A LEGEND REMEMBERED - "FLASH" ELORDE LIVES ON By: Lopez "Papa" Sarreal
Gabriel "Flash" Elorde was born in Bogo, Cebu on March 25, 1935. His first recorded fight was June 16, 1951 against Kid Gonzaga at the age of 16, with Mateo, his older brother, as trainer. Elorde was undefeated as Philippine and Orient Bantamweight Champion. He reigned as Orient Lightweight King for nine (9) years. He became the Undisputed Junior Lightweight Champion of the World on March 16, 1960 and held it for seven (7) years up to June 15, 1967. As a featherweight, Bai, as he was fondly called by all, won over the then reigning World Featherweight Champion Sandy Saddler, who was regarded by many as the greatest in that division. The overweight match in Manila on July 20, 1955 was one of the bloodiest and most unforgettable sports event ever. Although Saddler resorted to all his dirty tricks, he lost that fight to a courageous boxer who stood his ground.
On January 18, 1956, Elorde was given a rematch, this time for Saddler's title at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and televised nationally. The Filipino ring warrior was ahead on points when the American referee, a certain Flores, halted the fight in the 13th round because of a small cut over the left eye of Elorde, and declared Saddler the winner. The decision was loudly booed and telephone calls and telegrams from televiewers complaining the action of the referee, prompted an investigation which led to the referee's suspension for life. General Carlos P. Romulo, the only Filipino Secretary General of the United Nations, who at that time was Ambassador of the Philippines to the United States watched the fight in New York with General Douglas McArthur, sent this wire to Elorde: "You may have lost the fight but you won the heart of America."
In 1960, Elorde was cited together with Ninoy Aquino as one of the Ten (10) Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) by the Jaycees. Then in 1983, the World Boxing Council honored champions who were the best in their weight class in 20 years. The event held at the United Nations in New York had Elorde, then retired, as honoree sharing the spotlight as junior lightweight with Alexis Arguello. Elorde, along with another Filipino ring immortal Pancho Villa, was nominated to World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1988 in Los Angeles, California. Five (5) years later, in 1993, he was elevated to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
Other awards garnered by the "Flash" were the President Carlos P. Garcia belt for his second successful defense of the World Junior Lightweight title versus Joey Lopes, the Golden Heart Medal from President Diosdado Macapagal; the Presidential Award of Merit in 1984 from President Ferdinand E. Marcos and the Papal Medal bestowed by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in the same year. In spite of his achievements and awards, Elorde remained humble and kind earning the love and adoration of his countrymen. As World Champion, he visited Boys Town and the Tala Leprosarium bringing toys, food, and providing entertainment each Christmas.
He also built the chapel, orphanage, and early school buildings of St. Rita College in Paraρaque City. Elorde was married to Laura Sarreal, daughter of his manager, the author, with whom he has seven (7) children. As chronicled by Nat Fliescher of the famed Ring Magazine, Elorde is the only boxer who brought his entire family on a world tour. This was in 1968. Gabriel "Flash" Elorde passed away on January 02, 1985, after losing a battle with cancer. In his memory, his wife, Laura, and children continue to provide food and shelter to countless street boys who have dreams of following in Elorde's footsteps.