently in South Africa accompanying his boxer Michael Enriquez for a fringe intercontinental title. 

JC hopes to bring the world title fight in General Santos for Randy Petalcorin, who he co-manages with Australian Peter Maniatis, this year, probably in August.

For all the champions this city has produced, local boxing fans are yet to see a legitimate world title fight staged here.

The last world championship fight held in this vicinity was when Luisito Espinosa defended his WBC featherweight title against Argentinian Carlos Rios, in 1997, almost two decades ago.  It was also the closest Pacquiao ever fought before his hometown fans.  The title fight, held in nearby Koronadal City, South Cotabato created bitter memories for Espinosa who, to this day, has not yet been paid of his US$150,000 title purse.

JC and Wangyu say they always ended up losing money out of their promotion.  But corporate sponsors have lately taken notice of their persistent offerings.

Young promoter Dexter 'Wangyu' Tan (in Green polo shirt) watching opening bouts with prospect Hamoninto dela Torre.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Last May 24’s boxing ticket was covered by Rev. Apollo Quiboloy’s Sonshine Sports TV Promotions with former Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol and Jay Sonza providing the color.

If Petalcorin lands the first title fight ever to be held in this city, boxing will come full circle in General Santos.

Maybe by that time, Pacquiao will already be in the audience watching the likes of him earning their spurs before hitting the jackpot.

Yes, I have yet to see Pacquiao attend a local boxing match in the city after he landed the big money fights of Las Vegas.

And we have guys like JC Manangquil and Dexter Tan to thank for if that happens.