Note: This story appears in the August 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
The presence of two Filipinos – Manny Pacqiuao and Nonito Donaire – in the Top 10 of everyone’s pound-for-pound list is no small deal. We’re used to some countries being represented multiple times on the list. Americans more or less dominated the pound-for-pound list for years. You could always find a Mexican or two somewhere in the mix, and a Puerto Rican, and occasionally a Brit or Cuban.
But Filipinos, for all the success they’ve had in prize rings over the years – and it’s been considerable when you consider the size of the country – have never had a strong pound-for-pound presence. That is, at least for as long as we’ve been keeping pound-for-pound lists. Then Pacquiao came along. Right behind him came Donaire. And there are more Filipinos are on the way.
This can only mean the time is right for a look at the best Filipino fighters ever. Hence, you’ll find our selection of the 10 best fighters the Philippines ever produced, plus a bunch of Honorable Mentions who were no slouches either.
Some commonalities were noted among the subjects. Firstly, they all suffered a few defeats over the first couple years of their careers. None of them came out of the Philippines undefeated, not even Pacquiao. They got their losses and their lessons out of the way early and went on to do good work in the U.S., Asia or somewhere in between and excelled to one degree or another.
Also, in general, Filipino fighters have been better at winning titles than defending them. Several of our Top 10 guys made just a defense or two and then were out of the picture. The notable exception is Flash Elorde, whose reign lasted … well, you’ll see when you get to his section.
Lastly, for all of you who can’t wait to see Pacquiao at No. 1, bad news: For as long as a fighter is still active, he doesn’t get on lists like this one because you can’t properly evaluate a man’s career until it’s over. If you want proof, we’ve got two words for you: Mike Tyson. So there’s no Pacquiao and no Donaire. Not yet, anyway.
1. FLASH ELORDE
78-33-2 (28 knockouts)
Junior lightweight world champion, 1963-67
The Filipino people like their super heroes humble and gracious and a little vulnerable if they can swing all three at the same time. That goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of Elorde, who was Pacquiao about 40 years before there was a Pacquiao. That Elorde legitimized the junior lightweight title by making 11 title defenses over a seven-year reign is largely a function of his era and of the presence of the great Carlos Ortiz one division to the north. There’s every likelihood that if he were doing business today, Elorde would be a multi-division titleholder like Pacquiao.
It is true Elorde wasn’t as dominating as Pacquiao is, and that too may be a function of his era. Elorde lost eight times before American fans had even heard of him. They finally learned what he was about when at 5-1 odds he upset the great Sandy Saddler in a non-title 10-rounder in Manila in July 1955. Filipino fans knew well before then that Elorde was a special fighter. They’d been watching him from the time he turned pro in 1951 and had seen him win Oriental and national titles at bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight.
Elorde’s performance against Saddler got him a title fight rematch in San Francisco in January 1956, which Elorde lost when referee Ray Flores stopped it at 0:59 of the 13th round because of a cut over Elorde’s left eye. The fans booed the stoppage as they had booed Saddler’s famous roughhouse tactics all night. No matter. Elorde made California his second home and in 1960 won the world junior lightweight title by butchering 2-1 favorite Harold Gomes in seven rounds in Manila. He floored Gomes eight times before referee Barney Ross (yes, that Barney Ross) stopped it. Ross later told the press, “If I had allowed Elorde to land even another push, he might have killed Gomes.”
From there, Elorde took off. There was the occasional loss – to Teruo Kosaka in Japan in 1962 (later avenged), to the great Ortiz in a try at the lightweight title in ’64 – but from 1960 until early 1966, Elorde was all but unstoppable, winning 26 times and losing just twice. He fought six times in ’62, four times each in ’63, ’64 and ’65, and five times in ’66. It was this pace and consistency that gets him to the top of this list and that got him inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. But it wasn’t just what he did in the ring that won him the hearts of the Filipino people. It also was his decency and humility. That goes a long way in a business like this.
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