DESPITE the risk of injury and meager pay, young boxers particularly in some remote provinces of the Philippines are lured to fight in non-sanctioned “underground” boxing tournaments.
Poverty, lack of knowledge of the dangers involved and the desire to enter mainstream boxing are the reasons why so many young men are plunging into this deadly arena head on.
“It’s just like winning a bag of iced water when you play street basketball,” said Ramon Estranghero (not his real name), a young Cebuano boxer. “It’s not just all about the money but you are fighting despite a small prize money because you really love to fight and love boxing.”
As opposed to legal bouts sanctioned by the Games and Amusement Board (GAB), “underground” boxing contests are usually held during celebrations of town fiesta in the Visayas and Mindanao.
“We go to other barrios [towns]especially during fiesta to fight and win the price money. Loser also earns a little payment,” said another young boxer from Bacolod City who refused to be identified. When asked of the risk of absorbing serious injury like brain damage in such fights, he replied: “It’s just fine. I can take care of myself nothing to worry, I’ll just fight.”
But the danger is real even in officially sanctioned fights. Just recently, fourth-year high school student Jonas Joshua Garcia from San Miguel, Bulacan went into coma and was declared brain dead after competing at the Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association meet in Iba, Zambales sponsored by the Education Department.
But to those who want to make it big in the sport, the reward outweighs the risks.
Current World Boxing Organization (WBO) minimum weight fighter Merlito “The Tiger” Sabillo told The Manila Times that he started his boxing career fighting in non-sanctioned boxing bouts in Bacolod City.
“I bought my own pair of gloves to fight in an underground bout before. It is a gentlemen agreement for both fighters after the fight,” said the 29-year-old Sabillo. “Yeah that’s illegal but you know it’s my passion since I was a kid and that’s not for the money I guess.”
Sabillo recalled winning P3, 600 in a non-sanctioned bout in 2005.
“It’s very dangerous to fight there since there are only few rules, no judges and no ring or proper venue,” he said. “We fought in concrete and we didn’t stop. If you stop first, you lose; that’s very simple. Referee will ask you if you can still fight. I also remember I got P600 pesos only but that’s fine.”
Former world bantamweight champion Gerry Peñalosa admonished young boxers not join non-sanctioned bouts for the sake of little money they want bring home to their families, “I’m discouraging boxers to fight in a non-sanction bout for the sake of small amount,” said Peñalosa, 41, who is now part of the MAG Pacman boxing promotion of Manny Pacquiao and businessman Anson Tiu Co.
“Before, when I was a little kid and new in boxing, I fought just for a kilo of rice in underground non-sanctioned bouts. I really don’t like it to happen again to my fellow boxers. That’s why I formed a boxing promotion to train aspiring world champions,” added Peñalosa.
When it comes to prize money, Peñalosa warned that the GAB couldn’t intervene in case the contest organizer refused to pay the winning boxer.
“They can double cross you and not pay you, so where will you go? At the same time if you are badly injured, no one will take care of you financially,” he said. “Those are the simple risks of fighting in underground bouts.”