At least seven Filipino world boxing champions have been picked to take part in a special “casting of fists” that will take place in the 16th Gabriel “Flash” Elorde Memorial Awards set on March 29 at the Grand Ballroom of the Sofitel Hotel.
The boxers are reigning WBO light flyweight king Donnie Nietes, incumbent WBO junior. featherweight champ Nonito Donaire Jr. and retired titlists Gerry Penalosa (WBC junior bantamweight, WBO bantamweight), Rolando Navarrete (WBC junior lightweight), Rene Barrientos (WBC junior lightweight), Erbito Salavarria (WBC and WBA flyweight) and Ronnie Magramo (WBF minimum weight). While today’s generation of boxing fans are familiar with the fistic exploits of Nietes, Donaire Jr. and Penalosa, buried in the dustbin of history are the stories of Salavarria, Barrientos, Navarrete and Magramo.
The third in a brood of nine, Salavarria was born in 1946 in Manila and started boxing at age 8 with his father Pepe as his original trainer. Salavarria attended the Cecilio Apostol Elementary School but didn’t really have a passion for books. He turned pro in 1963 and 7 years later (December 7, 1970) was crowned WBC flyweight (112 lbs.) champion with a devastating second round knockout of Thai Chartchai Chionoi.
Salavarria enjoyed two reigns as flyweight champion. After his WBC reign ended in controversial fashion in 1971 (it was alleged that he took water laced with a banned substance in a title defense against Betulio Gonzalez), he captured the WBA’s version of the crown in 1975 with a 15-round decision over Japanese Susumu Hanagata. Salavarria’s second reign was disappointingly brief. Bothered by hand injuries, he retired after losing the title on a 15th round knockout to Panama’s Alfonso Lopez in February 1976. He made a brief comeback in 1978 but was decisively beaten by Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh. He officially retired with a record of 40-11, 11 knockouts.
In 1969, Aklan-native Ireneo ‘Rene’ Barrientos became one of the early beneficiaries of the then newly-established World Boxing Council (WBC) when he claimed the organization’s vacant junior lightweight title (130 lbs.) with a lackluster decision over California’s Ruben Navarro at the Araneta Coliseum. Barrientos made good on his second attempt at the world title after figuring in a stalemate against WBC/WBA champ Hiroshi Kobayashi in 1968. Barrientos, however, lost the title in 1970 to Yoshiaki Numata, the same Japanese who ended Elorde’s junior lightweight reign in 1967.
In August 1981, the “Bad Boy from Dadiangas,” Rolando Navarrete, became the Philippines’ 11th world champion when he bamboozled Cornelius Boza-Edwards in five rounds to collar the WBC junior lightweight diadem. Navarrete had been stopped by Alexis Arguello in his first attempt at the title in 1980, but he made good on the second opportunity by dominating the heavily favored Edwards.
Navarrete turned pro in 1973 and was good enough to win the Philippine bantamweight title in his early years, but his penchant for trouble derailed his progress. “He has the style, the punch and the moves of a future world champion, what he lacks is the discipline and attitude of a good fighter,” boxing manager Lope “Papa” Sarreal once said.
Navarrete relocated to Hawaii under Sam Ichinose and turned his career around. He became a world champ and made one successful defense of the WBC title (an 11th round knockout of Korean Choi Chung-il in January 1982 before an overflow crowd at the Rizal football park) before losing the title to Mexican Rafael “Bazooka” Limon in May 1982 via a 12th round knockout. Navarrete was ahead on the scorecards when he ran out of steam and was knocked out by 13 unanswered blows from Limon.
Navarrete was on the verge of getting another shot at the title when he was sentenced to prison in 1985 for assaulting a Korean bar hostess in Honolulu. He was originally meted a 20-year sentence but was allowed to return to the country in 1988. Navarrete launched another comeback but was never the same pug. He was forced to retire by the Games and Amusement Board after getting stopped in six rounds by William Magahin in 1991. Once a huge crowd-drawer in Philippine boxing, Navarrete is now destitute with health issues.
A member of the famous Magramo boxing family, Ronnie Magramo is the least recognized of the seven champions, having held the fringe WBF (World Boxing Federation) minimumweight (105 lbs.) title between 1994 and 1997. Magramo did try to win a legitimate crown, but came up short in attempts at the WBA and IBF versions. After losing to Thai Songkram Porpaoin in 1999 for the interim WBA minimumweight crown, Magramo retired with a record of 35-10, 22 knockouts.