A boyish-looking southpaw they called “Boy” back home, gifted the Philippines its first Olympic silver medal in boxing, a feat he fashioned out in the 1964 Olympic Games held for the first time in Tokyo.
But did you know that Anthony Villanueva accomplished, where others who came before him failed, on the brink of defeat?
Why, the son of Los Angeles Olympics bronze medalist Jose “Cely” almost didn’t even make the trip to the Japanese Capital when his inclusion to the national contingent was questioned..
Boy was knocked down in the first round of the Olympic trials in Manila by Jose Ramirez, a veteran amateur from the Philippine Navy.
And although he won the bout by a hair, 3-2, he needed to topped his division in the finals held in Sangley Point in Cavite to earn his ticket to Tokyo, thus, duplicating his father Cely’s feat 32 years ago.
Anthony immediately proved his inclusion to the team was worth it as he joined three other teammates in coming up with scintillating wins right in the opening rounds of competitions at the majestic Karakuen Ice Palace.
Anthony, then still a high school student at Far Eastern University, immediately hacked out three straight victories to advance into the silver medal showdown against American Charlie Brown of Cincinnati, namesake of that lovable Peanuts cartoon character.
But before that, he turned back the challenge of Giovanni Giorgente of Italy, ranked No. 2 amateur in Europe. Three days after, Boy out punched Tunisia’s tough Tahar Ben Hassan.
Next to fall was Piotr Gutman of Poland whom he knocked out in the first round to make it to the semifinal round, assured himself of a bronze medal besides arranging an encounter with Brown for the silver medal and possibly a crack for the gold.
Brown, a fighter with a fist so fast, drilled open right in the opening round, a still raw wound over the Filipino’s right eyebrow, which was cut at the start of Boy’s campaign against the Italian Georgente a few days ago.
With blood oozing all over Boy’s face, the British referee, Dr. Joseph Blonstein step in to examine the injury and, should the laceration turned serious, declare the4 American the victor by referee stopped contest (RSC).
The cut, it turned out, was clean and Blonstein waved the protagonists on. That turned Boy into a more ferocious fighter, throwing jarring jabs to the head with his right, hooking with lightning left and following up with short straights. Anthony took the round.
The second round was no different. At one moment, Anthony unleashed a heavy left hook that staggered Brown to the ropes. But the American would not go down in that round and in the next, staying up with an amazing tenacity against the unrelenting assault of the game Filipino.
When the final bell sounded, Anthony emerged the winner with judge Ion Buamfa of Romania voting, 60-57; J. J. Common of Fiji, 60-56; E. P. Jitcher of Hungary, 60-58. Ben Brill of the Netherlands had it at a 59-all.
With silver medal assured and the gold possible, it was bedlam at the Villanueva apartment at 83-A Annapolis St., in Cubao, Quezon City.
Reporters of local media outfits came rushing to the two-story dwelling, interviewing father Cely, mother Flora, sisters Cora and Rhodora and brother Xerxes and even nephew Art. Everybody in the house, crammed with visitors the whole day, was shouting in frenetic tone gold…. gold …. gold!
Still more tried to squeeze in to share with the family the joyous delirium that was to grip the land, from the lowly sidewalk vendors to the highest government officials then, including President Diosdado Macapagal.
Papa Cely was overcome completely, He tremblingly scribed a loving inspiration message: “Son, gold is within reach. Please win for the Philippin.!”
The gold medal it might have been but like every other i beautiful dream, that wonderful end would not be realized.
The following day at the full house Korakuen Ice Palace, Russian Stanislav Stephaskin, was declared the winner and the 1964 Olympic Games featherweight champion over Boy amidst howl of protests from the relatively pro-Filipino crowd, which understandably was partial to fellow Asian.
Villanueva appeared the stronger of the two, landing the more solid blows. Stephaskin, though, never slowed down despite the pummeling Boy dealt him in their three-round title showdown.
The Russian’s nose was busted up until the final round as he took all Boy can throw — long right hook and left-right straight combinations to the face, Yet he, too, bloodied and bruised Anthony from the first round on. In the last round, Boy’s nose was dripping red as well.
And that, perhaps, why the judges scored it: the Italian, 60-58; the Lebanese, 60-59; the Tunisian, 60-58, all for Stephaskin. The Egyptian and the German had identical 59-58 count both for Villanueva.
Anthony’s success renewed the Filipinos sense of identity again. There were others before him who had done that, too. One of them was his own father Jose “Cely,” a bronze medalist in the 1932 LA Games.
Pandemonium and hails of confetti greeted him and his teammates when they returned. When he stepped down with Tito Gene (Puyat) from the Philippine Air Lines Sampaguita flight from Tokyo, there was a huge crowd awaiting to offrer him with leis, hugs, even kisses from the usually shy countrymen.
All through the motorcade from the Manila International Airport down the sunset strip in Roxas Boulevard and on to Escolta, welcomers displayed banners of Mabuhay!. Along the way, strident voices were repeatedly heard: VILLANUEVA FOR PRESIDENT!