Play ball! It’s the NBA Playoffs

Dennis Que loves basketball. Almost daily, he switches on the TV set to swallow that regular dosage of NBA action. He’s also watched, on vacation episodes, live games in the U.S. Like I’ve done in the past, I asked for Dennis’ expert NBA commentary…

“Looking back at the regular season,” Dennis said, “the team that stood out most was the Atlanta Hawks.” We all expected Cleveland and Chicago to top the East, he said, but everyone’s applauding Atlanta who, in January, amassed a 17-0 record — the first perfect month in NBA history.

“In the West, it’s the Golden State Warriors,” said Dennis. “Under first year coach Steve Kerr and with almost the same line-up from last year, they led the NBA with a 67-15 record. This is the most wins by a rookie coach, a record.”

The other notable moments, said Dennis: LeBron James coming back home to Cleveland, Steve Nash retiring, Paul George returning to court after a horrific leg injury, Russell Westbrook’s string of triple doubles, Zach Lavine revitalizing the dunk contest, and Kobe Bryant’s lifelong dream to pass Michael Jordan for 3rd on the scoring list.

“The game that I will never forget was when Klay Thompson scored a record 37 points in one quarter,” he said. “He shot 13-13 from the field including 9-9 from beyond the arc.”

On the post-season, Dennis commends the New Orleans Pelicans, who had to win on the last day of regular season (against the Spurs!) to eliminate OKC. In the east, the Milwaukee Bucks surprised him the most, considering they were the worst team last season and they have a new coach. “Jason Kidd did a great job with almost the same team from last season and after losing key players due to injuries,” said Dennis. The biggest surprise: Miami and Indiana (Eastern finalists the past three seasons) not making the playoffs.

FIRST ROUND. In the East, the best match-up is between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards. “I predict this series to go to game 7 with Toronto winning,” said Dennis, who doesn’t expect upsets in the others, with Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland advancing to Round 2.

In the West, he cites two interesting encounters: the 2nd seed Rockets versus the 7th seed Mavericks (“the Rockets are favored but the Mavericks might pull an upset”) and San Antonio versus Los Angeles.

“Last year, the Clippers was poised to meet the Spurs in the Western Finals but lost to the Thunder in Game 7,” he said. “This, for me, is the most exciting series and I hate to see either team exit the first round.” But he expects the Spurs to triumph, same with the Warriors and Grizzlies.

PREDICTIONS. In the East, Dennis thinks the Cavs have it easy because of less competition (Boston and New Jersey made the playoffs with losing records). The Western Conference is different because of many contenders. “Each team has to go thru 3 grueling series before they can reach the Finals,” he said.

He likes the Hawks vs. the Cavaliers for the Eastern Finals. “The Hawks has experience,” said Dennis. “With the Cavs, two of their top players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) have not played a single playoff game.” But he expects Cleveland to win because of their size, speed and “they have LeBron.”

In the West, Dennis foresees the Warriors vs. the Spurs. “The Warriors are favored and they have enough experience, youth, and they’re the best offensive and defensive team,” he said, “But the Spurs have the experience and the motivation to win back-to-back. Plus, they’re peaking at the right time.”

FINALS? Cavaliers-Spurs. No major shock in Dennis’ prediction but this one is surprising: “Just like the 2007 NBA Finals, this will be a short one,” he said. “The Spurs’ experience could prove too much for the more talented Cavaliers. It’s too hard to beat the Spurs in a seven-game series. Time is running out on this old Spurs team but they will be motivated to win their first back-to-back in the Popovich-Duncan era.”

Is Dennis right? He also picks Steph Curry to win the MVP. Let’s see. The NBA postseason begins today.

Fab@40 by the PBA

pba-40-greatest-ceremony(From interaksyon.com)

The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest pro basketball league. It started 40 years ago this week — to be exact, the first PBA game was played at the Araneta Coliseum on April 9, 1975. Worldwide, the PBA is reportedly “the second oldest continuously existing basketball league,” next to the 69-year-old NBA. (Our family is proud to call one of our own as a PBA alumni: my uncle Rey Pages donned the green Crispa Redmanizers jersey in the ‘70s.)

To commemorate the PBA’s entering its fifth decade, it announced a set of awards: “The 40 Greatest PBA Players of All Time.”

In a glitzy affair last Wednesday — at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre in Resorts World Manila where, two years ago, we watched the musical, “The King and I” — the Top 40 were introduced to the public.

But first, a rewind: Back in 2000 during the Silver Anniversary of the league, the “25 Best Ever PBA Players” list was introduced. Who were the names included then? Led by Cebu’s pride Ramon Fernandez, the list included Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, Bogs Adornado, Abet Guidaben, Benjie Paras, Atoy Co, Freddie Hubalde, Philip Cezar, Ricky Brown, Johnny Abarrientos, Ato Agustin, Francis Arnaiz, Hector Calma, Jerry Codiñera, Kenneth Duremdes, Bernie Fabiosa, Danny Florencio, Jojo Lastimosa, Lim Eng Beng, Samboy Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Vergel Meneses and Manny Paner. My favorite shooter Allan Caidic made the cut.

Fast forward this week, the PBA Board, in their “Ruby Anniversary,” called the party, “Fab@40.” Who additional 15 honorees were included? Jimmy Alapag leads the list. He’s joined by James Yap, Danny Ildefonso, Willie Miller, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Kelly Williams, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Arwind Santos, Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Kerby Raymundo, Chito Loyzaga and Marlou Aquino.

Our friend Pato Gregorio, who used to head the Waterfront Lahug hotel and who’s now the PBA board chairman, led the deliberations, saying:“Forty will never be enough. We’ve had so many great PBA players since 1975. But to celebrate our 40th season, we had to do the difficult task of naming the 40 greatest PBA players – the pillars of the league. Mga idolo ng bawat Pilipino.”

The party last Wednesday was special not only because it brought the awardees together in formal wear — everyone wore suits except the Barong Tagalog-wearing Codiñera — but also because it was a show: ballplayers walked the ramp wearing various summer and informal wear and the league launched new products including the PBA credit card, the Life magazine and a video game.

As celebrated as the 40th Anniversary was, there was a problem: People are complaining. My colleague Rommel Manlosa, in his piece, “El Presidente’s No-Show,” talked about Mon Fernandez skipping the Awards Night as a sign of protest. Mon said, “I will not say who are not deserving, but I’d rather question why Abe King, Nelson Asaytono, Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Bong Hawkins, among others were not included.”

Valid point. This, of course, is the danger with presenting any “Best Ever” awards. With hundreds of players to choose from, there will always be some deserving names who’ll be left out.

What was the criteria used to select the Top 40? The panel listed four items, summarized as follows: the player must have played at least four full seasons, must have been a major awardee (MVP or others), must have made a major impact and contribution towards basketball.

The criteria seems fair. But some are questioning the selection process. It appears that the panel (back in Dec. when the names were released) did not consult a wide range of experts and did not meet at length and on several occasions.

For now, the Top 40 list is out and nobody can reverse the names. (Jayson Castro, the youngest recipient, offered the best response: he buried eight treys and scored 27 the night after the awarding.)

My take? The PBA should have been more patient and waited for the Golden Anniversary. To this, I urge you to read “Lessons for the PBA’s 50th” by Bill Velasco.

Serena Williams

I consider myself lucky. Three times I watched Serena Williams in person, three times she won gold. I’ll never forget the first time. We visited New York and Serena, then 17, won her first Grand Slam singles title. She triumphed in style, beating former major winners Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and in the final — which I watched with my dad Bunny and the late Kits Borromeo and his son (and one of my best friends) Fabby — we saw Serena beat Martina Hingis to become only the second African-American female netter to win a major since Althea Gibson in 1958.

That US Open was Serena’s first major. She and her older sister Venus would also win the doubles crown in Flushing Meadows. That was 16 years ago.

Today, she has amassed a cabinet-full of hardware. In singles, she owns six Australian Open trophies, two at the French Open, six at the US Open and five Wimbledon crowns. That’s a total of 19. (By comparison, the men’s leader, Roger Federer, has 17.) In doubles, she has 13; in mixed doubles, she owns two. Her total runs to 34 Grand Slam titles. Yet, as plenty as those accolades are, Serena only ranks seventh in the all-time list of major winners. The top spot belongs to Margaret Court who, back in the 1960s, collected 64 major crowns!

Why this talk on Serena? Because, at the age of 33, she is still as fresh as a high school teenager, excited about competing. Last Sunday, she won the Miami Open, clobbering her final opponent Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0.

Compared to the likes of Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, Serena is not your typical tennis player — physique-wise. Many of the top players are super slim. They possess long legs that are perfect for the sprints needed for tennis.

Serena is huge. Her legs are massive; so is her upper body and, if you look at her “behind,” they, too, are huge. Serena’s vital statistics are 36D-28-40. For me, the most interesting number is the middle: 28. As hulky as she is, her waistline is miniscule. (By comparison, the vital statistics of Maria Sharapova, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 130 lbs., are 34-24-36.)

Nobody is as brawny and heavy-duty as Serena. Does this slow her down? Hardly. Her strengths are two-fold: physical and mental. With those biceps as big as Rafael Nadal’s, she’s able to whip those shots with ferocity. But her strongest weapon is her brain. I saw this at the Beijing Olympics when she and Venus won the doubles gold.

Her mental fortitude was most evident last October during the WTA Championships in Singapore. In one of her round-robin matches, she was humiliated by Simona Halep, losing 6-0, 6-2. I watched that game and it was perplexing. Here was one of tennis’ all-time greats being schooled. That mishap would have devastated others. Minutes after the loss, Serena enters the press conference room. I was seated 15 feet away. Was she crying or in depression? She was disappointed, obviously, but she still retained that smile. I will get better, she told the assembled media. True to her word, in the days that ensued she never lost and soon pocketed her fifth year-ending trophy.

Given how she’s dominated the women, talks have spread of her doing today’s version of “The Battle of the Sexes.” Back in 1973, Billie Jean King battled Bobby Riggs for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. The loud mouth Riggs, then 55 years old, claimed that he can handily defeat King, 26 years his junior. Billie Jean won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Can Serena beat, say, a long-retired Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras? I don’t think so. But it would be fun and would generate tremendous publicity, especially for the women’s game.

Is Serena one of the greatest ever? No doubt. She would rank among the Top 5, alongside Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

On prize money, she ranks No.1 as the female player who’s pocketed the most ever: around $66 million. That’s billions of pesos — and about the same amount Pacman will earn in 36 quick minutes.

33 years of honoring Cebu’s best

“I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.” – Earl Warren, former U.S. chief justice

I talk about these “back pages” because the women and men who report and publish sports stories have, for the past 33 years, practiced an unbroken tradition. We, the sportswriters, congregate and deliberate on the previous year’s best performers and, on one grand occasion, we honor these athletes and sportsmen for their outstanding feats.

The 33rd SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards will be this Tuesday, March 31, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Activity Center of the Ayala Center Cebu. SAC stands for Sportswriters Association of Cebu while SMB is one of the nation’s largest conglomerates, San Miguel Brewery, Inc.

What we, the sportswriters, do is this: We meet several times, submit nominations via email; we research on the top achievers of the past year; from a long list, we trim down the names, classify whether last year’s victory was international or national until we decide on the final list of awardees. At the end of the deliberations, we have accumulated a full set of honorees. The Major Awardees, the Citation Awardees, and the Special Awardees, which include the Sportsman of the Year and the Presidential Awardee. Finally, among the list of over a hundred athletes, we award that one person who will be named “Athlete of the Year.” While all other names are announced beforehand, the suspense of this AOTY trophy is reserved until the very end, up on stage this Tuesday in Ayala, when his or her name will be announced.

I’ve been writing sports for 20 years now and, like Nimrod Quiñones, who’s been around even longer, I’ve been attending the Awarding for a long time. I recall Z Gorres in Casino Español, just months after his near-death Las Vegas scare, walking to the stage to receive his award with boxing godfather Tony Aldeguer as our guest of honor. Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Gerry Peñalosa graced one star-studded affair.

Is the 33rd Cebu Sports Awards open to the public for free? Absolutely. Here are the honorees:

MAJOR AWARDEES: BASKETBALL: June Mar Fajardo and Aldrich Ramos. BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Edmar Bonono and Edward Ybañez. BOXING: Donnie Nietes. CHESS: Kim Steven Yap. CYCLING: Nino Surban and John Mier. Dancesport: Charlea Lagaras and Ronnie Vergara. FOOTBALL: Itsuko Bacatan, Alexandrea Gumilao, Arantxa Mari Trebol, Jan Reese Jumawan and Alexa Ceniza. GYMNASTICS: Daniella Reggie de la Pisa. JUDO: Kiyomi Watanabe. MUAY THAI: Joel Zaspa. RUNNING: Mary Joy Tabal. SOFTBALL: Isaac Bacarisas, Jasper Cabrera, Ben Maravilles, Oscar Bradshaw IV and Jerome Bacarisas. TABLE TENNIS: Richard Gonzales. TAEKWONDO: Clement Tan, MacAvyngr Alob, Nichole Maurin, Rinna Babanto and Glen Lava. TRIATHLON: Joseph Miller, Frederic Yuan Chiongbian and Aaliyah Ricci Mataragnon.

CITATION AWARDEES: ARCHERY: Lloyd Apawan and Vincent Villa. Athletics: Mike Lopez, Ninolito Justiane and Ivan Miguel Santos. BADMINTON: Zinah Marichelle Bejosa. BASKETBALL: SWU, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, UV Passerelle team, UV 16-Under team, Mark Tallo, Felixberto Jabonetta IV, Greg Slaughter, Jerick Canada, Kent Vincent Moral, Ken Gato, Arnie Christian Padilla, Andres Desiderio, Dave Yu, Leonard Santillan, Andrew Velasco and Mary Jean Pascual. BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Jade Becaldo, Louije Tipgos, UV, and SWU. BILLIARDS: Rubilen Amit and Warren Kiamco. BOWLING: Jomar Jumapao, Alexis Sy, Xyrra Cabusas, GJ Buyco and Alex Lagcao.

BOXING: Milan Melindo, Genesis Servania, Arthur Villanueva, Ian Refuela, Junrel Jimenez, Kit Garces, Jorge Edusma, Vicente Sios-e, Jr., John Nino Vega, Albert and Jason Pagara. CHESS: Elwin Retanal, Dwyane Abella, Kyle Sevillano, Jerish Velarde, Catherine Quinanola, and Laila Camel Nadera. CYCLING: Ica Maximo. DANCESPORT: Dancesport Team Cebu City. EXTREME SPORTS: Dandoy Tongco, Rafael Trinidad, Joshua and Jan Joseph Suson. FOOTBALL: Cviraa elem. team, Don Bosco futsal team, Joaquin Buyco, Charles Unabia, Enzo Ceniza, Yves Caballero, Jesse Semblante, Kyle Ronquillo, Marcel Ouano, Roygbiv Barro, and Leo Maquiling. GOLF: LJ Go and Charles Hong. JUDO: Joaquin Fernandez. KARTING: Vince Rojo and Craig Aleman.

KARATEDO: Nino Avilla, Precious Belicario, Charen Villamor, Karylle Perez, Hayashi-ha Shitoryukai team, and Rafael Vidal. MMA: Yawyan ArDigma. MOTOCROSS: Jon Eleazer Adlawan and BJ Pepito. MUAY THAI: Ken Caniga and Lara Jane Flores. RUGBY: Aiumi Ono, Madille Salinas and Cebu Lady Dragons. RUNNING: Maritess Bitbit, Brian Guillan, and Noel Tillor. SCRABBLE: Michael Tuba and Frances Lim. SEPAK TAKRAW: Rhey Ortouste and Metodio Suico. SWIMMING: Psalm Deniel Aquino, Ichiro Kong, and Lorendale Echavez. TABLE TENNIS: UC team, Berto Bas, and Sherlyn Love Gabisay. TAEKWONDO: Luiji Estrada, Veronica Garces, Mayn Corna, Zozen Prajes, Wendil Rama, and Dineson Caneda. TENNIS: Jan Godfrey Seno, Arthur Craig Pantino, Zethley Mae Alfrez, Shyne Villareal, Jana Pages and Jerico Bohol. TRIATHLON: Justin Chiongbian, John Philip Dueñas, Kristian Lim and Lorhiz Lopez. UNDERBONE: Simon Solon. VOLLEYBALL: Central Visayas team, Gretchel Soltones, Matthew Navace, and Isabel Molde. WEIGHTLIFTING: Leonida Cambajiran and Evangelit Ceniza. WRESTLING: Luis Ansag.

To all the awardees and to the sporting fans who want to witness the affair, see you on Tuesday!

It’s summer! Time to bike out, not sit in

I was scouring through my past Sun.Star articles when I stumbled upon this March 18, 2007 piece (which I slightly edited) that’s as relevant today as it was eight summers ago:

When I grew up as a young boy in Bacolod City in the 1970s, our family owned one 14-inch black-and-white TV set. Voltes V was my favorite show. I also loved how Popeye gobbled up that can of spinach, turned muscular, punched Brutus, then won over Olive. How often did I sit fronting the boob tube? Once a week. For 30 minutes. Maybe less.

The PlayStation 4 did not exist. The XBox 360 wasn’t produced by Bill Gates. Instagram wasn’t invented. (Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born yet!) The iPod was a thick box with a cassette tape twirling inside named Walkman. The Internet? It was decades away and the only “surfing” people understood was on the beach above a surfboard.

That was the 1970s. Today, young ones clasp with 10 fingers the iPhone. Cable channels boast of thousands of TV shows. Today, six-year-olds do “txtng” with their eyes closed.

What has this made the world? It has made our children fat. Lazy. It has made them think less. Sweat less. Do less. It has made them crawl to the computer to chat with their friend instead of calling and talking over a landline for two hours. It has made our children reclusive. Introverts. Like turtles, they turn inside their shells, inside their rooms, inside their computers, inside their Facebook accounts. Take this example: Instead of going out to join a karate class, today’s children would rather play a martial arts video game.

Sad? Very, very sad. So here we are, once more, back in this season called Summer. The question is asked of every parent, “What do I let my children do?”

My advice? Go out. During the next 60 days, when the sun is burning and the skies are light blue and it’s 36 degrees outside and the clouds are puffy and white — take your child out. Literally. Take her out.

Enroll your son on an aikido program. Buy him those white martial arts overalls, let him kick, jump, block and punch. Let him do all those acts in front of a teacher, beside other children — and not on some Android game.

Go out. Enroll her in a swimming program. Basketball? Badminton? Tennis? Football? Bowling? Every sport that has a field or a pool or a court or an alley will have a summer program. What to join? It’s all up to you. It’s all up to your child.

Not interested in sports? No problem. There are other choices available: classes for painting, cooking, dancing, acting. The point is obvious: Before June arrives and the next thing you realize is your daughter has memorized all the TV shows, do something. Plan out her summer today.

Go out. I know, I know. Very often, the words “summer” and “expensive” are synonyms. That’s true. But you can also be creative.

When I was no older than 9, my dad Bunny and mom Allen did the wisest move any parent can do: They bought me an inexpensive bike. And so I biked. Each morning, I pedaled. Each afternoon, I pedaled. Together with my brother Charlie and our neighbors, we drove our BMX bikes, cycled nonstop, raced the asphalted roads, scouted for “damang” (or “kaka,” as  spiders are called in Ilonggo) crawling the electric lines; we shot hoops at the village court and pulled our “tiradors” (slingshots) to target birds. We weren’t inside. We were out.

Finally, here’s one last tip: Summer’s the perfect time to bond with your child. Buy a plastic kite and drive to the Family Park. Throw the kite up in the air while your son maneuvers it upward.

You play golf? And want your daughter to learn the game? Enroll her in a JunGolf program. Drop her at the morning’s start. Pick her up. Compliment her swing. And when she’s good enough to play a few holes, be her partner. Or her caddy. By summer’s end, guess what: Your daughter will be all-smiles, tanned, tired. And she’d have found a new best friend named Dad.

MMA vs. Boxing

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Last Thursday, I posed a query: Is Mixed Martial Arts more brutal than boxing? Fellow sportswriter (of The Freeman) and amateur MMA fighter Lemuel Maglinte admits his bias for his sport: “MMA is safer. Though it can be seen as more violent and barbaric, MMA is three to five minutes per round, while boxing has a maximum of 12 rounds. More rounds means the more you get hit. Also, MMA is not only striking-based as it also uses grappling and, being submitted, you have a choice to tap out. In boxing, the only means of winning is to knock your opponent out or hit him as many times as you want.” Lemuel adds: “I love both sports. I am also doing boxing to complement my MMA and I know the hard work boxers put into training.”

BOXING’S DECLINE. Worldwide, the sport of boxing is on a downturn. We, in the Philippines, do not feel this; ALA Promotions dishes out events every three months while the fighting congressman from Sarangani is still active. That’s why the boxing world needed the Floyd-Manny ‘Fight of the Century.’ But can you imagine when Pacquiao retires? MMA, a fresh puppy compared to the old dog that’s boxing, is on a different upward trajectory: it’s stealing the punch off “the sweet science.”

NICK TORRES. A fan of both boxing and MMA, I interviewed Nick Torres, whom I’m known for decades (as a Class A tennis player), on why the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and MMA are so popular.

“I think it’s because MMA has wrestled the title of ‘The baddest man on the planet’ from boxing. Anyone who knows beans about martial arts knows that there is no ‘style’ of fighting, be it boxing, karate, tae kwon do, aikido, judo, capoeira, savate, etc., except ‘street fighting’ (because it employs illegal moves like groin strikes, eye gouges, bites, knives or guns if need be), could beat MMA, all things being equal.”

Nick Torres cites one man — the president of the UFC — as the main culprit for MMA’s popularity.

“The marketing moves that Dana White has orchestrated is mind-boggling and is a wonderful treat for us enthusiasts,” he said. “While we usually couldn’t care less who’s fighting in the supporting events in a boxing fight card (and hohum as we agonize through them) and we wait impatiently for the main event in boxing (which sometimes proves to be a letdown), every, and I mean, every single bout in a UFC event is great to watch.”

Dana White also makes sure that we, the fans, get to know the fighters. “Be it the UFC, UFC Fight Night, UFC On Fox, and the most entertaining of all, TUF – The Ultimate Fighter, we know the fighters; so we always have an emotional attachment to them.”

Mr. Torres singles out one other person who adds buzz and hysteria to UFC. Who is he? No, she’s a she.

“Along comes a not ‘once in a lifetime’ but ‘once ever’ (Joe Rogan’s own words) fighter in the person of the beautiful, super sexy Ronda Rousy!” said Torres. “I mean, this gal could beat half the men (if not most of them) in her weight class! Now, if that doesn’t excite you, you need to check your pulse!”

“The UFC just keeps burning brighter and brighter,” added Torres. “If it’s this popular now when the majority of spectators still don’t appreciate the intricacies of the chess match that is the ground game (grappling) and express their displeasure when the fight ends in an arm bar or reverse triangle choke ‘only,’ can you imagine where it will go when everyone becomes more informed?”

Speaking of the UFC, you must have heard the news that has gotten Pinoy fans salivating. “Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber are squaring off in MANILA (!!!) come May 16 (part of Dana’s strategy to bring the UFC to the world),” said Torres. “Ever astute, Dana has included two fighters with Filipino blood, Mark Muñoz and Phillipe Nover (he fought for the the championship in an earlier TUF).”

When I asked Tito Nick, as I call him, if he’s going, he answered, “Is water wet? Absolutely!” I laughed upon reading it. He added, “Jon (his son), Adot (son-in-law) and I got our tix on the day they opened the booth!”

Which is more brutal: Boxing or MMA?

mma_e_jung-poirier02jr_576(Ed Mulholland/ESPN.com)

If you watch the two sports on TV, you’d conclude that boxing is kinder. The boxing gloves, padded and thick, produce a softer and more cushioned impact. In boxing, only the fists are allowed to crush the enemy. In mixed-martial arts (MMA), it’s every hard-boned corner of your body that you can use to inflict pain: sharp elbows waiting to redden the face, the knee ready to attack the abdomen, the legs and feet springing in action to strike.

My wife Jasmin abhors the brutality of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). While she watches Manny Pacquiao fights (who doesn’t?) and while she doesn’t cover her eyes and grimace when boxers collide, it’s different with UFC as she runs away as if she’s allergic to me.

Blood gushing off one’s cheeks. Two men grappling on the floor like male lovers. A devastating knee to injure the ribs. More red liquid spouting out of the mouth. Open cuts near the eyelids. All these absolutely turn off Jasmin.

Thus, the conclusion: MMA is harsher, rougher and more vicious than boxing, right? Not necessarily.

Last Monday, while browsing Google News, this headline news greeted me with shock: Australian boxer dies in bout against Filipino.

Braydon Smith, previously undefeated in 12 bouts, fought John Vincent Moralde in Australia last Saturday. Their fight extended all the way to 10 rounds with the Davao City native winning via decision. At fight’s end, Smith’s face was bruised but he never showed any signs of major physical concerns. Only when he reached the locker room 90 minutes after the fight did he collapse. He was comatose for two days before he passed away last Monday.

502157-31f07624-cba5-11e4-a716-dcac481e1bbeBraydon Smith with Moralde after their bout

Shocking. Painful. Horrifying. For how can a 23-year-old leave this world so soon? This, of course, was not the first death in boxing. There have been dozens, maybe over a hundred, of similar cases before.

And so, I repeat the query: Boxing or MMA? I’m a huge fan of both combat sports, having watched dozens of ALA Promotions fights and, three times, Pacquiao himself in person; I’ve also witnessed a slew of MMA clashes (the URCC promotions — which, sadly, have been discontinued in Cebu) and, last year, the One Fighting Championship (One FC) extravaganza inside the MOA Arena. On TV, though I haven’t been much of a boxing follower (apart from our Pinoys) lately, I rarely miss a UFC telecast.

My conclusion? I always thought MMA was more brutal. It’s full contact and ruthless, employing dozens of primitive and ferocious moves. In one URCC event at the J Centre Mall a few years ago, I’ll never forget the spinning back-fist employed by one fighter; as soon as it connected to the head, the opponent fell lifeless, arms and shoulders collapsing to the floor. It was split-second fast, cruel and hurtful.

But you know what? It was that … fast. It ended quick. Like many an ending in UFC, once a fighter is down and out, the referee jumps in to stop the contest. No extra seconds of repeated pounding are added to the damage — unlike boxing.

“What’s more violent than boxing? You and I stand in front of each other for 12 rounds and my goal is to hit you so hard in the face that I knock you unconscious,” said UFC’s Dana White in an interview. “In the UFC you and I can fight and I can beat you and win and never punch you in the head once. We can go right to the ground, start grappling and pull off a submission. It’s not 25, 30 minutes of blows to the head non-stop.”

Dana White, obviously, is biased in favor of MMA over boxing. (He’s amassed his $300 million net worth from the sport.) But he has a point. As brutal as the UFC looks, the stoppage is instantaneous.

In Askmen.com, an article by Jose Espinoza tackles the same debate in his piece, “Which is more dangerous: Boxing or MMA?” He wrote: “There is a common belief that MMA is a barbaric sport. The biggest argument used to condemn it is the position that the fights are excessively violent and dangerous. It has been labeled as human cock-fighting by politicians.”

RJ Abarquez and the Pardo Tennis Club

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RJ Abarquez (Photo by Iste Leopoldo/SunStar)

I watched tennis last Saturday. Two men wore identical clothing: Nike shorts, Nike shoes, Nike shirts.

RJ Abarquez battled Janji Soquino in Pardo. The only Nike difference between the two was Janji wore a cap with the “RF” sign while RJ wore his “RF” logo on his shirt. (“RF” stands for Roger Federer.)

The championship match of the Cebu City Men’s Open last Saturday started nearly 5 p.m. The straight-8 match was a titanic, seesaw battle that saw plenty of momentum shifts. What a fight! As evidence of the high quality of tennis that the Cebuano community witnessed, the third point of the match proclaimed it all: a 20-shot rally, backhand against forehand, topspin versus slice, side to side, corner to corner, Janji firing his semi-Western shot as RJ counterpunched with his two-fisted backhand, neither giving any ground, both pounding that yellow fluffy ball with ferocity and might. Abarquez won the first game. Soquino, serving next, won the second. Abarquez would win the next two games for a 3-1 lead before Soquino upped his level to level the match at 3-apiece.

Pardo Tennis Club, sitting at the center of town with its one well-maintained clay court, is one of the most iconic of tennis spots in Cebu. Founded in 1930, it is now 85 years old. The Pardo TC used to have two courts before one was cemented and used as parking space for the adjacent four-storey Pardo Barangay Hall and the Public Market. Right across the tennis court is the Pardo Parish Church.

Fritz Tabura, the former Pardo barangay councilor (and my former coach when I played juniors), is to be credited for Pardo’s sustained longevity. He and his Tabura family, together with the tennis club officers, have maintained not only the court but the tennis excitement in Pardo. This venue is memorable to me. It was here, many summers ago, that I won one of my first tournaments: an All-Students Championship that pitted the best college players of the island. I recall playing Adonis Lominoque in the finals and, in a tight three-setter where I serve-and-volleyed to counter the powerful shots of Adonis, I won the championship trophy.

Last Saturday, the scene was replicated. Hundreds of people crowded the tennis arena: people sat on the upper balcony, dozens watched from the side bleachers while plenty stood at the Skywalk for that unobstructed view.  The street sounds, from car horns to roaring motorcycle engine noises, entertained our ears.

Ernie Delco, the very likable MCWD general manager and huge tennis fan, watched from his upper deck seat behind the baseline. I sat in between my daughter Jana and Dr. Rhoel Dejaño. Fronting us were Iste Sesante and Jade Violeta, sportswriter colleagues.

Pustahanay? Betting? Absolutely. No match will be exciting without it being called, in tennis parlance, “commercial.” From what I overheard, the pot money reached P80,000.

Back to the match: It was entertaining and evenly-matched. On the average, I’d guess that eight to 10 shots per point were hit. That’s a very high standard. Few errors emanated from the Babolat racket of Janji; same few mistakes were hit from the Technifibre racket of RJ. Three-all. Four-all. Five-all. Up until the final games, you’d never know who’d triumph. When Janji broke RJ to take a 5-4 lead, RJ won seven straight points to lead 6-5. The score reached 6-6, 30-all. How close and thrilling can this contest be?

Janji Soquino, who spent years as a top coach in Singapore and Malaysia before returning home last year, had his chances in the 13th game. But the 22-year-old RJ Abarquez was tough. He led 7-6. With the late afternoon lights being replaced by darkness and the clock reaching 6:30 p.m, Soquino started to show signs of fatigue. He double-faulted at 15-all and, at 30-all, he had to push against the wall because cramps bothered his calves. With that lone match point, RJ took advantage of the medical problem to win, 8-6.

Game, set, (outstanding!) match.

Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook?

russell-westbrook-stephen-curry(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Over steak, blue cheese, green salad and red wine to celebrate Nia Aldeguer’s birthday at her and Chris’ house in Ma. Luisa, the main topic of discussion among the boys — Mark Garcia, Meyrick Jacalan, my brother Charlie, Chris and I — was on basketball: Jordan brand shoes, Finn’s basketball exploits and the race for the MVP.

Jacs Jacalan watched Stephen Curry with his sons last Dec. They didn’t sit at home to watch on TV; they purchased 200+ dollar tickets and boarded the bus from San Francisco to Oakland to watch the Golden State Warriors play Kevin Durant’s OKC. During the warmup, Jacs overheard two seatmates at the back make a bet: one guy wagered that, from three-point range, Stephen Curry wouldn’t miss a flurry of shots. Steph. Did. Not. Miss. A. Single. Shot. The other guy lost $20.

This race for the MVP has been one of the most exciting. Unlike previous years when a LeBron or a Derrick Rose or, like last season, when Durant was a sure winner, this year we’ve got the Fab Four: James, James (Harden) and two 6-foot-3s, Curry and Russell Westbrook.

Yesterday morning on TV, I watched a few minutes of the “Masked Mamba,” when Westbrook’s OKC played the Minnesota Timberwolves. In back to back plays, Westbrook grabbed an inbound pass, jumped to fly on-air sideways, and banked an effortless two-pointer. Seconds later, he outmaneuvered three men to slam a dunk. No one has been hotter than Russ: last week, he scored 49 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and threw 10 assists against the 76ers to record his fourth straight triple-double — a feat not achieved since 1989 by Michael Jordan. So, Russ as MVP?

JONAS PANERIO. No! says my fellow sportswriter from the Cebu Daily News, Jay Panerio, who argues for Stephen Curry.

Here’s Jay Panerio’s full report:

STEPHEN CURRY

2014-15 Per-Game Stats

23.8 points (Fifth-Best),
4.4 rebounds
7.7 assists
2.2 steals (League-Best)
FG % of 48.5
FT % of 90.3 (Third-Best)
3-PT % of 42.2
33.1 minutes per game
207 Three-Pointers Made (League-Best)
Player Efficiency Rating (PER – a measure of per minute production) of 27.8(Third-Best behind Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook)
Real Plus-Minus (the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player) rating of 8.55 (League-Best, ahead of James Harden’s 8.51)
True Shooting Percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pt field goals, 3-pt field goals and free-throws) of 63.1% (Fifth-Best, Harden and Westbrook aren’t even in the top-20)
Win Share (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) of 12.2 (Second-Best behind Harden’s 13.0)

Steph is on the cusp of joining the historic 50-40-90 club (shooting percentages for field goals, 3-pointers and free throws) while leading the league in steals per game, three-pointers made and that all-important new-age metric, Real Plus-Minus. Moreover, it is his clinical efficiency that pushes him past any and all contenders. Take his aforementioned percentages and compare them with Westbrook’s and Harden’s and the gap becomes as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Westbrook:        43.4% FG, 28.5% 3PT, 83.8% FT
Harden:             44.7% FG, 38% 3PT, 86.8% FT

Speaking of efficiency, I have yet to mention that Steph is doing all these while playing just 33.1 minutes per game, mostly because Warriors games become such blowouts that he ends up sitting on the bench for the rest of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Harden plays 36.7 mins per game while Westbrook plays nearly as much.

He is the best player of the best team in the league. And while it cannot be denied that the Warriors have had breakout performances from nearly all corners of the squad, namely Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, it also cannot be said enough that Steph is the biggest reason why Golden State has rose to such prominence this season. Need proof? The Warriors have outscored opponents by 646 when he plays and been outscored by 51 when he sits.

Many would argue the case against Curry would be that Golden State are in fact the best team in basketball, which can take some of the shine off of what he has done what with so many contributors.

But consider this: Lebron’s got a guy who six months ago was widely considered to be one of the top-10 players in the entire NBA (Kevin Love) and the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup (Kyrie Irving). Westbrook shares the floor (at times this season) with the league’s reigning MVP (Kevin Durant) while Harden’s floormates include a center who is an eight-time All-Star, a seven-time All-NBA team selection, a five-time All-Defensive member, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a certain game-changer when he’s around (Dwight Howard). So tell me, who’s supporting cast has more glitter?

But more than the numbers is how Steph does what he does – with breathtaking skill and mesmerizing flair. People often say that he is a wizard with the ball and maybe he really is. Maybe he goes home each day and creates some sort of potion to drink before each game that allows to him do nightly feats of basketball sorcery that has earned him the reputation of being “the league’s most un-guardable player.”

James will win NBA MVP, but which one?

james_harden_lebron_james(Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images)

I’m referring to the two best players with the same name: James Harden and LeBron James. (If they decide on a co-MVP, can you imagine a James-James winner?)

So, which James? First, let’s examine how the NBA votes on their Most Valuable Player. Every year since the 1955-56 season, the MVP award, named the “Maurice Podoloff Trophy,” in honor of the league’s first commissioner, is given to the best performing player of the regular season. A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters from the U.S. and Canada cast their votes. They submit five names, ranked from 1 to 5, with their top pick garnering 10 points. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins basketball’s most coveted title.

In the history of the MVP awards, no player has won unanimously. Shaq (2000) and LeBron (2013) came very close, each receiving 120 of the 121 first-place votes.    All time, the record-holder is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won six. He’s followed by Michael Jordan and Bill Russell with five apiece. Wilt Chamberlain joins LeBron as four-time MVPs while Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Moses Malone own three.

LeBron has won four of the last six MVP crowns. His quest for a three-peat last year was thwarted by Kevin Durant, who amassed outstanding numbers last season: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.5 APG. This year’s regular season ends on April 15 and the MVP awardee will be disclosed during the playoffs. So, will it be James or James?

Let’s discuss: Since LeBron moved from Florida to Ohio, he’s transformed the Cavs from being under-performers to Eastern Conference Finals contenders. As of yesterday, his averages per game are: 26 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists. The biggest factor is what happens to the Cavs when he’s with (or without) them. In the 11 games that he missed this season, the Cavs scored 2-9; when he’s around, they win 70 percent of the time.

According to Greg Swartz, who wrote “The Case for LeBron James to Win NBA MVP Yet Again” in Bleacher Report last March 9: “It’s not just his 26.0 points, but rather James’ overall court vision and playmaking ability that stands out… There’s all the little things that don’t show up in stat sheets. James is always pointing out what he sees on the court to teammates. He shouts defensive assignments from the bench. He supports, encourages and even criticizes when necessary… James is once again the undisputed leader of the Cavaliers, with his every move dictating their success.”

His leadership, his numbers, his elevation of the Cavs to potential NBA champs — all guarantee that he’ll be a top MVP contender. But you know the disadvantage of LeBron? His name. His reputation. This thing called “voter fatigue.”

“Much like with Durant the year before and Derrick Rose in 2010-11, it’s arguably more exciting to see a first-year winner rather than someone who’s done it before,” said Swartz. “James certainly shouldn’t be penalized for this, however. The most valuable player should be a blind award based off who’s made the biggest difference for his team, regardless of past success.”

As for James Harden, the league’s second top-scorer with a 27.1 point average, Daryl Morey, the GM of the Houston Rockets, said it best: “Take James Harden off our team and we are nowhere.”

“Harden has suited up for every Rockets game this season,” wrote Jesus Gomez in “James Harden’s durability should make him the MVP favorite,” a recent SBNation.com article. “He leads the league in total minutes played and is second in minutes per game, averaging 36.6. In a year in which most of the league brightest stars have struggled staying on the court, Harden has been arguably the most durable elite player in the NBA. It has been huge for the Rockets to be able to rely on him so much with Howard missing 27 games already. When it comes to the ability to stay on the court for his team, Harden edges out every other MVP candidate.”

L. James or James H.? Neither. I’ll go for Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook — and the discussion continues in a future article.

When will Cebu host the Palaro again?

It’s been two decades and one year since Cebu City last hosted the Palarong Pambansa. The nation’s premier sports meet that gathers the top elementary and high school athletes under one tournament, the Palaro was last hosted by Cebu 21 summers ago.

Joy Augustus Young was the architect of the 1994 Palaro. Here’s an article I wrote entitled, “Young and restless, his comeback brings joy.” This was dated March 2009.

“The most significant contribution of Joy Young? It happened 15 Aprils ago. Cities like Bacolod (which had the backing of Monico Puentevella), Dumaguete (with the support of now-Governor Emilio Macias II) and several more submitted bids to host the 1994 Palarong Pambansa. As we Cebuanos very well know today—with the all-out support of Mayor Tommy Osmeña and Congressman Raul del Mar (who even helped in the presentation to convince the Palaro decision-makers)—we organized the Palaro, the only time in history that we hosted RP’s largest annual sporting event.

“Joy Young, backed by Mayor Tom, was Cebu City’s team captain. He was our Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. He presided over the meetings. He assigned the venues. He organized the marketing. Planned the billeting of athletes. Studied the events. I should know. Together with my dad Bunny, we ran the tennis event at the now-defunct Cebu Tennis Club where the Cebuanos (led by Jun-Jun Cabrera) emerged champions.

“Out of the ’94 Palaro also emerged the single largest sports infrastructure of this island: the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC). To ensure that the complex would be RP’s best, then-Councilor Young visited plenty of facilities: the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and ULTRA; he even flew to Singapore to inspect a world-class track oval there. And because of the painstaking research that was conducted, our Sports Center emerged as the nation’s most productive facility. Athletic meets, football tournaments, PRISAA and CVIRAA events, national track-and-field contests, Earth, Wind & Fire concerts, Z Gorres boxing spectacles and—how can we forget—the Sinulog, are all held at the Abellana grounds.”

Joy Young considers the Palaro as “the proudest moment for all of us in Cebu.” That 1994 hosting achieved many firsts. It was the first Palaro in the country to be professionally-managed by a marketing team.

“After our Palaro, all the succeeding Palaros had sponsors,” Joy said, “though they couldn’t do it the same way we did it.” The previous Palaro hostings relied on the host cities to spend their own government funds. In Cebu, led by the business-minded Young, we involved the private sector.

“The sponsors subsidized much of our expenses, especially the food,” he said. “Whatever money we raised from ticket sales were given to NGOs such as the Boy Scouts, the Abellana HS PTA, TB Pavilion (which purchased a new Xray machine), among others. This was another first.”

Prior to 1994, the athletes and coaches were not given much freebies. “Cebu was also the first Palaro where all the delegates were given free food (3 meals a day) and free drinking water (Nature’s Spring),” said Joy. “To this day, DepEd sports coordinators and coaches who were in Cebu would always say that there’s no better Palaro than our hosting.”

Another “first” for Cebu was moving the schedule from January/February to summertime. “This was significant because nobody believed that it was better,” said Joy. “This was my argument, that Jan./Feb. was a bad time because everybody was busy for the end of the semester and graduation. If we held It in summer, everybody would be free and family members would come along. Again, the rest was history. The Palaro is now more attended because of its summer schedule. Everybody just loved it. With one stroke, we managed to move the Palaro to summer.”

Well done, Joy. Now, the question: When will Cebu do a repeat? Isn’t it embarrassing that a land as illustrious as ours hasn’t hosted again? This May 3 to 9, Tagum City will host the Palaro. Next year, it’s Luzon turn. But for 2017 when the Visayas hosts, I propose we bring the Palaro back to Cebu.

Young looks back with joy

When I look back at the past 25 years, few people have accomplished more for Cebu sports than Joy Augustus Young. By surprise, I sent him a text message and email last Thursday.

“Wow, am blown away!” replied Joy, now busy with his family businesses, including recently opening a food business that, he says, has “clicked” and that he’s expanding. “Can’t believe after all these years somebody would still want to interview me about something that happened 20 years ago.. much appreciated.”

When he launched the Cebu City Olympics in 1991, I was there. When he introduced the Milo Little Olympics to a select group that included Tony Aldeguer, I sat and listened as tennis manager. His “rivalry” with then-councilor Koko Holganza, the two one-upping the other for athletic programs, was a high for Cebu sports. When the CCSC track oval was badly impaired, it was Joy Young, then as vice mayor, who headed the resurfacing of the oval that we now enjoy. Here, in our Q & A, are Joy’s own words:

“I continue to follow sports… our City Olympics, the regional meets, the Palaro, as well as the Milo Olympics, which I started, the first outside Manila. This year, Milo will be held in Iloilo. At the start, Milo planned to rotate the hosting around Visayas and Mindanao. But we did such a good job that they have never rotated it despite many requests from other places… until this year. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

“Cebu sports? Well, as they say, we have come a long way! As head of sports in the city back in 1988 onwards, the gripe of most sports aficionados was the lack of a sports center. After some research, I found out that in most, if not all, of the places which put up a sports center, their sports activities always increased and improved. This was especially so in places which hosted the Palaro. Because of that I decided to focus on winning the bid to host the Palaro, and I wanted it soonest.

“John, you being in sports, imagine Cebu without the Sports Center? What would we be? Same as all the other places in the Phils which do not have a sports center. Our activities and performances grew by leaps and bounds after the Palaro. Period.

“You have to imagine what Cebu was like during my term. Not only did we not have the facilities but we didn’t have that much money and we also lacked the talent. We had never hosted anything sizable or of any significance. That was my inspiration but it was also the problem.

“We had to raise funds and companies were slow to follow because they had never seen anybody organize such activities. Sponsoring sports activities was not common then.

“Imagine the old Cebu without the center and the sports activities? These have broadened our horizon with regards to life. We would still be a sleepy old city. Mingaw jud kaayo ta. Take, for example, how football has developed. It used to be a sleepy sport that NOBODY watched. Now, look at football.

“My greatest achievement, apart from the sports center construction, is the commercialization and professionalizing of the promotion of sports. Think about it, without all those sponsors, were would we be today in sports? Mingaw kaayo unta – walay sponsor like Thirsty..

“The Cebu City Sports Commission started many firsts: The Tri City Marathon (which was the first in Cebu with foreign runners; up to 12 countries, I think, for the 25K). For a few years, we hosted an international cycling race joined by participants from Europe…

“It is nice to reminisce sometimes, although I don’t do much of that now. I miss our friends, the people who were there and helped us. We all enjoyed so much working together to make things work even if it was the first time and we had no idea how to go about it. We just went ahead and worked on them; that’s what made it all so much fun. Thanks to Bidoy, thanks to you John, thanks to all the people who were there..

“Sport is important because it builds character through values such as hard work, fellowship and camaraderie, teamwork and discipline. It will help the youth develop a strong and honest character.”

Salute to The Centurion

It was 50 golden years ago today, on March 5, 1965, when one man, who started with the humblest of beginnings as a security guard, founded what would become one of the country’s most outstanding security providers.

That man was Jacinto Mariano Natividad Villarosa Mendez and that company is Centurion Security Agency, Inc.

Few companies reach 50 years. Few men were like Jack. He worked as a kargador. He’d ride a rickety boat with his father from Bohol to Cebu to transport wood. While in law school at USC, he borrowed books to study. After passing the bar, he survived the hardships of little money by wearing a blue uniform with a gun tucked in his side pocket.

He started as a guard. Then, years later and armed with that first-hand experience, he founded Centurion Security Agency, Inc. with a vow to transform the then-rugged and scary image of a “sikyo” into that of a true “security professional.”

He succeeded. From one guard, Centurion reached a peak of 1,500 security professionals. Today, it has a thousand. On numerous times, CSAI was awarded by the police as one of the nation’s top agencies.

Speaking of longevity, the company has established long relations not only with clients and companies but also with their dutiful and devoted employees. One guard has been with Centurion for over 34 years. There are several fathers-and-sons working for Centurion; a father would start as a guard in his early twenties, he’d got married, raise children — and one or two of those boys would go on to follow their dad, saluting customers and ensuring an establishment’s safety.

cent

Today, fifty years since Centurion’s founding, is both a happy and sad day for the family I’ve come to call my own: the Mendez family — which includes my wife Jasmin, the second of four children.

Happy because fifty years, as explained by ace business writer Mia Aznar in her piece yesterday, is “half-century” old.

Fifty years is fifty years. That’s a long time ago. We weren’t even born that year when movies Dr. Zhivago and The Sound of Music were shown. Happy because when you look back at how the company has helped tens of thousands of people through the years, through employment or because establishments have become safer due to Centurion’s front-line security, you smile and feel fulfilled.

Today is also a somber day. It’s bittersweet for the Mendez family — which include my mother-in-law Malu and Jasmin’s siblings, Michelle, Jake and Monette — because the founder and CEO himself, the funnyman Jack Mendez whom everybody loved, passed away just eight months ago.

For years, he longed to see his baby turn 50. He had grand plans with Centurion joining a hundred-force squadron of Centurions, marching and saluting the crowd during the Sinulog. If only he’d be with us today… His sudden passing last July 15, on a beautiful morning that transformed into the darkest of evenings for the family that night, was painful.

Though he was already 82 and had lived the fullest of lives — from being Rotary president to being Ubay, Bohol’s benefactor to being a devout Catholic and a generous and caring dad to his four children — his passing stunned the family.

But today we celebrate as he wants us to celebrate. For Jack was a man who laughed. He laughed a lot. He made people laugh. And his legacy lives on with the company he founded whose motto reads, “The best of pay to the best of companies offering the best service — The best service wins!”

Dad, The Centurion, happy golden anniversary.

Balamban and Naga

I met Mayor Val Chiong last Wednesday in Naga City. Wearing shorts and wielding a tennis racket, he played doubles. A Class-A tennister who often represented Cebu in the PAL Interclub, Mayor Val plays nightly on the clay courts that he built. When I watched, he and his partner led 7-5 before the opponents won the next game to inch closer to a tiebreak. That’s when Val, armed with a topspin forehand, steady volleys and a forceful smash, attacked the next relentlessly to win the final point. Game, set, match, 8-6.

Naga City is active. In tennis, they’ve produced two national-caliber junior stars in Anday Alferez and Shyne Villareal. Of their two public courts, one was occupied by the adults while the other was reserved for young girls and boys.

Volleyball? A rectangle court sits across. Dozens of spikers and setters volleyed the ball back and forth. Badminton was played nearby, inside four indoor courts. Our most popular game, basketball, stood meters away. An oval, previously a cemented road that was closed to vehicular traffic so joggers can use it, circled this complex beside the boulevard. If I heard it right from the parents of Anday Alferez (Andoy and Nova), a swimming pool might be constructed in the newly-reclaimed land near the boulevard.

Here’s more: lights are for free until 10 p.m. Play all you want, dribble all that you can bounce, lob that shuttlecock, slice that backhand — you pay zero to exercise in Naga City.

“We’ll build a roof to cover the tennis courts,” said Mayor Val when we spoke, him all-sweating and all-smiling after his win. “It will not be as enclosed as Alta Vista but will be open so wind and air will come in.”

A lifelong tennis player, never mind if he had surgery a couple of years back and if his knees are wrapped with injury-preventive bands, Val has brought the game of “commercial” tennis to his city. Since Baseline has closed, the hordes of players there have traveled south to play in Naga. I saw several who came from Mandaue.

If the city is led by an active sportsman, the citizenry will follow the leader.

BALAMBAN. My daughter Jana and I traversed the Transcentral Highway to cross to the Western side of Cebu to watch the CVIRAA.

The “CV” stands for Central Visayas and an estimated 9,000 athletes and coaches from all over Region 7 were in the municipality that’s nicknamed “The Shipbuilding Capital of the Phils.” The regional meet is the final qualifying tournament where the winners will go on to the national event called the Palarong Pambansa (slated this May in Tagum City).

Last Saturday, Jana and I first visited the tennis venue, housed within the property of the Provincial Hospital, to watch the high school girls and boys. (Anday, whom I mentioned above, went on to win the gold in doubles with Beverly Enriquez.)

In the afternoon, we parked inside the church and visited numerous sites. First, we witnessed gymnastics. A line of judges sat on stage to score the girls who, one by one, would perform with a rubberized ball. Daniela de la Pisa, the Palaro’s multi-gold medalist, was there. As expected, she won gold. We also got to meet her mom and coach, Darlene.

Next, we walked towards the Experanza S. Binghay Memorial Sports Complex where the football games were played. A track oval encircled the complex. Though not rubberized in surface (it was anapog), the measurements were standard-size. When we watched, the 4 x 100 meter relay squads were getting ready.

Behind the grandstand was a covered court that housed the Futsal games. Futsal is indoor football played on a basketball court. The shoes don’t have spike soles. We watched the semifinal game between the Cebu City Ninos (represented mostly by players from STC) against Negros Oriental. Futsal is often more exciting than the 11-aside regular game on grass. Coached by my UP Cebu classmate Tirso Rio, himself a football star during our college days, the Cebu City girls would go on to win the gold.

For hosting the CVIRAA, kudos to Mayor Ace Binghay.

Good to go

Seven days ago, I narrated how my dad Bunny wanted to fly to Nevada to watch Manny vs. Money. As he inquired about the ticket prices, he was shocked: one cushioned seat inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena would cost him P230,000. In dollars, that’s 5K.

No way, my dad said. A boxing fan for life who adored Sugar Ray Leonard’s speed and who’d troop inside the Waterfront Hotel ballroom for most ALA Promotions encounters, my dad wanted to be a witness to the modern-day version of “Thrilla in Manila.” Then, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in what was billed as one of the greatest clashes of all time.

Thrilla in Manila was contested in 1975. Forty years later, it’s another thriller in Vegas. (A bit of side trivia: The country’s first major commercial mall was named after the bout’s winner; that’s the “Ali Mall” beside the Araneta Coliseum, where the event was fought.)

Back to my dad, here’s some reminiscing: We traveled together to watch Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios last Nov. 2013. Prior to that fight, Pacquiao lost to Juan Manuel Marquez in a sleep-inducing knockout that floored the 100 million Filipinos watching on TV.

In Macau two years ago, my dad and I watched the bout 11 rows away. We stayed at The Venetian Macao and it was his first time to watch our Pambansang Kamao. The trip was memorable not only because of the Unanimous Decision victory by MP, him clobbering an overmatched (and soon we’d find out, drug-induced) Rios, it was meaningful because of the myriad of people that my dad met. He chatted with Genaro Rodriguez, the fight’s referee; he spent two hours seated beside commentator “Colonel” (Bob Sheridan), listening to his tales of announcing over 10,000 fights, from Mike Tyson to George Foreman to Roberto Duran.

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That was 2013. How about May 2, 2015? Would you believe, my dad’s going to the fight for free!

Here’s the story: One of his closest friends, Augustus “Gus” Ouano, bought two tickets immediately after the fight was announced last week. Ticket prices: $5,000 apiece.

Dr. Ouano, who owns a PhD in polymer science and who worked in IBM for four decades in an illustrious career as scientist and inventor (plus author of the book, “Motivation and Opportunity: An Immigrant’s Quest for Knowledge from Mindanao to the Leading Edge of Science and Technology”), is not a boxing fan. He did not purchase the tickets for himself. He bought one ticket for his nephew, Engr. Fortunato “Jun” Sanchez, Jr., one of the top officials of the Metro Cebu Development Coordinating Board (MCDCB), and allocated the other ticket to Jun’s brother, Jay.

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Jun and Jay Sanchez were ready to pay for the tickets. But, because of some matters that would not allow him to travel during that time, Jay opted not to make the trip.

Back in Las Vegas where he resides, Dr. Gus Ouano reflected on the two ticket purchases that he made.

He made a decision and said: I’ll give — not sell — these tickets to two of my closest friends, Jun and Bunny. It would also be an opportunity for them to discuss Cebu-related matters (water supply and infrastructure) in Las Vegas.

When my dad received the message from Gus informing him of the astonishing gift, my dad said no. He couldn’t possibly accept the expensive offering.

But Gus reminded my dad of an act that he did a long time ago, back in 2008. Then, my dad received a business class ticket to the U.S. from PAL. He doesn’t remember the details (it may have been a prize he won) but he decided not to use the ticket. He decided to give — not sell — it to Dr. Ouano. Plus, Gus reminded him, it was years ago when my dad brought along his good friend to watch a Pacquiao fight at the Casino Español. Not a boxing aficionado, Gus was thrilled to see Manny win from the ballroom’s large screen.

And so now, this. The Gift. The Blessing. Manuel (my dad’s first name) watching Emmanuel in May against Mayweather. I can’t be more excited for a good man: my dad.

As the saying goes: The good that you do will always come back to you.

12th Thirsty Cup

It started last Friday at 5:30 p.m. It ran that whole night. The next day, from morning until midnight, the games ensued. Same with last Sunday. For 16 hours that day, there was nonstop kicking, heading, passing and diving.

One dozen “Thirsty Cups” have concluded and three men have remained constant since the event started in 2004. My brother Charlie, who conceptualized this tournament, and his good friends, Chad Songalia and Neil Montesclaros.

The Thirsty Cup has dribbled from venue to venue — the Ayala (Cebu Business Park) grounds to San Roque to USC Talamban and now, the Cebu City Sports Center — but these three have been the same triumvirate behind the event.

This tournament is unique for many reasons. It brings over 200 teams nationwide in one site. Multiplied by 10 players per squad, that’s over 2,000 participants. A record 30+ teams traveled from outside Cebu to join.

Girls play in one pitch while boys play in the other. A 7-year-old boy kicks his first kick while a 50-something fires a winning goal. Father and son join. The music, expertly played by “DJ Chad,” rocks the stadium. (Aina Lacson loved the 80s hits.) It’s football and beach football rolled in one. It’s a format that allows you to lose once but still have a chance to win the trophy. It’s plenty of 0-0 scores and scary penalty shootouts to decide either heartbreak or ecstasy.

Running from SM to SM

Both are giant-sized malls. One is humongous while the other, slated to open by year’s-end, is extraordinarily humongous. I’m referring to the SM City Cebu and that spaceship of a building with a levitating cube and artistic wave-like walls that’s called the SM Seaside City.

Two mornings ago at 5 a.m., the starting gun was fired at the reclamation area fronting the Bayfront Hotel of Chester Cokaliong. Fireworks brightened the black sky. It was the fifth edition of the SM2SM Run and I ran the 21K.

What’s my objective review? VG: Very good.

Hydration stations were littered every kilometer — a total of 10 stops loaded with unlimited water; one or two stations with Gatorade and a few with dark chocolates and bananas. We pressed sponges to cool our heating bodies.

Music stations blasted their melodic noise to soothe our ears during the usually quiet Sunday morning. I especially liked the group, dressed in white, who stood at the SM Seaside City corner to pound the drums.

The road was fully closed to traffic. For two hours and seven minutes, Dr. Tony San Juan and I — plus thousands of others — enjoyed the wide expanse of the route and the SRP. The “S” in the “SM” stood for “safety” as it was a completely car-free race.

After the run, the loot bags distributed were loaded: Jollibee breakfast, Yakult drink plus other goodies. The good-looking medal made by Suarez & Sons showed three Olympic-like rings. The awarding, held inside the mall’s North Wing, was filled as hundreds awaited the raffle prizes (motorcycle, TVs, laptops).

With the prize money, it stood as the biggest not only in Cebu but, I’m guessing, of any race outside Manila. Kenyans and elite runners (including Eduardo Buenavista) joined with the P60,000 first prize as goal.

PAL Interclub

Atty. Jovi Neri sent me this report on Cebu Country Club’s title quest: “Since Dec., the team has been playing together and more often, which means sacrificing time away from family, friends, and work.. We are better prepared than last year when we had so many distractions and uncertainties… Course familiarity is always an advantage in golf, but we only have it in CCC. Club Filipino in Danao is not our home course… On pressure: Nine of our ten players will have at least four appearances so we are all experienced. Our reigning club champion Harvey Sytiongsa is playing only his second Interclub so that still makes him a veteran, plus he beat all of us so that counts, too. It is natural for everyone to feel pressured in competition. Hopefully, experience and preparation will help us deal with it in a favorable way.”

Finally

My dad Bunny, considering the possibility of flying to Los Angeles and driving four hours to Las Vegas to watch Money vs. Manny, was in constant touch with a few friends residing in Las Vegas yesterday. The ticket prices? You won’t believe it. Not 1K or 3K but $5,000 for the second-cheapest seats. That’s P230,000 for a single chair on a scuffle that will last a maximum of 36 minutes. My dad said No. He’d rather occupy his usual front row “good luck” chair inside Casino Español come the morning of May 3.

SALVEN LAGUMBAY. I interviewed one of the country’s foremost experts on boxing. He’s a best friend from UP Cebu College, a fellow writer, and now one of Asia’s top boxing judges. Here was Salven’s email to me a few nights ago:

“Bai, honestly, in the very long time that I’ve been following boxing, this is the first time for me to experience a fight announcement that is taking extremely long to make, with almost everybody around the world waiting for it with bated breath.

“Welcome to the Floyd Mayweather School of Business. First of all, in the history of contemporary boxing, or all of boxing for that matter, I would rate Mayweather as arguably the most astute, business-savvy boxer of all times. If he wasn’t boxing, he would have been the Dean of the Harvard Business School or a member of Barack Obama’s Economic Team.

“I have personally met him at his Mayweather Boxing Club gym in Las Vegas last October, and true enough, Mayweather is an entirely different athlete. You would think it would be easy for an Asian like me who travelled more than 7,000 miles to get a photo session with him? Think again. I got mine, but not after coursing my request thru the right channel.

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“This announcement has been super-delayed because of Floyd Mayweather. It’s the Art of the Deal working its magic. And no, it’s not because Mayweather doesn’t want to fight. Nor is he afraid of a Pacquiao. Let’s put it simply this way: Mayweather wants to be the one to steer the negotiation wherever he wants it to go. And so far he has been successful. Mayweather wins the first round even before the fight gets made.

“Also, a fight of this magnitude, with egos of those involved rivaling its size, this fight would not have been easy to make in the very first place. There’s the issue of who gets what (resolved, 60-40), the contract weight (147 lbs. or catchweight at 150), what gloves to use (Reyes or Grant), which outfit gets telecast right (HBO or Showtime), who gets to air the replay, who will make up the broadcast panel, who will announce (Michael Buffer or Jimmy Lennon), who goes up the ring first, who will be introduced first, how is the PPV sales going to be divided, who gets what corner color (red or blue), who will be the referee, who will be the judges, who will be the lead promoter, who will do the infomercials, which outfit gets right for all accreditations. For all we know, both camps are even at loggerheads as to whose name gets mentioned first in fight posters and advertising billboards.

“As for the promotion of the bout itself, yes, there is still time for that. Usually in major fights, they would allow a window of 4 to 5 months from fight announcement to fight date to allow ample time to promote the show. In this case, they don’t have that opportunity because of negotiation delay, but then again, this fight is so popular there is not much promoting needed to sell it. Lol, they can fight tomorrow and still pack the entire MGM and do more than a million PPV buys!

“As for fight preparations, both Mayweather and Pacquiao would need only 8 weeks or less to be in top condition. Both guys are professionals. They are in shape even with no fight schedule, and would need only a few weeks for the so-called sparring sessions and other ‘body alignments’ and tactical planning needed for the big show.”

Floyd’s marketing ploy

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Only 10 weeks remain. Why the delay? If he’s going to announce it anyway, why prolong the wait? Dozens upon dozens of articles in Philboxing.com all point to the same direction: May 2, 2015 will happen.

Cut the crap, Floyd. Sign the document that Manny Pacquiao has signed and announce the bout. Mayweather is taking us for a joyride aboard his Gulfstream III jet. He’s smiling that handsome and charismatic smile; he’s counting his estimated $280,000,000 net worth; he’s driving his Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorarno or Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 or Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport.

Sport is entertainment. We watch it to feel high or low; we applaud the first to cross the finish and we deride the beaten body lying on the canvas. But underneath our thrill and excitement — the root of all this entertainment — is one word: Money. And isn’t this guy’s nickname the same? This is all about money. Money the person. Money the denomination.

How to explain the delay? It’s called the “Apple strategy.” This was started by the late Steve Jobs and perfected by Tim Cook and the machination called Apple Inc. You know how the world’s biggest company (market capitalization: $740 billion) delays and keeps secret its latest iPad or iPhone to maximize the gossiping and to keep the millions of fanatics swimming in a news frenzy?

The iPhone-using Floyd is employing the same tactic used by the iPhone makers. The man from Las Vegas has learned a trick from the men from Cupertino.

It’s called suspense. Delay, delay, delay. Wait. Pause. Spread a tiny rumor here. Shake hands in Miami. Keep everyone guessing. Watch the NBA All-Star weekend beside Rihanna. Wait. Pause. Delay. Keep everyone salivating….. And when all throats are dry and all tongues are wagging, thirsty and hungry to receive the news… Boom! Like a left hook, you unveil the artwork.

The end result? When it’s finally announced, like when Apple revealed the months-long-rumored iPhone 6+ on the giant screen in California, everybody drools and all eyes are enlarged and mesmerized.

How do you explain this? Big fights usually get announced six or more months in advance. This one only has a lead time of two months? Crazy. If this were a small-time basketball or volleyball tournament, fine. But not the undisputed “Biggest Boxing Fight in History.”

Matthew Fellows, a columnist for Guardian Liberty Voice, wrote an interesting piece, “Mayweather-Pacquiao: Feeding Frenzy Calculated by Money Team,” last Feb. 16.

“Mayweather is extending this drama in order to get maximum exposure for Shots, the social media app he threw down one million dollars for where he plans on announcing the fight,” said Fellows. “He is all about maximizing his earnings even in announcing the fight and has been willing to drag fans along in torturous manner in order to fill his bank account.”

Nobody in sports is better in business than Mr. Mayweather, who tops the list of highest paid athletes in Forbes and Sports Illustrated. Hate him and despise him, but he’s amassed a mountain full of dollars — $105 million, to be exact, in 2014 alone.

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Sport is business. I don’t know how they arrived at the computations but the May 2 clash is supposed to generate a total revenue of $250 million (in pesos, that’s nearly P10 billion).

“Despite what people who clearly know little about the greed of boxing people and their ability to drive up numbers, the fight is in the pipeline and will be announced soon enough,” added Fellows. “The more the media and fans alike obsess, the broader the smile on not only Mayweather’s face but on the big wigs who stand to make tens of millions on a fight that should have happened five years ago.”

Marketing. That’s what this is all about. It’s a business strategy. And it works. It’s word of mouth multiplied by millions of mouths and it’s for free. Except that, on fight night, we pay while Money makes all the money.