By Miguel Jaime Ongpin
Speaking of cheering people on, could there be athletes out there who are not sports fans themselves? It's hard to imagine but I doubt it. There are so many of us who once were, or never were athletes; but are avid sports fans. Many of us sports fans could never conceive of ever participating at a professional or Olympic level, the sports we avidly follow. However there is something there that lightens our hearts or even drives us to joyful exhilaration. Part of it may be that many of us were on winning teams at some point in our lives. I cannot imagine a complete and perpetual loser. Even a child can win a game; and victories against serious diseases remain victories nonetheless.
Right now I follow with varying levels of fanaticism soccer, basketball, American Football (the NFL), and Nation's Rugby. I may even be induced on occasion to watch a game of baseball, ice hockey, badminton, tennis, or even golf. I cannot now nor was I ever able to play with enough competence to save my life, any of the sports I mentioned. But I follow them, in varying degrees. I have a tender love for the sport of boxing. I might have even been able to do it, if push came to shove. I'd like to think I was once a wrestler. Therefore I am wide-eyed during amateur or professional boxing bouts, or the rarely seen clips of Olympic wrestling. There might be similarities in the aerobic training parts of both sports. Training to be in shape for either one is truly back-breaking work.
At my peak I once joined a wrestling tournament held by the Wrestling Association of the Philippines. I was the youngest at 19, and the only civilian amongst participants from: The Philippine Constabulary, The Philippine Military Academy, The Philippine Air Force, The Philippine Navy, The Philippine Army, and The Philippine Marines. I won what could be interpreted at 5th place for 57 kg. Before that I won 75% of my matches. I was not that good, but I was decent.
I remembered how hard I tried. I remembered the hard-fought victories; even the bitterly painful hard-fought defeats. I know how it is to try.
Maybe this is why I am such a sissy now that I cry all the time.
I cried when I saw on live television the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Romania, the Czechs and their Velvet Revolution.
I cried profusely when Nelson Mandela was freed.
I cried uncontrollable tears as I drove past in the opposite direction nuns, priests, seminarians, students, workers, businessmen, people from all walks of life on EDSA, on my way to check if my small store was still there before joining them at the EDSA Shrine to will President Estrada out of office and save our country.
These were victories for humanity.
I cried when in The Natural Robert Redford's character, bleeding from the hip; hit a home run that shattered the lights of the stadium.
I cried when in Any Given Sunday Lawrence Taylor's character was carried off the field in a stretcher.
I cried when the European Champions League Cup was handed to Real Madrid for the 8th time in 31 years. I watched throughout the season how Raul, Roberto Carlos, J.M. Guti, Steve McManaman, Iker Casillas, Makelele, Hierro, Morientes, Helguera, and the rest of the team came together in a rare display of unselfishness reminiscent of basketball's Boston Celtics, to overcome serious problems and the scary array of excellent teams in their path to win.
Some say boxing is a brutal and inhumane sport. They look upon it with disgust and there are some who clamor for its end. They have their opinions. Once in a while boxing captivates my nation; even if the boxer is not Filipino. As long as he is good. Our lives seem to stand still; and we blindly gravitate to our televisions. I for one would gladly skip work in one second to watch Roy Jones Jr. fight anyone. I know people in the islands of Leyte and Samar who before my time, huddled in scores around the radio to listen to the Waray broadcast of the legendary Gabriel "Flash" Elorde's bouts. His victories for himself and nation filled countless of my brother Filipinos with hope. Hope in life's struggle.
There is a poignant heroism in boxing. Many boxers come from modest backgrounds and make humble beginnings. They try to fight their way out of poverty. Some few strike it rich. Some even know the genius of when to quit and how to exit with style. Some are even gentlemen. Be him that fights in a ring in Dublin, Ireland or be him that kickboxes in Bangkok, Thailand; there is an unspoken conduct that makes a good boxer. A good boxer will never mock and humiliate his opponent; but rather respect him at all times. That is the nobility of boxing.
We see very little of that, let alone true talent these days.
There were moments in boxing that taught things about life to me.
In a savage display of will Roberto "Manos de Piedra" (Fists of Stone) Duran fought Iran Barkley. Iran Barkley looked a very scary man; and the boxing world already heard and saw who Roberto Duran was. There a was a moment when Iran Barkley unleashed a fearsome uppercut to Duranís jaw that lifted him two inches off of the canvas. When Duran landed he kept on boxing as if nothing happened. He wasnít even dizzy, or he certainly did not look it. With that I am also reminded of a moment in my life in Bangkok's Lumpini Stadium. I saw a kickboxer get kicked in the head and on to the canvas. He got up quickly and walked towards his opponent beckoning for more with a gesture of his glove. He went on to win by way of a knockout. These guys gave it all. Barkley and Duran didn't run, wrestle, or play dirty. They came to box. How often does one see neither boxer backing off?
I will never forget the bloodied Iran Barkley's unfrowning face at the end of the bout. His teeth were stained with blood, his face cut and swollen; he was grinning from ear to ear even before the decision was even announced. That grin stayed there even after the announcement of Duran's victory via a majority decision. It was close. Iran Barkley knew he fought the good fight. No-one could take that away from him. It was elementary that he lost. He was a winner. That day both Barkley and Duran were winners. They showed us the guts we so seldom see in boxing. I am happy and proud to have once shaken hands in the men's restroom of a Manila bar on Pasay Road called "Fire and Rain" with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. What an honor. Not enough can be said of that thrilling evening in Las Vegas with Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns. It was a classic display of boxing talent that will forever be remembered. Again it is not important that Hearns got knocked out. He too gave it all. He showed blind guts and courage. He just got tagged, but nonetheless he deserves equal honors.
In contrast to those narrations, I have a story about the sad facts of life. It was Marvelous Marvin Hagler's final fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. Some Big-Time card-carrying characters in the boxing world called it "a boxing lesson". I cannot think of a more fraudulent and unmanly way to win a championship belt, let alone a boxing match. Sugar Ray Leonard ran. That is contradictory to the very basic tenets of the sport. He ran from the fight. Is that a warrior? If I can say anything about the judges' decision that day, it is one word: "odds".
Years later I saw Marvelous Marvin Hagler interviewed about the fight that day. To paraphrase what I thought I heard, it went something like this:
"That day I beat him. He knows that I beat him. He knows that I know that he knows I beat him. The whole world watching the fight that knew I beat him. But they judges saw it another way."
Well sometimes in life we are all cheated. Marvelous Marvin Hagler did not rant, rave, or make a fuss. He just took it like a man and moved on. A true gentleman. A true professional. A true boxer. This was probably the best thing about Marvelous Marvin Hagler the human being. Never did this man talk trash to opponents or humiliate anyone. He just came to box. He did not behave in an abhorrent and embarrassing manner outside the square ring. Professional Boxing misses people like him today.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler gave it his all. He really tried, and tried really hard throughout his career which was conducted with outmost professionalism and respectfulness in and out of the ring.
So when I remember soccer's Pele, or boxing's Muhammad Ali; basketball's Boston Celtics and Michael Jordan, Rugby's New Zealand All-Blacks and Jonah Lomu; I wonder to myself: "How do they do it?"
I remember the media frenzy around Michael Jordan and the hint of a scandal in the year that his Chicago Bulls met the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. I remember what he said:
"You know what's wrong with you people in the media? You guys keep focusing on the negative. How are we going to get anywhere if you guys keep on focusing on the negative?"
When I heard that I remembered all the incredible moves this man displayed on the basketball court that were beyond mine and everyone else's imagination. I realized that for many years Michael Jordan had tried, practiced, and perfected manoeuvres thought to be impossible. This man had ventured to attempt the unthinkable.
"How do they do it?"
So the answer to my question was so very simple.
These people try. Really try.
QLRS Vol. 3 No. 1 Oct 2003