Yearly Archives: 2012

Davis Cup volleys back to Plantation Bay

The biggest annual team sporting event returns to Cebu. Backed by a 112-year-old history, the Davis Cup is one of sport’s oldest and most revered of competitions. It pits nation vs. nation in the sport of that matches forehands versus backhands.

This February 1 to 3, 2013, the shores of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa will once again host the Davis Cup. Cebu is lucky. Last year, we were fortunate to organize two DC ties: Phils. vs. Japan (March 2011) and Phils. vs Chinese-Taipei (September 2011). One-and-a-half months from now, Team Philippines will face Syria.

It wasn’t supposed to be here. Syria was scheduled to host our Pinoy netters. But we know the bloody situation the country is in now — thus, the move to our Southeast Asian nation.

Tickets will be sold — for free! This is the big news. Plus, here’s another one: While we lost both 2011 contests, the one this February favors us. On paper, led by world-ranked (doubles) No. 35 Treat Conrad Huey, we are expected to win. That’s why, at yesterday’s MOA signing and press conference at Plantation Bay attended by Mayor Paz Radaza, Philta’s VP Randy Villanueva, Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza, Plantation Bay GM Efren Belarmino and Cebuana Lhuillier’s big boss Anton Arrieta, the sign we flashed wasn’t a thumbs-up or victory symbol — it was the “No. 3” sign. It was to signify, on Cebu’s 3rd attempt, that we hope to emerge victorious. (Harry predicts a “third time lucky” event; we can also call it “third time’s a charm.”)

Our players? Three are almost-sure to be selected: Treat Huey, Ruben Gonzalez and Johnny Arcilla. The fourth spot will be decided among the trio of Niño Alcantara, Jeson Patrombon and Onyok Anasta.

Like in previous occasions, the format of the Davis Cup weekend is the same: Friday (Feb. 1) will offer two singles matches; Saturday is for the lone doubles match; and Sunday are the two reverse singles matches.

Lapu-Lapu City — because of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 and the Davis Cup — has risen to become a sporting powerhouse city. Led by their sports czar, Harry Radaza, the city has asked another sports enthusiast (and ultra-marathoner), Hembler Mendoza, to lead their efforts in sports and tourism. The year 2013 promises to be loaded with events for the city named after our country’s first hero.

 

Nonito

NONITO DONAIRE: After the other Sunday’s crushing Pacman downfall in Las Vegas, it was a splendid “revenge” by the Talibon, Bohol-born winner named “The Filipino Flash.”

What the Mexican did to Pacquiao, he did to a Mexican. We often talk about the “passing of the torch;” the act of a younger, newer champion taking over from the aged, near-retiring legend — and that’s what we witnessed in a span of one week.

Twice, I’ve sat down and talked with Nonito. The latest one was during the yearly Cebu Sports Awards when Nonito and Manny Pacquiao were special guests at the Casino Español. It was the 27th SAC-SMB Awards Night in 2009.

Our first meeting was back in November 2007 when Salven Lagumbay of Cebu Daily News introduced us. That evening, we invited Nonito, together with a group of friends and media personalities, to Mooon Cafe. Nonito Jr. and Nonito Sr. were together. And, after a few hours chatting with them, you leave the room with the same feeling: it’s hard to find a nicer, more gentleman-like duo than the two Nonitos.

With Nonito Jr., my initial reaction was this: As nice and amiable and respectful as he is, is he a boxer, one who bloodies and “puts to sleep” opponents for a living? As we saw against Jorge Arce and three others this 2012 (Wilfredo Vasquez, Jr.; Jeffrey Mathebula; and Toshiaki Nishioka), the 30-year-old “Flash” is a certified world champion. In boxing, he’s proven that it is possible to both be friendly (off the ring) and destructive.

My brother Charlie with Nonito

Sports Editor Mike Limpag with Nonito

Wakee to Manny: Don’t fight Marquez next

Of the many advisers of Emmanuel Pacquiao — from pastors to Chavit S. to his fellow congressmen to Mr. Arum — one of his closest buddies is Cebu-based businessman Rex “Wakee” Salud.

Wakee and Manny have been inseparable since 2005, right after MP’s loss to Erik Morales, when the boxing promoter invited the boxing fighter to Lapu-Lapu City.

After a wild ride of wild nights at the Casino gambling, of cock-fighting, of drinking, of many more exploits too salacious to print here — their friendship lasted seven years, 15 consecutive victories and, sadly, in the last two fights, back-to-back losses. In all these years and Las Vegas encounters, who friend watched from his corner every single time? RWS.

Wakee and I spoke yesterday. He had just arrived from the States, landing two days ago in Manila, a day ahead of Pacman. Where exactly did you sit and what did your eyes see in that 6th round ending? I queried.

“I sat behind Jinkee,” said Wakee. “I sat sa kilid (at the side). When it was nearing the final bell of that 6th round, I didn’t have a clear sight. The referee was covering Manny. I knew that Manny was going for the kill. He wanted to finish Marquez in that round. Then, all of a sudden, si Manny man ang natumba (it was Manny who fell).”

Everybody was shocked. If we, TV-goers, were stunned – can you imagine the hysteria and breakdown inside the MGM Grand, especially of Wakee, who sat just meters away from the fallen hero? The quick reaction, of course, was to storm the stage. “We wanted to go inside the ring but were not allowed,” he said.

“Sugat gyud (It was straight and head-on),” Wakee said. “It was a blind punch” that caught the overconfident and impatient Manny.

After the fight, as the hysteria had settled, Wakee wanted to accompany Manny to the hospital. But when he stepped inside the dressing room, they had left for the hospital tests. “So far, the check up was good,” he said. “But it’s best to have a more extensive check here. Just to be sure.”

SHOCK. Jinkee cried. The whole family cried. Everybody in Pacquiao’s Las Vegas entourage was in disbelief. “But when I went inside the suite room of Manny around 1 or 2 A.M., OK na sila. Nag-comedya na gani. (They were OK and were telling jokes.)”

This is boxing, said Wakee. Anything can happen. And Manny has accepted defeat.

I asked Wakee if he felt a premonition, a bad feeling, a sense that something harrowing was about to happen on December 8, 2012. “Wala gyud (None at all),” he said. The MP camp was very confident. (Overly-confident?) “We were relaxed and sige-comedya. In the locker room, I was with Steven Seagal. Later, I got the chance to meet the presidential candidate Mitt Romney.”

But, commenting on Pacman’s preparations, Wakee said that while the training in the States went “very well,” he said the preparations in the Philippines was not. Too many distractions again, he said.

ADVICE. Suggestions for his best friend? First, Wakee believes that Manny should fight again. He shouldn’t retire. Not yet. But – and here’s an important request — he’s pleading that, next year, when Manny fights, that he focus entirely on boxing.

First, he should have a thorough rest. And, when training arrives, to focus only on boxing. “His mind is into politics, is into religion, he’s accommodating too many friends — he has to focus,” said Wakee.

And, finally, the most important recommendation from RWS – one that, given the Typhoon Pablo-like disaster that befell Pacman, makes a lot of good sense:

“For me, it’s not wise to fight Marquez right away,” said Wakee. “Ayaw ibigla. Don’t rush. Fight another opponent first. Have one tune-up fight. Then, observe. This will give Manny confidence before facing Marquez in No. 5.”

Will Sunday be Pacman’s last fight?

Manny Pacquiao will turn 34 years old in 11 days. In boxing age, he’s a “Senior Citizen.” This Dec. 8 will be Manny’s 61st boxing fight. That’s what the official record states. But when you count all those side-street, pustahan-type small bouts, he must have boxed 1,001 times.

Training? Twice, I watched him inside Wakee Salud’s gym in Labangon. He skip-roped. He rocked his back up and down doing sit-ups. In sparring, he deliberately raised his arms so that the sparring partner can pound — and strengthen — his abdomen.

If Pacquiao were a car, he’d be a Porsche 911. Speedy. Muscular. Low-flying. Packing an engine whose oomph can top 450 horsepower. But, as furious and fast as this Porsche is, it’s not the 2012 “911 Turbo” series; it’s the vintage 2001 model. It’s not brand-new. And, like Pacman, though it’s still power-packed and fast, it’s getting old.

Manny is getting old. We saw it against Mosley, Marquez, Bradley. He’s sluggish — nowhere near the peak days when he bloodied De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto.

“Pacquaio should retire after this fight,” said Monico Puentevella, the former Phil. Olympic Committee Chairman (he lost last week in the POC elections to Tom Carrasco).

“I believe Manny will win this Sunday. But, after that, what’s next? He should only fight one more time if it’s Mayweather. But if not, then he should retire.”

Monico, who is running for mayor of “The City of Smiles,” is one of Manny’s closest friends. Almost every fight of Pacquiao the past six years, Puentevella has flown to the U.S. to watch. The only time he missed the live watch? “Against Bradley last June, I wasn’t there,” he said. And we know what happened, right? Manny lost.

This Sunday? “I can’t make it again,” said Monico. Oh no, I told him yesterday. What if Manny loses again — you’ll be the jinx? He laughed. “I’m calling Manny later today (that’s yesterday),” he said. Pasyensya na (So sorry), he’ll tell him. He had to stay home in Bacolod and be here during Typhoon Pablo.

Monico made a prediction. With Manny nearing 34 and Marquez turning 40 next year, there won’t be any knock-outs this weekend. No KOs. I agree. Plus, weren’t Pacquiao’s last five fights all 12-rounders?

“If Manny wins against Marquez, the problem is the same one we’ve had: what if Mayweather won’t fight him? Who’s next?” The answer: Nobody.

“That’s why, after this fight, I’ll sit down with Manny and advise him to quit. Quit to preserve your dignity, record and supremacy. Quit while you’re ahead. There’s no more use fighting.”

Monico recalled the harrowing experience of Z Gorres. “One punch is all it takes to put a boxer in that wheelchair for life,” Monico said. “Damo ka naman kwarta (You have plenty of money). You’ll only hurt yourself.”

This means that — granted the Sarangani congressman will listen to the former Bacolod representative — that this Sunday may be the final “Las Vegas” curtain moment of MP.

I know we don’t think about it. Manny’s fought world title bouts twice or thrice every single year since he burst into the boxing world in 2003 (against Barrera) — that we don’t contemplate his retirement. But it’s coming. Soon.

“The only complication is if Manny loses to Marquez,” said Monico. “And you know who would be so happy? Bob Arum. He wants that Game 5. We know Arum doesn’t have anybody else to fight Manny, so he’d prefer a loss now and a Game 5 next year. But everybody’s tired of Pacquiao-Marquez.”

Monico knows and loves boxing. “My goal is to build the best boxing gym in the Philippines,” he told me. “If elected mayor, I’ll rebuild the old basketball gym at the Bay Center, fronting the Plaza, and will convert it into a world-class facility. We’ll hire a Cuban coach and to bring boxers from nearby Cadiz, Bago, Manapla and Himamaylan. Then we’ll revive what Bidoy Aldeguer and I used to do… bring boxers to Cebu and bring yours over to Bacolod.”

Monico’s analysis on Manny? It makes sense. Win on Sunday then convince Mayweather. If he won’t dance, forget it. You’ve got the billions to buy a brand-new Porsche 911.

Marko Sarmiento: CCC’s 2012 Champion

Marko and Bayani

We were schoolmates at Cebu International School. We share the same birthday. And, whenever I need golf analysis, I always e-mail the same person: Marko Garcia Sarmiento.

At the manicured lawns of the Cebu Country Club, few people can drive that ball farther. Averaging 290 yards off the tee, Marko, 34, started swinging clubs at the age of 10. By college, he decided to study the one course that specializes on the golf course: at North Carolina’s Methodist University, studying Business Management with a focus on Professional Golf Management.

“Marko has won every major CCC tournament except the most major one which was the club championship,” said Atty. Jovi Neri. “So it was always a goal that he wanted to win badly for a long time.”

Last week, the 2012 CCC Club Championship unfolded. Sixteen of CCC’s best participated. After the qualifying rounds, Mr. Sarmiento — with rounds of 74 and 71 — took the second-highest seed, just a stroke behind Mark Dy.

In the match-play format, Marko played Marco Mendoza in the first round. He won 6-up. In the quarterfinals, the opponent was the one man nobody wanted to face: Eric Deen. The “Dean of CCC Golf,” Eric was not only a 6-time CCC champion but he had won the last two years. In the only time that Marko and Eric played in a match-play format, Marko got clobbered, 5-down. “The match against Eric was the most nerve-wrecking,” admitted Marko. “He’s arguably the club’s best player and has been for many years.”

In the 18-hole contest, the battle started as expected, with Eric leading. Although Marko was playing well, he wasn’t putting well. But, as fate would have it, Eric bogeyed two of the last three holes while Marko parred. “I finally made my first meaningful putt and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Marko. “I had a 15-footer for par on the 19th hole and made it, while Eric missed his 10-footer.” Game, set, match. Marko wins.

Next up in the semi-finals: Gen Nagai. Both played well and, after hours on foot, with Marko scoring under par (gross) and Gen at even par — with most of the holes won by birdies — it was Sarmiento who edged Nagai, 2-up.

Now, after beating the 2011 Class B champ (Mendoza) in the first round, then the 6-time champ (Deen) in Round 2, and the CCC junior club winner (Nagai) in the semis, Marko had the face the 2009 champion, Bayani Garcia, in the 36-hole, early-morning-until-late-afternoon Saturday final.

It was a showdown between two of CCC’s longest hitters. The day before the finale, Marko asked for advice from his uncle, the CCC president and 8-time champ, Montito Garcia, who told him to stay close in scoring to Bayani in the morning (first 18 holes).

The good nephew followed his Tito Mon’s words, leading 3-up before lunch. But the morning was not without drama. “Before teeing up for my drive on the 8th hole, I realized that the shaft of my driver broke!” said Marko. “It was a freak accident since I hit a perfect drive the hole before and didn’t notice anything wrong with the club after I hit that shot. Nevertheless, I was rattled because my driver is my most important club. Thankfully, the rules of golf state that a replacement club can be used as long as the club was not broken with any intention. My wife hurried from the house to bring me my backup and order was restored.”

When played resumed on the 19th hole, Marko’s smile widened. He birdied to go 4-up. But then, Bayani improved while Marko’s game faltered. In the next three holes, Bayani won. From a 4-point advantage, it was down to one. By the end of the 27th hole, the match was all-squared. “Bayani had me rattled,” said Marko. “Losing a 4-up lead after 9 holes will do that to a golfer.”

On Hole No. 28, both made long putts for birdie. But on the 29th, there was a reversal of scores. Bayani birdied! For the first time, Bayani took the lead. Finally, with just three holes left to play, Bayani led 1-up.

That’s when — on the 34th hole — the steely nerves of the 34-year-old Marko emerged. He birdied Hole No. 34. The match was all-square. Then, when Bayani hooked his tee shot in the rough (which led to an unplayable lie and a one-stroke penalty) while Marko parred, it was Sarmiento with the lead.

“We both hit perfect tee shots,” said Marko, of the 36th and final hole. “Bayani was 1st to hit and calmly hit the green and left himself a lengthy but makeable putt for birdie. All I wanted to do was par the hole and force Bayani to make his birdie putt. I was able to find the green in 2 but still had about a 30-footer for birdie, which under pressure, could have easily led to a 3-putt bogey. I was first to putt and making it was the last thing in my mind since a par would have pressured Bayani in making a difficult putt for birdie.”

What happened on that 18th green will be talked-about for years…

“The golf gods were with me that day,” continued Marko, “and there was nothing they owed me but in what was easily the best golf feeling I have ever experienced; the putt went in and the match was over! Absolutely amazing. My family was there to witness it with me which just made for a perfect ending to a epic day of golf!”

When I asked Marko — the ever-smiling husband of Aimil Gonzalez and the proud father of two boys: Lucas, 7, and Andres, 2 — if the achievement of seeing his name etched in CCC’s hall of champions has sunk in, he said: “I can’t even describe it. I see that wall every time I’m in the club and I always wondered when I would win it. In the past I felt like it was owed to me but this time around my expectations were much lower. I would tell myself that my time would eventually come and honestly this is when I expected it the least.”

What’s ironic is this: Just a month ago, Marko was playing his worst golf in years. “My handicap jumped from 3-5 in the month of October and I was struggling to break 80,” he said. But then, don’t our greatest moments often come when we least expect them? Same with Marko. After that slump, his game rebounded, with him scoring the lowest gross title (69) in the Tomodachi Tournament. “My expectations were low and my confidence was high,” he said. “I think this is deadly combination to winning!”

Atty. Jovi Neri concurs. Marko traveled a lot this year, he said, which compromised his game. But then, help arrived. Marko’s swing coach, Andrew Ong (who also works with his PAL teammates Lj Go, Gen, Jovi and Bayani), arrived in Cebu together with Eric Gozo, who operates Flightscope, a super high-tech ball-flight tracking radar and launch monitor.

“Working with these two US-trained professionals, Marko was able to fix his swing and knew exactly how it affected his ball flight since there was accurate measured data determined by the Flightscope,” said Atty. Neri. Congratulations, Marko!

Father and son: Efren and The Champ

Free ACC movie passes to CCM registrants

Last Tuesday, Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama – a runner both on the road and for public office – welcomed us to his Conference Room at the City Hall. In attendance were running enthusiasts Councilor Edgar Labella and Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) members Jesse Taborada, Dodong Sulatre, Meyrick Jacalan and Rudy Tindugan. Cebu City Sports Commission chairman Edward Hayco joined us.

The occasion: To officially launch one of this island’s grandest of sporting events, the Cebu Marathon. The date? January 13, 2013. The venue: Start/Finish at the Cebu I.T. Park in Lahug.

Distances? 5K, 21K and 42K. These three categories are perfect for any body and everybody. If you’ve longed to exercise and join a fun run, the 5,000-meter distance is ideal. You can jog, walk, stroll most of the way and sprint as you cross the finish line.

The 21K or half-marathon? For those who’ve been running 5Ks and 10Ks, it’s time to take your running to the next level. The 21K distance is far — but not as leg-cramping and exhaustive as the 42K. The beauty of this category? Just like the full marathon, it will take the runners along the most scenic of sights: from Cebu I.T. Park to the Provincial Capitol, down along Osmeña Boulevard, passing through Fuente Osmeña, to Colon Street, to the Sto. Niño Church, Magellan’s Cross, Plaza Independencia then down the SRP Tunnel. You may a U-turn somewhere at the SRP… and back to the Cebu I.T. Park. Everybody who’s done a 10K the past few months should register for the 21K.

The 42.195-km. run called the marathon? For those who joined the 21K last year and have done several this 2012, it’s time to go all the way in 2013. You can do it!

Along the way – and during this Sinulog season — you will be greeted by hordes of volunteers who will man the 13 water stations – all loaded with overflowing water and isotonic drinks plus the signature gimmick of CCM: bands, loud music, Sinulog dancers, cheerers — all motivating you to finish and claim that Finisher’s Medal.

ROUTE. The only change with the 42K route is the Gen. Maxilom (Mango) Ave. area. In the three previous CCMs, the Mango Ave. portion was one of the last (and most difficult) climbs. In the 2013 edition — as suggested by ultra-marathoner, Atty. Haide Acuña — we will do Mango Avenue first. This means that, upon exiting SRP, the 42K runners can now focus on running straight to the Cebu I.T. Park minus the Mango Ave. “Heartbreak Hill” obstacle.

PRIZE MONEY. Thanks to the support of the Cebu City government, who has funded the cash prizes of all the winners since this event started years ago, the same will hold true this 01-13-13.

The cash prizes – totaling P389,500 — are as follows (same amount for both men and women):

Marathon (42K): P60,000 (champion); P30,000 (runner-up); P20,000 (3rd); P10,000 (4th); P5,000 (5th); and P2,500 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

Half-marathon (21K): P20,000 (champion); P10,000 (runner-up); P5,000 (3rd); P2,500 (4th); P1,500 (5th); and P1,000 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

5K: P5,000 (champion); P2,500 (runner-up); P1,500 (3rd); P1,000 (4th); P750 (5th); and P500 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

GOODIES. As I mentioned in this column a few weeks back, the participants will receive a limited-edition New Balance singlet. The value of this NB singlet is worth upwards of P700; if you’re joining the 5K (registration fee is P600), you’re actually receiving more than your fee.

The 42K (fee: P1,400) and 21K (fee: P900) participants will all receive Finisher’s shirts (apart from the singlet) upon crossing the Finish Line. And, of course, exclusive to the 42K finishers, the prized CCM medal (new design).

FREE MOVIE PASSES. Finally, here’s good (early Christmas) news for all runners who have not registered yet. Starting today, Nov. 22, until Nov. 30 — only for nine days — all registrants to the 21K and 42K categories will receive free Ayala Center Cinema movie passes. You need to register at the onsite registration booth at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu. Remember: this is only from Nov. 22 to 30. Run to Ayala and register now!

Azkals in Cebu: What a kick-start

Wasn’t Thursday night perfect? After the afternoon skies darkened and the clouds unleashed their wet venom, weren’t we all begging our Lord, Oh no, please don’t let it rain! It did not. Instead, the sky’s ceiling was pitch-dark, perfect for down below, the green pitch…

The green pitch was outstanding. Talk about surprises. Talk about transforming a dusty field into a golf course that’s called a soccer field. Wow. Everybody applauded the grass. Michael Weiss. The Singaporeans. And us, the spectators, numbering 7,000 eyeballs, all gazing and awestruck at the green field.

The venue, the Cebu City Sports Center? This is our own Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. It’s our Ground Zero. Our sports headquarters. You know what’s amazing? Coupled with the majestic green pitch was the majestic maroon-colored rubberized oval. Again, exemplary timing: the oval gets renovated just months before 11-15-2012.

The lights? Were those lights? Or was that the sun beaming its rays on CCSC? I counted dozens, hundreds, of floodlights that flooded the arena. This is what happens when the president of the Cebu Football Association (CFA) is one of this island’s mightiest of construction magnates: the stadium is bright as noon.

Thanks to Ricky Dakay, the engineer (or “Doctor,” since he’s earned a Doctorate in Engineering in the U.S.) who owns Dakay Construction and Development Corp.

What else? Fireworks, like sparkling Christmas lights, colored the starless, black sky. The Kaholeros — more than 300-strong and standing across the stadium-full of spectators — lost all their voices by Friday morning. They screamed and danced and were gifted by the Azkals team a personal visit at game’s end.

THE GAME? Was it perfect? The 1-0 final score, no doubt, was splendid.

But the first half? Ha-ha. Don’t call me “Amalayer” when I say this: The Azkals were lousy. Were these our national players? They get hold of the ball… then lose it in 10 seconds. The Lions held the ball 70 percent of the time. It was a mismatch. Singapore would make zigzag, pinpoint passes; we’d scramble and turnover the football. “The first half was one of the least spectacular performances we’ve seen under my guidance… We’re lucky we’re not punished,” said coach Weiss.

True. In those first 45 minutes, we could easily have gone down, 0-2. Or, 0-3. They had chances after chances, especially that free kick. Thankfully, we ended the half at 0-all.

The 2nd half? What a difference. With the Younghusbands, the Azkals were a different animal. In the first half they were puppies; in the second half, they became rabid, hungry, thirsty, salivating “azkals.” They were dogs. And how the dogs would run around and defeat — in the animal kingdom — the bigger and stronger lions.

We held ball possession. We defended. We attempted on multiple occasions. We were aggressive. We were in command.

The hero? Of course: Ed Sacapaño of Bacolod, the goalie who stopped the spinning ball from hitting our net. Thanks to the man from the City of Smiles, we smiled.

CEBU. Last Thursday night was a moment-changer. The new CCSC plus the upcoming USC Talamban field (picturesque, by the mountains) will convert Sugbu into a national powerhouse football venue.

Sure, Manila is our nation’s capital — but most athletes prefer Cebu because, very often, our spectators are noisier, more rabid. We bark. We are azkals-like fans. We’re the azkals watching the azkals. Dan Palami, the country’s Mr. Football himself, couldn’t be happier with Cebu.

Mayor Michael Lopez Rama, while the game was ongoing in the early minutes, was not watching. Instead, he and Ricky Dakay toured the CCSC grounds — pointing at areas to improve. In my conversation with the mayor last Friday night, he repeatedly called the event, “superb.”

This is teamwork. It’s the private and public sectors passing the ball to one another, like James and Phil, to achieve a common goal.

The goal? To goal. To Dan Palami, the new CFA, and the rest of the tireless volunteers and organizers: What a kick-start you’ve given Cebu football.

Face off! Biggest day ever in Cebu football

Historic. A first. Football fever. Loud. Unprecedented. Call it whatever term you want but this fact is obvious: Today — Nov. 15, 2012 — will change football in Cebu.

“Since I am biased for football,” said my boss on these pages, editor Mike Limpag, “I think this is the biggest event here; though the Cobra Ironman 70.3 could also make a claim for that. But since this is the first time that the Philippines will play an international friendly here on a Fifa match day (other countries will be playing friendlies, too, on Nov. 15); so this really sets the bar.”

Last June — just five months ago — over dinner at the famed Marco Polo Hotel, a group of passionate footballers talked about holding an international meet here.

Ricky Dakay and Dan Palami, together with the Cebu Football Association (CFA) officers, sat in a large table with Mike Limpag. Is Cebu ready? Will the Cebu City Sports Center venue be in decent shape? Can the grass grow on time? Can we organize this gargantuan task in just a few months’ time?

The answers? Yes, yes, yes, yes. So, yes, here we arrive today. As a sports lover, I’ve never seen such buzz. For tonight’s Philippine Azkals versus Singapore Lions football game isn’t just for football fans. It’s not just soccer dads like Ariel Uy and Harry Radaza or for coaches like Joshua Fegidero and Dennis Peñalosa or for CFA officials like Glenn Quisido or Mike Veloso.

Tonight is for all fans. Sports fans. Fans who like gazing at players with movie star good looks. Cebu fans. In fact, most of the spectators tonight will be witnessing — myself included — such a large-crowd football event for the first time. Imagine over 7,000 screaming fans?

“For me, the noise-level when Stephen Schrock scored the first goal in that 2-1 home loss against Kuwait at the Rizal Memorial Stadium was really something… 13,000 fans screaming at the same time,” said Mike Limpag. “There will be half of that at the CCSC pitch, but because of the design and the adjacent buildings, it will be noisy. A group of Kaholeros led by Egay Salvacion have been practicing for weeks now to help lead the chants, and I think they will be able to get the crowd going.”

PRESS CON. I attended yesterday’s “face off” between the two head coaches, led by our own, Michael Weiss. Also in attendance were captain Chieffy Caligdong and three Cebuanos, Paolo Pascual, Ray Jonnson and Patrick Reichelt.

The impact of this event is huge. “The positive impact has began,” said Mike Limpag. “Even days before the friendly, when somebody posted a picture of the CCSC field.. the photo went viral… some were asking if the CCSC field uses artificial grass.

“With a field like this, people are suggesting that more games should be played here. Also, the Philippines is one of two countries shortlisted to host the AFC Challenge Cup game and because of what Cebu has done, some are saying that Cebu should be considered as host.. The Challenge Cup needs two stadiums, one could be the CCSC and the other, the soon-to-be finished stadium in USC.”

NIMROD. One of the key personalities of this event is Nimrod Quiñones, who commented: “This is like a dream come true for me as I have long wished for an international football event in Cebu. As a member of the CFA board, it was quite hard to put all the preparations together with only two months given to us, but several people have come forward to help us get things done. This is not just an activity of the CFA, but the whole Cebuano community. I hope that the fans would do their share of making this successful by keeping the place clean and by behaving.”

Nimrod added that several items are not allowed inside the CCSC today: Water bottles, sharp objects, lighters, matches, umbrellas, and laser pointers.

RICKY DAKAY. The man who deserves the loudest applause is Engr. Pericles Dakay (you can also call him “Doctor” as he finished a Doctorate in Engineering in the US). Ricky is a Rotarian, a family man, a civic leader, a businessman (head of the Dakay Construction), but his most important role today is as president of the CFA. All thanks to Ricky. If not for him and the new CFA Board — and that dinner talk last June — we’d be at home early tonight watching ESPN.

The Azkals arrive!

Paolo Pascual is excited. The goalkeeper of the Azkals — and a true-blooded Cebuano — calls this week a “dream come true.”

When I spoke to Paolo yesterday morning, he was in Cebu. But he wasn’t at home with his parents, doctors Joel and Chona Pascual. “We’re in Parklane Hotel where the team is staying,” he said. “Although I’m home, I have to stay with the team.”

The “team,” of course, is the most popular team that has invaded the minds and hearts of all sports lovers: the Philippine Azkals.

This week in football has never happened to Cebu before. It started with the opening of the 15th Aboitiz Cup last Sunday. That same day, a group of about 30 athletes and coaches arrived via PAL around 1:30 P.M.

Paolo Pascual is the lone home-grown Cebuano. He mentions that two others — Patrick Alcala Reichelt (who’s mom is from Alcoy) and Ray Anthony Pepito Jonsson — are also “Cebuanos.” But, since he’s the full-blooded Bisaya, everybody is asking Paolo the same question, “Where do we go?” Show me Cebu! all his teammates insist.

Upon arrival last Sunday, the team was whisked to the Aboitiz Cup opening. “Although it was rainy and muddy,” said Paolo, “we had a wonderful time. So many people, especially children, came.”

That night, they were treated to dinner by the president of the Cebu Football Association, Ricky Dakay, at The Distillery in Crossroads. Stanley Villacin was with the group.

But if we think that this trip is for sightseeing or party-going, that’s not the case. “We train at the Ateneo-Sacred Heart field. Our focus before the game is lots of training,” said Paolo.

CCSC. “It’s the best football field we’ve had at the Cebu City Sports Center,” said Ricky Ballesteros, the facility’s chieftain. Months of preparation — plus the assistance of the “grass experts” from Alta Vista and Cebu Country Club — have elevated the stadium. “We’re also lucky that the rains have been pouring,” said Ricky. “This time, the grass has really taken root. Ni gamut gyud. Green na kaayo ang field.”

Ricky expects over 7,000 spectators to flood the CCSC on Thursday. His advice? Come early. “We’re open starting 3 P.M. Also, please don’t bring your own vehicles. Ask to be dropped-off or take a taxi. This will help decongest the traffic and parking.” Although Citom will allow one-car parking on both sides of Osmeña Blvd., it’s best to lessen the number of parked cars. Or, parking at E-mall or nearby establishments is another alternative.

GRAEME. On the beauty of grass field, I got this mesage from Cebu Sports Hall of Famer Graeme Mackinnon, who’s joining us here this week:

“My lasting recollection of Cebu City Sports Center was that it sat firmly in the too hard basket. No one wanted to do anything to upgrade it. It was a dangerous dust bowl and needed political will to renovate and maintain it. Or did it?

“Maybe it needed the phenom that is the AZKALS and the promise of international football to spark Cebu from its lethargy. Led by the vision of Ricky Dakay, the CFA has transformed the dust bowl into an oasis. But is this transformation just a mirage? The complex has now been upgraded and handed to the current administration on a silver platter.

“With what I saw on Monday night, I was blown away with pride at the transformation. I hope the transformation will not be blown away due to a lack of vision. The game with Singapore will be fiesta-like and something Cebuanos will be proud of. But please don’t make it a one-off and put the CCSC back in the too hard basket.”

AYALA CENTER. I also received an e-mail from Ayala Center Cebu’s marketing executive Wilma Entera on the meet-and-greet. Said Wilma:

“PUMA brings the Azkals to Ayala Center. For those who can buy at least P1,500 worth of PUMA items, they will be given a poster that the Azkals members can sign (with a photo-op) at 1PM at the Activity Center. The following will be there: Eduard Sacapaño, Roel Gener, Jason Sabio, Nestorio Margarse, Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Joshua Beloya, Chris Greatwich and one of the Younghusbands.”

Will Jackson ‘Phil’ the void in Hollywood?

The Los Angeles Lakers have fired Mike Brown. After a disastrous start (0-8 in pre-season and 0-3 in the regular season; they’re now 2-4), the Golden Team’s glitter was tarnished. Dispensing of their head coach was the right act.

“Mike Brown was never the right coach to handle such a star-studded lineup,” said Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, whom I often consult about NBA matters.

Star-studded? Absolutely. This team possesses an A-list of superstars: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) and Steve Nash. If they were actors on the Academy Awards stage, they’d all be Oscar-winning personalities.

So, what’s wrong? “He (Brown) was supposed to be a good defensive coach, but the Lakers were failing miserably at that department,” said the young Gullas. “From the start I never liked the coaching style of Mike Brown which centered too much on one-on-one plays. On a side note, it just goes to show the greatness of LeBron James for making Mike Brown look good as carried that team to the Finals with himself and some spare parts as teammates.”

Now the question is: Who takes over? In the La La Land that is home to celebrities like Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyra Banks, Josh Groban and Kim Kardashian– there is no basketball coach that is more celebrated than Phil Jackson.

From 1989 to 1998, PJ guided MJ and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA rings. Next, he transferred to the LA Lakers and gifted them with five NBA trophies. His 11 NBA titles are the most of any coach — besting the previous record of Red Auerbach. It can be argued that Phil Jackson is one of the — if not THE — greatest basketball coach of all time. As an addendum: prior to coaching, the 6-foot-8 Jackson won two NBA rings (1970 and 1973) as a player for the New York Knicks. This translates to a whopping 13 NBA rings at home.

The next question is: Will Phil do a Hollywood rerun? He’s retired. He’s fishing in Montana. Twice, he’s led the Lakers. Will he return for Part III? And, he’s not that healthy, having had hip and knee replacement surgeries.

Is Phil Jackson unfit and too old – he’s now 67 – to direct his team; becoming, once again, their Steven Spielberg?

Luckily for Kobe & Co., the answer is, like the reelected president would say, “Yes He Can.” Jackson’s girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ EVP of Business Operations and the team owner’s daughter, said this in a recent radio interview:

“He’s got his energy back. As a matter of fact, I overheard him making plans to play tennis when he’s back in Montana with one of his friends. He hasn’t played tennis, I don’t think, in eight years. The knee replacement really is one of those operations that has such a high success rate. … It really is a miracle. It’s one of those things that because of Phil’s schedule he wasn’t able to take the time to get the surgery and do the rehab. Now he’s done it, and I do think he has his energy back. Now how he’s going to spend his time? I don’t know. I’m happy for him, that he’s out of pain, after watching him suffer for the last few years.”

Perfect. The Lakers — following a Hollywood script — lose their first 11 games and, after firing Mike Brown, guess who celebrity storms to rescue the sinking ship? Mr. Jackson.

But what if he declines? “The Top 5 choices would have to be Jerry Sloan, Mike D’ Antoni, Nate McMilan and the Van Gundy Brothers, Jeff and Stan,” said Gullas.

“The best choice is Jerry Sloan. His pick-and-roll offense would look great with Nash and Howard while his pick-and-pop offense would look great with Nash and Pau. I believe if it wasn’t for Jordan, Jerry Sloan would already have a championship or two. Sadly he played in an era together with the greatest basketball player of all time. If the Lakers pick Jerry Sloan, the West better watch out because the Lakers are still the best team, on paper, in the NBA.”

Conclusion: There are plenty of coaching options — but the No. 1 pick is Phil Jackson. And, given the list of superstars on his movie-set, expect the return of the Zen Master.

What’s wrong with the LA Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers is the most famous basketball team on earth. In terms of history, no other ballclub compares. Founded in 1947 as the Minneapolis Lakers, they transformed to become the “LA Lakers” starting in 1960.

Since then, the team has won 16 NBA championships and has hosted such legends as Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. From the coaching end, they’ve been led by icons Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

The Lakers are defined by one color: gold. That’s the color on their jerseys. That’s the color painted on their floor. That’s the color they often wear at the end of the NBA season: a gold medal for winning the golden NBA ring.

This 2012 – 2013 season, the residents of Los Angeles — tens of thousands of whom are our Filipino relatives — could not have been more optimistic. Why? Because they have as golden a line-up as any other NBA team.

If Miami Heat has the “Big Three” in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the LA Lakers has the “Fantastic Four” in Kobe, Pau Gasol and their two newest recruits, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Imagine a Bryant-Gasol-Nash-Howard team? They can play with four players and beat a squad with five men.

Add Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) or Antawn Jamison and you’ll have an unbeatable team. We’re looking at a 96-0 (regular season and playoff period) record!

Wait, wait. Not so fast. It turns out this all-star cast won’t score a perfect-win season.

Game 1 vs. the Dallas Mavericks? Lakers lost, 99-91. Game 2 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers? Lakers lost 116-106. Game 3 vs. their “neighbor,” the LA Clippers? I watched that on Channel 45 yesterday. Lakers lost again.

From Hollywood-like expectations, the Lakers have become Bollywood; they’ve turned-over the ball, missed easy shots, lost Steve Nash to injury in Game 3, and are now scrambling.

Yesterday, in LA v. LA, since the time that I switched on the TV set in the 2nd quarter, the Clippers led each and every minute. Gold-and-Purple was trampled by Blue-and-White.

“Being a diehard Kobe fan,” said SamSam Gullas, an astute basketball observer and the UV team manager, “I must admit that I’m shocked by the 0-3 start. I really thought they would challenge the 72-10 record set by the Chicago Bulls.”

Why this horrific start? I asked Mr. Gullas. “Maybe with Phil Jackson at the helm,” he said. “But with Mike Brown, they’re not going anywhere.”

From the highest of expectations, now the Lakers are being castigated. And this is a valid concern: Not since 34 years ago has the Lakers started 0-3.

“We’re hitting the panic button now,” said Bryant, who scored 40 yesterday. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our job. We’re not supposed to just kind of coast and just assume things are going to fix themselves. We’ve got to push at it.”

In every step of yesterday’s game, the Lakers were beaten. In fast-break points, the Clippers beat them, 21-8; in second-chance points, the same scenario: 20-7.

The Clippers player I enjoyed watching? Chris Paul. He scored 18 and dished-out 15 assists. He was all-smiles because Steve Nash was absent with a bruised left shin.

“To be remembered from now until April: The Clippers haven’t won the season series with the Lakers since 1992-93,” wrote Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times in ‘Lakers lost to Clippers, 105-95, fall to 0-3.’ He added, “In fact, they took the series one other time in the 42-year history of their franchise, when they were the Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.

“It’s only a rivalry if both teams win. It’s been pretty lopsided,” Paul said. “For us, we just wanted to come in, try to get a win in a tough environment and we did.”

Is this start a cause for concern? Absolutely. Is it time to panic and say that the Lakers can’t win this whole thing? No. Like Miami two years ago, it takes time for super heroes to work together. Let’s just hope, in tomorrow’s game vs. the Detroit Pistons, this “Fantastic Four” won’t go 0-4.

The Heart of a Champion

Sally Mae “Em-Em” Siso cried last Tuesday. We were in Puerto Princesa for the National Championships of the Palawan Pawnshop Junior Tennis, a Group 2 Philta-sanctioned event.

Em-Em, possibly the most decorated junior netter Cebu has ever produced, was in tears. Our group of nearly 30 players and parents trekked the Subterranean Underground River. But, when we arrived at the PNS tennis court where Em-Em was to play the Girls 18 final, she was told the shocking news: You lost. By default.

What?! The underground river visit was an official tournament trip. Weeks earlier, when my wife Jasmin, our daughter Jana (who joined the Girls 14/16) and I decided to go to Palawan and we invited Em-Em to join us, it was because of one major reason: We wanted to see one of the “7 New Wonders of Nature.”

We did. All-smiling. But when we arrived on-court, the joy turned to tears.

Maia Balce, the player Em-Em was to face in the final, would not agree to play.

For some reason — despite my being told the day earlier by the tournament referee, Bobby Mangunay, that Em-Em’s match was “between 3 to 4 P.M.” — the official print-out read “3 P.M.”

We arrived on-court at 4 P.M. We pleaded. To no avail. The Balce family wouldn’t budge. Technically, yes, they’re correct. But the truth is, it was absolutely not made clear to us that the final was “3 P.M.” (Bobby Mangunay, in fairness to him when he wrote ‘3 P.M.,’ never imagined that one side would insist on a default — especially a final.)

The travel time from the underground river to tennis court was nearly two hours. Had we known, no way would we have agreed, in the first place, on the 3 P.M. schedule. Plus, almost 30 of us (players and parents) joined the excursion — including the tournament organizer himself, Pet Santos, and his family.

In our entire trip, we never got a single call or text message about the impending 3 P.M. schedule. Plus — and this is important — in the previous five days, almost all matches got delayed anyway. I’m sure Maia, in her previous games, never got one match played on time — because there were only three courts to accommodate a record 220 entries. Flexibility of schedule transpired throughout the whole tournament — and so the same thing for the final, right?

But, no. The Balces — led by her mom, Pia, and Maia’s coach, Czarina Arevalo — would not relent.

I tried calling Maia’s dad, Boboy, in Manila. After 31 missed calls and several text messages, no response. He wouldn’t answer. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk to me. (During that time, I pleaded with Pia: kindly ask Boboy to take my calls — it’s the least he can do; to show some courtesy by speaking to me.)

Meanwhile, Em-Em was crying. Also in shock were all the spectators. This wasn’t the first round or second round — it was the final. Of the premier category: the Girls 18. Imagine not playing the final! (It’s not like the Balces were rushing to go to the airport — their flight was 23 hours later… at 3 P.M. the next day! More on that below..)

PLEASE, PLEASE… PLAY. Cherry Pie Picache, the celebrity mom who joined us the whole week (including the underground river trip), was in disbelief. Why can’t they just play? (The night before, when the Iloilo and Kalibo contingents arrived late from the same trek — their opponents adjusted and agreed to play. I know Bong Martin allowed Jake to play. The super-talented Eala children, Mico and Alexandra — they, too, played the doubles.)

Everybody pleaded with the Balces, including tournament referee Bobby Mangunay. He told the dad that, in so many past occasions, they’d request for favors (scheduling, etc). Now, for the first time, he was asking for a favor: play the final. Still, the Balces said no.

Bobby’s reply: “Delete my number!”

Why wouldn’t Maia play? Simple. Had the opponent been lower-ranked and easy-to-beat, I’m sure they would have agreed. But Em-Em Siso? Consider this: In the Girls 16 semis, Maia lost to Alexie Santos, 6-3, 7-6. Alexie? She was handily beaten by Em-Em, 6-2, 6-0. Get the point?

“We want the points.” That’s what coach Czarina explained to me. You know what the difference is in Philta points? The champion receives 120 while the runner-up gets 100. A mere 20 points!

Em-Em Siso doesn’t need points. The reason why we brought Em-Em along was because this was her “swan-song” event. After a decade of holding trophies and representing the Philippines, this was her final tournament. Yes, her very last. By January 1, Em-Em will no longer be eligible to join the juniors. She doesn’t care about the points. She just wanted to play.

FINALLY, WE TALK. Boboy finally calls! It was around 7:30 P.M. And it had to take another side incident — when, during the mini two-point side event, Maia was booed by the Visayan contingent and un-called for comments (not by me) were said and her mom stormed the court to confront me (that’s another story!).

Boboy and I got into a lengthy conversation, me explaining every reason why the final should be played (we didn’t know exact time of match; we were in a trip with 30 others; in all matches the previous days, none followed the schedule).

I told Boboy that Maia not playing the final would actually not do her good. Wasn’t this trip to give his daughter more experience? Then why not play! And what kind of a victory will it be? A hollow, meaningless one?

Finally, before our talk ended, I made a request, “Boy, you know what, let’s just play the final first thing tomorrow..  this will put to rest this issue. It’s just a game. It’s just one match.”

Boboy promised to talk to his wife and daughter and said he’ll get back to me. I didn’t hear from him again that night.

At 6:35 A.M. the next day, he calls. We talk. He said that he tried asking Maia to play but that they’ve scheduled a visit to a beach resort.

Can’t they just play the match at 8 A.M. so this issue will be settled? I asked.

AIRPLANE GAME. Another funny addition to this telenova-like story? The Balces were not in a hurry to catch a flight. Their flight back to Manila was 3 P.M. — the next day! In fact, the original schedule of the final was Wednesday morning — until it was moved to Tuesday afternoon. And so there was plenty of time to play the final.

Our flight back to Cebu? It was 11:30 A.M. yesterday, Wednesday. I told Boboy that Em-Em and Maia could still play at 8 A.M. Let’s settle this issue, I requested.

Guess what he later told Bobby Mangunay, the tournament referee: Can Maia and Em-Em play at 12 noon, Wednesday?

Unbelievable. I told Boboy in our next conversation, “What do you want us to do, play in the airplane?”

That’s not all. They came up with another preposterous idea: Maia will go to the court around 11 A.M. (remember, our flight was at 11:30), play a few points with Em-Em and ask to be defaulted.

To “diffuse” the issue, now they wanted Em-Em to win! Crazy. Can you believe that?

Obviously, they don’t know who Sally Mae Siso is. Em-Em is a two-time awardee of Cebu’s “Athlete of the Year.” These awards are given by the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) in cooperation with San Miguel Brewery. This is the most prestigious sports award in the entire island of Cebu. Who receives this once-a-year recognition? The likes of Donnie Nietes (the world champ) and Gerry Peñalosa (another boxing champ). In Cebu, Em-Em Siso is that highly-regarded.

Also, her family story — she and her two siblings, Bernardine (Niño) and Sally Dine, were taught by their dad, Dino, who shockingly passed-away when Em-Em was only 12 years old — is heart-wrenching.

Back to Palawan… Em-em didn’t need the trophy. She has over 100 trophies and medals at home! That’s no joke. Now they want Maia to default? To appease her? Unbelievable suggestion. All Em-Em and the spectators wanted was for the Girls 18 final to be played.

AGASSI. This controversy reminds me of a story that I read many years back. In the 1994 Lipton Championships, Pete Sampras was scheduled to meet Andre Agassi in the final. Unfortunately, Sampras ate something bad the night before and woke up feeling sick. He needed an IV injection for 90 minutes prior to the final. At their appointed time to play, Sampras was unwell and not ready.

Agassi won! By walkover. The trophy was his! The prize money — $242,000; a large, large amount back in 1994 — was his. Yehey!

But, wait. No. Agassi analyzed the situation. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the right thing to do. He didn’t want a hollow victory. He didn’t want to win without sweating. He wanted to win on the proper venue: on court.

You know what Agassi did? He waited. He waited until Sampras recovered an extra hour before they played. And you know what?

Agassi lost. But he gained the respect of the entire sporting world and, most of all, of his arch-rival, Sampras, who said, “He showed me a lot of class, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Why did Agassi agree to wait? It was the right thing to do. It’s called Sportsmanship.

“If I can’t beat the best player in the world,” said Agassi. “I don’t deserve the trophy.”

DEAR FELLOW PARENTS,

In such a highly-competitive sports world for our children, we’re often faced with two scenarios.

One screams “VICTORY-AT-ALL-COSTS.”

True, we win. True, we claim the trophy. True, we gain points. But at what cost? At the cost of damaging friendships and relationships? When we’re but a small community of families who’ll often meet? At the cost of damaging our reputation… with dozens of others talking behind our backs, asking why we didn’t play? This victory is hollow. It’s empty. It’s meaningless.

On the other hand is the scenario called “DOING THE RIGHT THING.”

Given the circumstances last Tuesday — us explaining that we weren’t properly informed of the schedule; us going with 30 others on an official trip; and knowing well that the schedules were all flexible in the past days — was it the right thing not to play the final?

To those who know me in the tennis community, they know that — for 20+ years since I’ve been involved with tennis in Cebu… as Philta RVP for many years and as one of the organizers (with Randy Villanueva) of last year’s two Davis Cup ties in Lapu-Lapu City — that I’ve always been friendly, fair, good and just. You can ask anyone. I dislike putting people down. That’s not my style and never will be. But what happened in Palawan, to my mind, should be explained and known by all. I hope that, as parents, we understand this: In our pursuit of win-win-win, we do not become too selfish and callous; we do not become heartless.

FINALLY… this story will not end without another parang-telenova twist. Would you believe that, of the 130+ children who joined, only two families stayed in the same Tropical Sun Inn Hotel.

Guess who? The Pages and Balce families. And so, for the past six days, we’d see each other at the lobby, smile, chit-chat; often having our breakfasts just a few feet apart.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, as we were about to rush to the airport, Em-Em Siso and my daughter Jana — despite our shouts to rush to the van — just had to do a final act that would make them feel better. They knocked on Czarina’s room.

Em-Em, in all kindness, said “Coach, aalis na kami.” She shook Czarina’s hand. And, as she and Jana were leaving, Em-em added, saying, “Pakisabi na rin kay Maia na ba-bay at saka sa Mama nya rin.” Despite her crying the entire night before, Em-Em had the heart to bid them goodbye. Now that’s what I call the heart of a champion.

Palawan!

At Ka Lui with Roland So and family and Mayor Edward Hagedorn

Em-Em and Jana (left-most) with the So sisters: Mariel, Camille and Mia

Binoy Hitosis, Francis Lambayan, Alexie Santos, Em-Em Siso, tournament organizer Pet Santos, Cai Hitosis, Jana Pages and Noynoy Seno

Smile!

The Arguelles, Siso and Pages families on the way to the UR!

With super-nice and friendly tennis parent, Cherry Pie Picache

That’s Cherry Pie (center) with the Trillanes and Santos families

Cai, Alexie, Jana, Kara Salimbangon and Em-Em

Go, Chief Lambayan!

Bobby Castro, the owner of Palawan Pawnshop, poses with Em-Em and Jana (who slipped, twisted her ankle and had to default at 1-0 her Girls 14 final match with Alexie Santos)

About to enter the bat cave!

The Girls 18 doubles champions!

With Em-Em Siso, our week-long “adopted daughter” and the “People’s Champ!”

Pacman-Marquez 4: Who’s interested?

PUERTO PRINCESA–It’s our first time in Palawan, the home of the longest navigable underground river in the world. We arrived last Friday. While Typhoon Ofel left Cebu and it was sunny in Mactan, the skies darkened upon arrival in Puerto Princesa. It rained the entire Friday. Yesterday was the opposite: clear blue skies engulfed this island of blue seas.

I’m accompanied by three girls — Jasmin, our daughter Jana, and top junior netter Sally Mae “Em-Em” Siso. We’re here for the national championships of the Palawan Pawnshop Junior Tennis — a Group 2 major event that has brought together 220 entries from all over the archipelago.

Last Friday, we had dinner at La Terrasse with Roland So. No, he’s not the husband of Michelle — he’s the former No. 1 player who’s also here as a tennis parent. With his wife Tina, he brought along three of their six children: Camille, Mia and Mariel.

Perfectly-timed during the semestral break, we’re here not just for tennis but also to visit some of the country’s most famous tourist spots: the underground river, the fireflies sanctuary, Honda Bay, the crocodile farm… (Since we’re stuck in Puerto P., we can’t visit the other prominent yet faraway sites: Coron, El Nido, Tubbataha Reef.)

We’re most excited, of course, with trekking the 8.2-km. underground river that is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as (thanks to the online votes of the internet-savvy Pinoys) one of the world’s “New 7 Wonders of Nature.”

A bit of scary news, though. Upon arrival here, we were told of a disease. The name: “Come-back, come-back!”

UFC. I got plenty of feedback from last Thursday’s “UFC beats boxing” column and I’d like to share one, coming from a former Class-A tennis player and golfer.

Nick Torres said: “Hi John! AMEN to your column today! I’ve been trying to educate Bidoy (Aldeguer) about the UFC because he’s puzzled why it’s so popular. I told him everything you wrote plus the genuine respect 99% of the fighters have for each other plus the ‘Countdown’ and ‘Ultimate Fighter’ series, etc. I’m sure you know at least 30 UFC fighters on sight and know their backgrounds, fighting style, and always have a sentimental favorite for every single fight, right? You can’t say the same for boxing unless your family name is Aldeguer, Villamor, Gorres, etc.”

PACMAN. This is hard to believe. And it’s a sign. Manny Pacquiao, with just six weeks to go before his Dec. 8 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, is absent. He’s not found in the news. There’s Donaire. There’s ALA. But there’s hardly any Pacman. This is surprising. Maybe the public is bored and weary of his 4th encounter vs. Marquez? Whatever the cause, the buzz surrounding Pacman is no longer the same. My advice for our modern-day hero? Pummel the Mexican, knock-him-out and then, before a worldwide audience, announce your retirement. Pacman’s skills, as we’ve witnessed in the past few fights, is waning. It’s time to end the career of the greatest Pinoy athlete ever.

LATE ARRIVAL. It was a long and tiresome trip for Team Visayas. En route to the 4th National Milo Little Olympics, the delegation’s departure from Cebu got delayed by one day. They arrived in Manila on Oct. 19 (Friday) and had to be ferried straight to the Marikina Sports Park for the Opening Ceremony. They finally landed at the Robinsdale Hotel, all tired and travel-weary, past 9 P.M. – with games scheduled early the next day. That was the delay going to Manila.

Coming home was even worse. After the Milo Olympics finished last Sunday, the Visayas Team was supposed to leave Manila last Monday. Instead — no thanks to Typhoon Ofel — they left four days later, sleeping in the boat as it got stuck in the pier. They finally arrived in Cebu only yesterday noon!

CEBU MARATHON. The online registration of the event slated this January 13, 2013 is now on-going. Register now… www.cebumarathon.com

In today’s fight, UFC beats boxing

Jasmin hates it! Blood gushes out. Elbows strike. Bones crack. Arms strangle the neck. Faces turn tomato-red. Kicks fly and snap the jaw. Shoulders get dislocated.

For my wife – whose business, the 47-year-old Centurion Security Agency, involves guns and strong men — the UFC is all-too-bloody. What Jasmin despises the most? “When they’re on the floor, hugging each other!” she says. “Not a pretty sight… watching two men embrace!”

Ha-ha-ha. But I enjoy the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Every time it’s broadcasted on SkyCable, I get stuck. It wasn’t always this way. Though I’ve been a boxing fan ever since the days of Hagler, Leonard and Duran, when I started watching mixed martial arts (MMA) on Balls TV a few years ago, I’d cringe. It was animalistic. Barbarous. My thinking: They’re going to kill each other! Someday, sometime, someone’s going to die from this sport! But, as Balls TV showed more coverage and as I watched St-Pierre and Silva and Machida and Jon “Bones” Jones, I watched more and more.

Jones

UFC is fantastic. It’s fast. It’s not as boring as the patsy jabs and uppercuts of boxing — there are dozens of styles ranging from muay-thai to jiu-jitsu to karate. And, while I used to think that MMA was much, much more violent than boxing, the opposite may be true: because the fight gets stopped quickly, the damage caused on one’s brain, for example, (after repeated pounding) is less.

For the first time — last January in URCC Cebu 7: Bakbakan Na! — I watched an MMA fight live. It was at the CICC. In an article I wrote days after, I commented: “With its ruthlessness and savagery, it makes boxing look like a ballet recital… boxing is noisy and full of energy—but you ought to see the URCC… It’s today’s Gladiator. Heavy metal music blasts off the speakers. A live band head-bangs. Everybody.. drinks beer… the spectators… they’re younger, wilder, louder and more sadistic than the ALA Boxing audience.”

My verdict? Excluding, of course, Manny Pacquiao and our Cebuano boxers from ALA, I choose to watch UFC over boxing. There’s a major fight almost each week. Last week it was Silva vs. Bonnar; a few weeks later it’s St-Pierre inside the Octagon and, weeks after, there’s Henderson-Diaz and, next, Dos Santos – Velasquez.

UFC is easy to follow. After UFC 218, there’s 219… and so forth. There are no WBOs or WBCs or IBF or WBA. There’s no confusion. Light heavyweight champion? There’s only one: Jon Jones. Middleweight champ? Anderson Silva. Welterweight? Georges St-Pierre, the friend of Pacman who also trained under Freddie Roach.

GSP

Boxing? Too many names, too many divisions, too many champions. Don’t you get confused? (Back to that trio of Jones-Silva-St-Pierre, imagine if they all somewhat met in the middle and fought? Jones against Silva or Silva-St-Pierre… that would be the greatest fight in UFC history.)

Money. That’s another reason why UFC beats boxing. Though they’re as famous as their boxing counterparts, the UFC fighters earn only hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the tens of millions by Mayweather, Pacman, etc. This thirst-for-money issue is why Money will not fight Manny. Mayweather is demanding $50 million plus-plus for one fight. Crazy.

With UFC, maybe because Dana White, the owner, has complete control over his fighters, he’s able to dictate who fights who. There are no I-won’t-fight-you-unless-I-earn-$20 million issues. It’s always “Bakbakan Na!”

Lastly, the undercards. In boxing, the undercards in Las Vegas world title fights are lousy. Everybody is focused on just the Main Event. Haven’t you noticed the empty seats in MGM Grand just 60 minutes before a Pacman fight? Nobody wants to watch the nobodies. Not in UFC where almost every undercard fight is thrilling.

My point: Boxing has to innovate. It’s the turntable (plaka) in the era of iTunes, the Hallmark cards in this age of Facebook; it’s Barry Manilow versus today’s Pit Bull.

Agony, ecstasy for AJ and the Milo Olympics

While in Metro Manila last weekend, I watched two sporting events: the 4th National Milo Little Olympics and the AJ Banal championship fight.

First, Milo. Their opening ceremony last Friday was spectacular. After Ricky Ballesteros wowed the Milo officials with his opening act here at the CCSC three years ago, the high standards have been set.

Marikina City was a superb Milo host. So was Nestle, who spared no expenses to give the best; all athletes received green shirts, jackets, bags, magazines with their names printed on it, plus nicely-crafted medals for the winners.

For tennis, our elementary and high school girls played at the Marist School. That was the same venue as football — won by our Team Visayas. For the high school girls, we defeated Luzon, NCR and Mindanao to win gold. My daughter Jana, who played singles, won her matches with impressive scores: 8-0, 8-0, 8-3. Jana’s other teammates from Bright Academy were Stephanie Kim, Shyne Villareal and Anday Alferez.

In the elementary girls, we won silver. Led by Kara Salimbangon, who won all her games, we barely lost to Mindanao in the finals. Still, a proud silver-medal achievement for the St. Benedict girls. Kudos to coach Ken Salimbangon.

Team Visayas

Gold medalists, High School

MARIKINA. The past three days, I drove all over the streets of the country’s Shoe Capital. You know what impressed me most? The bike lines. Everywhere in Marikina, there is a dedicated lane for bikers. We should adopt this!

Imagine if more people biked? In a trip to Copenhagen and Amsterdam several years back, everybody biked. There’s less pollution, less traffic and we’re all healthier. (Ask Jourdan Polotan about climbing Maria Luisa.) With the BRT project to be realized, why not include dedicated bike lanes as part of the master-plan?

MOA. It stands for Mall of Asia. It also stands for Milo’s Most Outstanding Athlete. At the SM MOA Arena, one word best describes the entertainment complex, said Rico Navarro: beautiful. Yes, it is majestic and world-class.

Our seats were soft and cushiony. When Randy Villanueva brought me a cup of beer, the seats had bottle-holders ready. A giant LCD screen with the most advanced scoreboard loomed at the center. The aircon? Colder than Cebu Coliseum’s! Imagine if, a few years after the SM Seaside City rises at the SRP, it also decides to build such an arena. Let’s hope.

BANAL. Driving for over an hour from Marikina to the Mall of Asia, I arrived past 8 P.M. Jason Pagara was next. His fight started and finished in haste. It was over in a minute as the enemy quit.

Boom-Boom Bautista fought next. Though the fight was close and a split-decision decided the outcome, it was obvious that our Boholano won. Their Round 2 slugfest was one of the best three minutes I’ve witnessed. Still, despite the win, it wasn’t an overly remarkable or superb result. Boom-Boom defeated the Mexican but can he win a rematch vs. Daniel Ponce de Leon?

With Banal vs. Sor Singyu, from rounds 1 to 8, it was entertaining. No one backed off. AJ attacked. The Thai stepped forward. When AJ trapped him against the ropes, Sor Singyu shielded himself then unleashed his own retaliatory barrage. Wallops on the head were countered with pummels to the abdomen. AJ’s right upper eye bled. Low blows were repeatedly thrown by AJ. Up until the 9th round, I thought AJ led the scorecards. I thought it would end in the 12th without any KOs. But, like I was at the Cebu Coliseum four years ago to witness AJ’s shocking surrender, the same shocking end followed last Saturday.

Lack of training? Lack of stamina? Of heart? Prior to Round 9, AJ didn’t look beaten. He was exchanging strikes with punches. He looked alright. Then again, we didn’t know what his mind and body felt. Sadly, in the 9th, the worst-scenario moments arrived: AJ was punished, leaned against the ropes, almost fell off the ring in what should have been a knock-down; then, seconds later, after a succession of blows, AJ collapsed. He stood up but his eyes said it all: No Mas.

Open Water Swimming

Guy Concepcion, one of the chief architects of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 as Race Director, sent me an email. Guy is organizing a couple of swim events called the Swim Masters Series. (For more info, please go to www.sportsmgt.ph.) Here are a few details:

First, the Speedo 3.5.8 Open Water Race in Anilao, Batangas (November 4). Race Distances are 3k, 5k, and 8k.

Plus, the Swim Masters Series at the Village Sports Club, BF Homes, Paranaque (November 10).

Various events of all strokes (50m, 100m) for the following age-groups:  20-24, 25-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-above.

“Open Water is already an Olympic-sport, the 10k distance,” said Guy. “It is quite popular outside the Philippines already — remember I joined a race last April in Israel? We should really stage more open water events locally. We do have great waters in our country, Cebu especially. One day there should already be a Filipino Open Water Olympian. We just have to get started with organizing events. As for triathletes, these open water races are great opportunities to improve their swim leg.”

“Masters Swimming is even a more popular phenomenon all over the world. The FINA World Masters Championship usually attracts 9000 participants. I’ve actually set my sights for the 2014 World Masters swimming championship in Montreal, Canada. If runners have their Sunday races, fitness swimmers should have their fun pool races too, right?”

For more information, visit www.sportsmgt.ph.

Jed Olivarez

Jed with Dato Patrick Liew, the president of the Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association

Another junior standout and future Philippine men’s tennis star is Eric Olivarez, Jr. Nicknamed “Jed,” I had the chance for two weeks to watch him play in two Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) Under-14 tournaments in Malaysia. Wow.

Jed won the singles crown in Kuching. He also won the doubles title there. The following week, he bested the top Asians to win in Kota Kinabalu. And, to top all that, he won the KK doubles crown. It was a four-for-four record for the 14-year-old Jed. Amazing. It was the first time in Philippine history that a Pinoy went undefeated in singles and doubles in two straight international events.

Three weeks after, Jed joined us here in Cebu for the Babolat Junior Championships. He entered the Boys 16 and Boys 18 categories — battling players two- and four-years older than him. The result? The same. Jed went undefeated to win both titles in the Group 2 Philta-sanctioned tournament.

The young Olivarez comes from an illustrious tennis family. His grandfather, Dr. Pablo Olivarez, was a long-time president of the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta). His uncle, Congressman Edwin Olivarez, is the current Philta president. His aunties, Eva and Edna, are some of the country’s most prominent former champions; as are Jed’s cousins, all champions — from Tamitha Nguyen to the Orteza sisters, Katrina and Isabella.

Jed’s biggest fans? Of course, his dad, Parañaque City Councilor Eric Olivarez, and his mom, Aileen, whom we got to know well during their recent Cebu visit. Jed is coached by one of the nicest (and funniest) coaches you can meet, Bobby Esquivel, an astute and sharp tennis tactician (I saw that for myself in Malaysia).

And the best part of all this? Jed is such a humble and quiet person, never bragging about his amazing accomplishments. I watched his match point in Kuching against the Japanese player (Daisuke) and, after winning the championship/last point, he simply nodded his head and smiled a shy grin. No in-your-face fist pumps. No extra-loud chest-bumping. No bragging.

Jed, at such a young age, is already a classy act. The Philippines is looking forward to a bright tennis future for the young Olivarez. Good luck, Jed!

Our island-hopping trip in Kota Kinabalu (from left: John, Jana, Jasmin, Jed and coach Bobby Esquivel)

The Kuching finalists: Daisuke Sumizawa with Jed Olivarez

Jurence Mendoza

Got this message from my good friend Roland So, our former No.1 tennis (and Davis Cup) player. Amazing results thus far for Jurence:

The country’s top junior netter, Jurence Zosimo G. Mendoza, 16 years old and a native of Olongapo City, recently won in 2 international junior tennis championships.
He won the singles championship in the Chickeeduck Hongkong Open Junior Tennis Championships, a Grade 3 tournament, last week where he beat a Swiss opponent.  He was runner-up in singles and champion in doubles in China Junior 15 – Xiamen, a Grade 2 tournament which was held last September.  As a result of these performances, he is now ranked no. 94th best junior player in the world by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

More importantly, he is now the highest ranked junior player in Southeast Asia and 7th in Asia.  Prior to joining these tournaments, he trained in Thailand and Switzerland under the program of Swiss Coach Dominik Utzinger.

His local coach, Martin Misa, said Jurence is right on target for the necessary ranking to be included in the main draw of the grand slam juniors, starting with the Australian Open in January 2013.  Jurence will next compete in Grade 2 and Grade A tournaments in Japan and Korea beginning next week.

Can AJ Banal do a Pacman in Manila?

Of the hundreds of sporting events that I’ve witnessed in my life, the date “December 2004” stands out as unforgettable. It was a fight between a Thai and a Pinoy.

Eight years ago, Manny Pacquiao, then a rising star — but nowhere near his worldwide celebrity/billionaire status of today — fought a Thai named Fahsan 3K Battery. The venue was The Fort. It was open-air. Jinkee was seated behind us. With one punch, Pacquiao damaged the abdomen of 3K Battery. The Thai flew on-air in Taguig.

This Sunday, a similar occurrence will unfold. It’s in Manila. It’s a world title bout. It’s a Pinoy vs. a Thai. Can Alex John Banal duplicate Manny’s feat?

“Pungluang Sorsingyu is a very strong and experienced fighter. He only has one defeat in 43 fights and has a high 62.79 knock-out percentage. That says a lot about his strength. Also, based on his previous fights, he can take a punch.”

Those words were uttered by Michael Aldeguer, the president of ALA Promotions, who spent millions and took months to organize this event.

“This is ALA Promotions’ biggest promotion this year,” added Aldeguer. One of the reasons why this is huge is because six different nationalities are coming to fight. Usually, it’s just the Mexicans. This time, it’s six nations represented. No wonder the event is called Pinoy Pride XVII – Philippines vs. The World.

“This is also a triple championship event with Banal and Sorsingyu for the WBO World bantamweight Championship and Boom Boom and Jason Pagara’s WBO International championships for the Featherweight and Light Welterweight divisions, respectively. Lastly, this will be the inaugural boxing event at the state-of-the-art SM Mall Of Asia Arena and it will be a world championship event at that.”

True. While Ateneo beat UST in SM’s MOA Arena and Lady Gaga had performed there, there had been no boxing spectacle. This Sunday will change that.

There’s a good chance I’ll watch the fight “live” this Sunday. I’m excited to visit the MOA Arena. Some friends commented that it’s nothing special. The workmanship, they said, was unlike the reported “NBA-like standards.” But others say otherwise.

“The SM MOA ARENA definitely is world-class,” Aldeguer said. “It is set-up like the Staples Center in LA and everything is electronic. It seats about 16,000 and a 20,000 capacity SRO. It has concessionaire booths all over and the seats are comfortable. Parking is not a problem; there’s an adjacent building connected by a bridge to the ARENA. World-class.”

Well, there you have it. I’ll submit my actual inspection after this weekend.

Back to AJ’s opponent, Sorsingyu’s credentials are impressive. He won 42 times and lost only once. He’s knocked out his enemies on 27 occasions. Against Filipinos, he’s won 14 times. Will AJ be next? (Fahsan 3K Battery actually defeated 22 Pinoys prior to facing Pacquiao.)

Not so fast, says Aldeguer. “AJ is very well prepared for this world championship,” said Michael. “He has been training since early this year and has fought last July to keep of the ring rust as his fight before that ended quickly in the very first round against the Mexican Hidalgo. For his training, the whole team has been very focused on all aspects like the strength and conditioning, skills training, the nutrition side of things… We can say he is very prepared.”

Banal is not the only mega-fight. Rey “Boom-Boom” Bautista also plays a starring role.

“For Boom Boom, Daniel Ruiz is a very tough and hard punching fighter,” said Aldeguer. “A fighter who can apply pressure and packs a lot of power with 19 KO’s on his resume. As for Jason Pagara, he will be facing an undefeated fighter from Barbados Miguel Antoine and any undefeated fighter cannot be taken lightly. These opponents, like Boom Boom and Jason, have likewise been training hard for these championship fights as these are quick tickets for either fighters to improve their world rankings, possibly in the top 5 of their respective divisions.”

This Sunday in Manila, it’s “Go, Cebu!”