Donnie, AJ and the Masskara

BACOLOD CITY—This place where I spent my life’s first 14 years, commonly known as “The City of Smiles,” has a different nickname for me today: “The City of Ma-namit na Pagkaon (Good Food).”

Savor the Sate Babi at Bob’s. Munch on the pecho and atay at Chicken House. Salivate at Calea’s sinful desserts. There’s Aboy’s, where fresh fish squirm, ready to be gobbled upon. Pendy’s awaits hungry men while Kaisei’s fresh salmon is dying to be devoured. Bacolod is a city with a plateful of gourmet choices. Consider our itinerary here yesterday:

Jasmin and I arrived at 7:40 A.M., in the same AirPhils flight with Nia Durano Aldeguer, the wife of Chris. Also with us were Carmel Durano and Cathy Tesoro. Upon arrival at the Silay City airport, we zoomed straight for Batchoy at 21 Restaurant, where a bowl of soup, noodles and floating “utok” (bone marrow) awaited our stomachs. By noon, it was at Bob’s. Calea was next.

But we’re not here simply to gorge on food. Because while our taste buds feasted, our eyes were all-enlarged, ready for WBO’s brawl between Cebu and Mexico. All around Bacolod, the buzz here is about their native boy, Donnie. Posters adorned the airport. Billboards paraded the wide roads of Negros. At the L’Fisher Hotel, a life-size photo of AJ Banal stood at the lobby. Inside the SM City-Bacolod, where the weigh-in and public appearances were held, posters littered the mall. The taxi driver I spoke to boasted about his city’s World Championship hosting.

Bacolod, also known in Wikipedia as the “Football City of the Philippines,” is proud of boxing. Bacolod takes pride in this 9th Pinoy Pride. Bidoy Aldeguer, whose initials read “ALA” (Antonio Lopez A.) hails from Bacolod. He studied in La Salle. And that’s a major reason why this rumble is held in this Negros Occidental jungle.

La Salle? That green-colored school was my alma matter from Grade One until First Year High School. That’s eight years. I visited the University of St. La Salle campus yesterday. This was at 11 A.M. Since the front door was locked, I crept down the back door and entered the cavernous gymnasium where Nietes vs. Garcia fought last night. The La Salle Gym holds unbelievable memories for me. It was here where I played countless basketball games until Grade 7—including game-winning shots in the final seconds of championship games.

Yesterday morning, the La Salle Gymnasium was all-ready. The square boxing ring stood elevated at the center. Red carpet covered the parquet floors. Black plastic chairs sat unattended, awaiting the buttocks of their customers. The music of the Black Eyed Peas… “tonight’s gonna be a good night…” blasted from the coliseum’s speakers. I saw Dennis Cañete. The senior official of ALA Promotions, Dennis observed every corner of his performance area. “We’ve been ready for weeks,” said Dennis. “We can’t wait for tonight.”

“Tonight,” of course, was last night. What makes Pinoy Pride IX even more thrilling here is Bacolod’s festival, the Masskara. It’s happening now. This is their version of the Sinulog and, like ours, there’s plenty of celebration: Ilonggos dance and party, beer this Octoberfest is overflowing and, everywhere, you see masks (“Masskara”) of all colors and designs that decorate this city. Boxing + Masskara = bang-bang.

Here’s an interesting footnote: Just like the fight between Manny Pacquaio-Juan Manuel Marquez and the UFC this November 12, when both mega-events are happening on the same evening in America, it’s similar in Bacolod. Last night, October 8, apart from Nietes-Garcia, it was the Tribal Brawl. In its flyer, it states: “Powered by the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC), this is the Bold & Raw Amateur Warriors League.” It was the quarterfinals at the SM City-Bacolod. Last night. Same night. URCC vs. PP9. Amazing coincidence, right?

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