By: Antonio Santiago

    On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the tragic death of one of Mexico's all time great Boxing heroes, Salvador Sanchez, Oscar De La Hoya and HBO Boxing presented us with a true gem of an undercard, pitting two (2) fellow Mexican Champions, Jhonny Gonzalez and Daniel Ponce De Leon, against Filipino rivals, former WBC Super-Flyweight Champion Gerry Peρalosa and Rey Bautista. Peρalosa is a respected boxer in the Philippines, but not as idolized as the guy many call the greatest Filipino boxer of all time, Mr. "Pacman," Manny Pacquiao. Two (2) things that I observed during the HBO telecast: nobody remembered Sanchez or mentioned the quarter of a century of his passing, which would have been the correct thing to do considering that people like him come just about once in a century.

    HBO's total omitting of any comments concerning Sanchez's tragic anniversary as well as Bob Papas' assertion that the Philippines was hungry for a new Boxing idol made me realize maybe it was time to remind people of another Filipino Boxing all time great, one who, like Sanchez, had a tragic death himself but who lived life inside the ring to the fullest. It was Gabriel "Flash" Elorde who was the first true Filipino Boxing hero.

    Elorde's death in 1985, of a heart attack, was eerily similar and at about the same time of that of another Mexican Boxing hero, Vicente Saldivar. His Boxing career, however, hardly ever had any similarities to any other, because he never avoided any challenge from anybody, good or bad. Winners or losers, Elorde gave everyone who called him an opportunity to prove themselves in the ring against the "Flash," in the process becoming a national hero and crossover celebrity in the Philippines, and a well-known boxer everywhere else. The public corner where Pacquiao stands at currently, was built and first traveled by Elorde.

    "Flash" Elorde had his first professional Boxing fight on May 08, 1956, against someone nicknamed, as I presume this was not the guy's real name, "Kid Gonzaga," whom was steamrolled over in round four (4) by Elorde. Elorde won his first nine (9) bouts before losing on October 16, 1951, to "Kid Independence" by a ten-round decision. Elorde's early career record is filled with colorful names like that, which was typical of that time.

    On July 26, 1952, Elorde faced Tanny Campo for the Philippine Bantamweight title and he won by a twelve-round decision. That victory was soon followed by a try at the OPBF's vacant Bantamweight title, which he won in Japan by beating Hiroshi Horiguchi by a twelve-round split decision. He challenged for the OPBF's Featherweight title and although he dropped champion Larry Bataan in round nine (9) of their fight, Elorde dropped a twelve-round decision to Bataan. Having established himself in Japan temporarily, Elorde also challenged for the Japanese Featherweight title, also losing on points to Masashi Akiyama, over ten (10) rounds on November 25, 1953. He later fought again for the OPBF Featherweight title against Shigeji Kaneko, with the same result as his previous battle against Bataan.

    Not happy with his achievements in Japan, Elorde returned to the Philippines, where he began his road towards becoming the World Class Champion he ended up being. In July of 1955, Sandy Saddler found himself as a tourist in the streets of Manila. He was, however, no ordinary traveler, Saddler was the World Featherweight Champion and had 157 professional bouts when in Manila, and Elorde was in no particular mood to be a hospitable host. When the two (2) met on July 20, Elorde upset the champion by beating him on points over ten (10) rounds. A star was born.

    It was Saddler's turn to be Elorde's host when the champion decided to put his title on the line against the man that beat him, on January 18, 1956, at San Francisco's legendary Cow Palace. It was a close fight through, but the referee decided to stop the fight in round thirteen (13) because of a bad cut Elorde sustained, and Saddler retained the World Featherweight title by a technical knockout.

    For four (4) years after that, Elorde continued laboring in his home country, winning and losing but mostly winning. Then he had another chance at a world title, this time against the seemingly surging Harold Gomes, World Super-Featherweight Champion. Elorde dropped Gomes five (5) times, including two (2) in round seven (7), proclaiming himself Super-Featherweight Champion of the World. Not happy with the result, Gomes complained about the Manila heat affecting his performance so both camps agreed to a rematch, in the United States. Elorde returned to Manila that time with a souvenir he forgot to pick up during his first trip to San Francisco, a victory. Proving he could beat Gomes anywhere, Elorde this time made it easier for himself, picking the former World Champion apart before the first round was over.

    Elorde was a busy World Champion, beating people like Joey Lopes, Johnny Bizzarro, and Dave Allotey twice before going up in weight to challenge World Lightweight Champion Carlos Ortiz on February 15, 1964, losing by a fourteenth (14) round knockout after a tough fight.

    Elorde fluctuated between weights after that fight, beating future champion and fellow Filipino Rene Barrientos at lightweight, and defending his World Junior Lightweight title five (5) more times before a rematch with Ortiz, November 28 of 1966, in New York City, inside the hallowed walls of the Madison Square Garden. They say lightning never strikes twice but these two (2) proved them wrong, as after another action packed affair, Ortiz repeated his fourteenth-round knockout victory over the savvy Elorde.

    On June 15, 1967, Elorde surrendered his World Junior Lightweight title to Yoshiaki Numata, losing by a fifteen-round decision in Tokyo, Japan. He had, however, established a record of 14 division titles as a Junior Lightweight Champion. Other Hall of Famers such as Bobby Chacon and Wilfredo Gomez, as well as future ones like Julio Cesar Chavez, Samuel Serrano, and Floyd Mayweather Jr., would lay claim to the division's championship but none broke Elorde's record, and only Serrano, with ten (10) defenses in his first reign as WBA Champion and Chavez came mildly close to breaking it.

    Elorde had a record of (87-27-02, 24 knockouts), and an untouched legacy as perhaps the "Greatest Junior Lightweight Champion" of all time.

    Sometimes, it's good to remember.

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