Monthly Archives: November 2013

Eight post-fight notes on Pacquiao-Rios

1385273923000-AP-Macau-Boxing-Pacquiao-Rios-001(Photo: Vincent Yu/AP)

Firstly, if you want the best seats in the arena, write for sports. We sat 11 rows from the stage. Had we purchased those tickets, they’d be over $2,000 each. What’s amazing about being inside Ground Zero (the Media/VIP Section) is that there’s free food served: Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Garrett popcorn, sandwiches, Heinekin beer — eat and drink all you can.

TWO, Bob Arum and The Venetian Macao know how to take care of the press. While here covering the event, you get access inside the Media Room. It’s the size of Waterfront’s ballroom with free wi-fi and (again) sandwiches and ice cream. Even more, at the nearby Media Dining Room, it’s another giant ballroom where, for dinner, lunch and breakfast, we partook of salmon, steak, siomai, carved sweet ham, mussels, giant mushrooms…

We queried Dong Secuya, the internet pioneer of Cebu (he built Cebu’s first website in 1995 and runs one of the world’s top boxing sites, Philboxing.com.) We asked Dong if the reception was similar to Las Vegas; he gave a definitive “No.” There, they serve “pica-pica” and drinks. In Macau, it’s eat and drink the best Asian food until you drop.

THREE, Zou Shiming is a giant here. Diminutive at only 112-lbs., he’s the most revered Chinese boxer, a winner of two Olympic gold medals. Inside The Venetian, there’s an entire hall that showcases everything-Zou: photos, paintings, stories. He’s China’s Pacquiao.

FOUR: Wakee Salud is still in Manny’s inner circle. We saw each other here multiple times. “The security is not as tight as in Las Vegas,” Wakee told me two hours before Manny fought. Wakee was headed towards Manny’s locker room and, sure enough, when they emerged from the dugout, Wakee walked behind Chavit Singson.

FIVE, lots from Cebu here: Cebu City mayors (current) Mike Rama and (former) Tommy Osmena. Dr. Tony San Juan. Willy T. Go. Dennis Que. Rep. Samsam Gullas. Naga mayor Val Chiong. Rep. Raul del Mar. Choy Toralba. Atan Guardo, Alan Delantar, Councilor Richie Osmena. Chester Cokaliong with his friends — and many, many more from Cebu. Among the press, there’s Atty. Jingo Quijano, CDN’s sports editor Rick Gabuya, The Freeman’s sports editor Manny Villaruel and my dad Bunny. I counted two boxing judges (Edward Ligas and Salven Lagumbay) and referee (Atty. Danrex Tapdasan) from Cebu.

SIX: To the younger ones who watched fight, you must have noticed Manny’s entrance song. It wasn’t his personal hit or one from a Pinoy artist but Katy Perry’s song “Roar.” Part of the lyrics go: “You held me down, but I got up; Already brushing off the dust; You hear my voice, you hear that sound; Like thunder gonna shake the ground; You held me down, but I got up; Get ready cause I’ve had enough; I see it all, I see it now… I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire; Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar…”

SEVEN: This was “Lutong Macau.” No, it doesn’t mean that this fight was fixed or rigged. It means that “gi luto ug gi-kaon si Rios.” In our talks here, here’s the consensus: 1) Rios was ideal for Manny at this point because he was easy. He’s slow, lacks power, doesn’t have top-level pedigree. 2) Manny needed this (“stepping stone”) win. Badly. 3) MP was cautious. It’s obvious the memory of that Marquez KO still lingers. Last Sunday while he was clearly leading, why take unnecessary risks? 4) There will be more MP fights in Macau. Why? Because of the overflowing Pinoy crowd. On one elevator ride, a companion of Manny from GenSan confided that Manny flew in 500 people from Gensan!

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EIGHT: You and I saw what we’ve long known: Manny no longer wears the rosary and he doesn’t make the sign of the cross. I’m a devout Catholic and I don’t want to meddle into a debate on this sensitive topic other than to say that, no doubt and confirmed by everybody, he’s a reformed and honest-to-goodness Christian. As I listened for myself in the exclusive press conference, he repeatedly thanked God above all. “This is not about me,” he said. “I’m just a boxer. This is my job. All glory to God.” Amen.

No Boom! as Bam Bam turns punching bag

pacquiao-rios-2(AFP)

MACAU — Seated on Row 11 or about 50 feet away, our eyes witnessed what the entire world witnessed: Manny Pacquiao’s mission was not to win by knockout but simply to win. After two losses with the last one coming via a nightmarish KO, he didn’t have to kill Brandon Rios; he simply had to kill him softly.

“I backed-off a little bit,” Manny admitted, referring to that 12th round when he could have attacked for a Ricky Hatton-like demolition job. But, no; he was cautious. “I don’t want to be careless. I had to be careful.” These were his exact words when we listened to him in person during the post-fight interview at The Venetian Ballroom. “Boxing,” he added, “is not about killing each other.”

God-fearing. Reformed. Away from his old and evil ways. Compassionate and now a truthful family man and renewed Christian, Manny is the same devastating Mike Tyson-type aggressor but no longer the heartless and savage animal who bloodied Cotto and brutalized Margarito.

COTAI ARENA. Yesterday, we arrived inside the Cotai Arena at 8 a.m. to listen to the ring announcer mention the name “Harmonito de la Torre.” Hailing from Gen. Santos City, we spent time with our fellow Pinoy last Sunday. During our buffet lunch together (less than 24 hours prior to his fight), Harmonito was so confident that he gobbled-up a plateful of food, including chocolate cate. No worries; yesterday, he feasted on opponent Jason Butar-Butar in impressive fashion.

From 8 a.m. until nearly 2 p.m., we took our positions inside the Cotai Arena. There were a total of nine undercard bouts; apart from De La Torre, the super welterweight victory also went to another Pinoy, Dan Nazareno.

One more impressive fighter was Rex Tso. He’s the top boxer of Hong Kong and he’s managed/trained by Aljoe Jaro (who hails from, as his family name explains, Jaro in Iloilo). Aljoe’s assistant is also Bisaya, the former boxer Dong Mahinay.

What’s the experience like being part of the biggest boxing event of Asia? It’s loud. It’s Las Vegas implanted in Macau. It’s theatrical. It’s entertainment.

Prior to Manny and Bam-Bam climbing the ring, lots of action (possibly not broadcasted on TV) was shown, including the Cotai dancers, about a dozen of them clad in sexy red and blue two-piece outfits (and wearing boxing gloves), dancing The Harlem Shake.

Erap danced, too. Ha-ha. Not, not on stage. But, from where we sat, I saw him enter the VIP entrance where he was escorted to the front pew. David Beckham, as you saw on TV, watched the bout. While Paris Hilton and Apl.de.Ap collected plenty of applause when Michael Buffer mentioned their names, it was Beckham who drew an almost Pacquiao-like praise. This is how much China loves football. (Here in The Venetian, there’s a giant store of Beckham’s former team, Manchester United.)

dad jingoBunny Pages and Jingo Quijano

CROWD. The spectators inside the coliseum — plenty of Filipinos and many hailing from Hong Kong and mainland China — were 90+ percent pro-Manny. Each time the giant LED screens flashed Rios’ face, the crowd booed. When Manny was shown — often flashing his charismatic smile — we shouted the opposite: MAN-NY! MAN-NY! MANY-NY!

This chant was repeated in each round. When the Filipino congressman would pummel the American boxer, we’d echo his first name. I’ve watched a few grand sporting moments — the Beijing Olympics and US Open tennis, to name two — but nothing compares to the electrifying atmosphere that we experienced yesterday noon. It’s because Manny, like us, is Pinoy. It’s because we’re in this continent/venue surrounded by fellow Asians. It’s because he could be a “tsamba” (Marquez-like) punch away from retiring. It’s hard to print on paper but the energy and hearts of the Filipino majority (among the 13,200 in attendance) seemed to empower Manny and overpower Brandon.

Overpowered? Absolutely. Rios was a mismatch. The only time he scored punches was when they clinched and he repeatedly (and in an almost-cheating way) punched away. Other than that, he wasn’t Bam Bam — he was a (Punching) Bag Bag.

Weighing in on the weigh-in

MACAU — Michael Buffer kept on repeating the words: “This is the biggest boxing event EVER here on the Asian continent!”

Starring the greatest martial artist since Bruce Lee — Manny Pacquiao — here in Asia’s Las Vegas, it can’t get any bigger than this. Roy Jones, Jr. Bob Arum. Larry Merchant. The entire HBO Boxing entourage. The world’s boxing media. They’re all here. Live. To cover what promises to be a blockbuster of a Sunday.

Yesterday morning at 7:30, the preeminent Emcee of Boxing (Buffer) welcomed the Cotai Arena crowd in The Venetian as lights circled the darkened stadium. Getting a first look inside the coliseum, the Cotai Arena is first-class; each seat is cushioned and this 15,000-seater complex, though huge, is not as large as, say, the Araneta Coliseum.

The Official Weigh-in happened fast. One boxer after another was called. Trainers jumped onstage. Bob Arum walked calmly. My father, Bunny, and I were seated at the left wing, about 50 feet away. We were stationed two rows in front of Bobby Pacquiao and right beside the opening where the boxers would emerge. Covered by a tall black curtain, we could see a glimpse of The Square: the boxing ring that will take centerstage today.

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Before Pacman stepped out to public view, we saw him emerging from the dugout. Buboy & Bodyguards swamped MP. On stage was fellow Cebuano Salven Lagumbay, wearing a black suit with the WBO logo. Salven would jointly hold a shirt with Manny for the TV to broadcast, promoting their project to help victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

I’m not sure if you heard it on TV but Brandon Rios was jeered. The Filipino contingent here is in full strength. BOOO! BOOO! This chant against Rios reverberated throughout the stadium. As Macau is just nearby, this was a thunderous precedent of what was to come today: thousands of Pinoys are here, all throats ready for the scream.

A funny chant? CHAVIT! CHAVIT! As if to mock Manny’s buddy who never fails to step right behind/beside him to get the best TV footage, Chavit Singson transforms into Manny’s magnet when onstage. The crowd echoed his name and we all laughed. Politico gyud.

PARA SA TACLOBAN! one man screamed. Amidst the loud booming music (which included one inspiring and goosebumps-inducing Pinoy song), a Filipino shouted to catch Pacman’s attention. He didn’t hear the chant but he looked our way when the Philippine flag was waved.

A few meters beside us was the temporary stage built for the HBO newscasters. These men we see on TV (Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, Merchant) were doing commentary. One guest they invited was familiar: Dyan Castillejo. On worldwide TV, she talked about her fellow Pinoy. An amusing story: while preparing for Dyan to be interviewed, she was briefed by the HBO staff — including giving her specific advice on how to properly hold the microphone (she was holding it too high); my dad and I smiled because our veteran newscaster was still being given tips — but, of course, this was HBO.

No firewords erupted yesterday. No punches. No pre-fight The Clash (Roach and Ariza). It was all formal and quick. Too fast that, by 7:50, Manny and Brandon were finished. They lingered for a few more interviews before exiting by 8. In 30 minutes, zoom, the much-hyped affair was done.

NOTES. Quinito Henson, in our talk after, said that “parang piga si” Rios. He meant to say that he looked too dehydrated. Quinito said that Rios gulped two Gatorades right after stepping the scales. This is bad. Rios might reach 160 when he enters the ring today. As for Manny’s 145 lbs. weight yesterday, it was ideal. He didn’t have to starve.

“Grabe ang ka-on ni Manny last night,” said Rep. Samsam Gullas, whom we also saw. Together with three of his mayors, Samsam visited Manny’s suite in The Venetian the other night at 8:30.

FIGHT. Interviewing dozens of experts here, if Rios continues his usual stance of going forward, playing offense, and not offering much defense, this clash will be highly-exciting — and very quick, possibly ending before Rd. 7.

Before Manny, it’s David in Macau

MACAU — If last weekend the 60th Macau Grand Prix was raced in this Chinese territory and, next week, on Dec. 1, running shoes will trample the streets with the Macau Marathon, this weekend it’s all about one sport: Boxing.

My father Bunny and I arrived here at 11:20 a.m. yesterday. Taking the 6 a.m. Cebu Pacific flight from Mactan, as soon as we landed in Hong Kong, we disembarked to ride the 50-minute Turbo Jet fastcraft that torpedoed towards Macau.

The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel is splashed with everything Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios. On board the free bus service, video footages were on display; before entering this immense $2.4 billion edifice, gigantic billboards adorned the entrances.

Inside, as we entered the Media Room, dozens of journalists huddled around one American: Freddie. Relaxed while seated and speaking in a calm tone, Freddie Roach wasn’t the combative man that he was two mornings ago when “The Clash in Cotai” erupted — meaning his clash with Ariza and Garcia.

“It won’t happen again,” Roach said, referring to that melee. “It’s not worth it.” Donning a red Nike shirt and white Nike cap that sat as umbrella for his black spectacles, Roach confided the secret that we all know: Manny has to win. Period. No more fourth chances.

“He (Manny) knows he has to be impressive in this fight,” said Roach. “He came from two losses. People are questioning him. Others would have been finished after that knockout loss (to Marquez).” Ever the confident confidante, Roach expects nothing but a KO.

While the guru was speaking, in walks this man whose smile is forever plastered in his jolly, child-like, always-rosy-cheeks face. It was Bob Arum. Nobody noticed. Everyone was focused on Roach. Clad in simple polo shirt and donning New Balance sneakers, the 81-year-old doesn’t look 81. To me, he’s a dozen years younger. With him sneaking from behind the reporters as if he stood as an ordinary spectator — and not the decades-long promoter whose clients included Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard — my dad and I took the chance. We alternated snapping photos with Mr. Arum as the promoter snuck his arms around us if we had been long-time friends.

dad arumBob and Bunny

V GYM. I got the chance, after lunch, to do a 30-minute stationary bike ride exercise inside the hotel’s V Gym. Thousands of Filipinos work in this humongous complex; the head gym instructor hailed from Ozamiz. We made small talk. The day before, he said, Brandon Rios ran on the gym’s treadmill. The instructor spent some time talking with Ariza who confided that, in the trainer’s Bisaya words, “gi-daug-daug mi diri.” Unlike the royal treatment given to Team Pacquaio, he said, they’re not given the same type of hospitality. Maybe Ariza’s making early excuses when Bam Bam loses! The gym trainer mentioned that dozens of Hollywood celebrities have worked-out in V Gym, among them: Nicole Kidman.

DAVID. Remember, a few days ago, Manny Pacquiao quoting the “David and Goliath” story and proclaiming himself as the smaller man who would slay the giant? Manny wants to be David.

Well, another David arrived here yesterday. And he’s one of the world’s most famous footballers. David Beckham is here in Macau for the first time. He’s here to announce a joint business partnership with the Sands Resort. I got to be inside the ballroom where he spoke about his retirement, his greatest football moment (being England captain) and his shift to the world of business. (Another celebrity who’s in town is Alicia Keys. She performed last night and will perform “Set The World On Fire” concert again tonight inside Venetian. On Monday, she flies to Manila for her MOA Arena concert there.)

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WEIGH-IN. This morning will be another exciting event here: it’s when all the fighters flex their muscles and step on the scale for the-day-before-ritual. The ballroom will be jampacked as the Weigh-In is open to the public for free.

robert garciaWith Robert Garcia

Forget Pacquiao-Rios, it’s Roach vs. Ariza/Garcia

It wasn’t a stunt. It wasn’t staged. This was not something scripted or planned. It wasn’t part of Bob Arum’s official schedule for The Clash in Cotai.

At 11 a.m. yesterday, when Freddie Roach entered The Venetian gym ready for his team’s workout, he was told to get out. Furious at such a rebuke, Roach fired the opening salvo. He called Robert Garcia, the trainer of Bam Bam Rios, “You piece of s***!” Shocked at the tirade, Garcia returned verbal fire. Watching from behind, Alex Ariza joined the scuffle. He screamed at Roach, “Get the f*** out of here!”

“Throw me out! Throw me out! Make me leave! Make me leave!” the Wild Card gym owner replied. That’s when Ariza, who was Pacquiao’s conditioning guru for five years until he was fired and he transferred to the enemy’s camp, did the crazy move: He mocked Roach’s Parkinsons illness by stuttering. Insulted, Roach moved forward. Ariza threw a flying kick that slammed Roach’s chest. F-words were thrown. In the extra heat of the moment, Roach fired another barrage of words, this time, racist: “You Mexican motherf***er!”

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Manny Pacquiao, Alex Ariza

Back then…

The whole episode lasted only 69 seconds but it was horrible. Parkinsons Disease mockery. Racism. Shoving. A high-flying kick. And the most F-words you’ll hear in a single minute. I’m not sure if I’ve witnessed such animosity in any of Pacquiao’s previous fights. This started when Rios and Garcia posted a video mocking Roach with his disease. While Rios later deleted the video and apologized, the wound inside Roach’s heart never healed. This “pre-fight” was exacerbated by Alex Ariza’s departure. MP’s strength coach since 2008, Ariza boosted the Pinoy’s muscles as he moved up in weight classes, en route demolishing Hatton, De La Hoya, Cotto and Margarito. For five years, Ariza was beside Manny. Until he was fired last August. Quickly, he transfered to the Rios camp — thus intensifying the Roach-Ariza dispute.

Then yesterday happened. It was an altercation (an “Undercard” fight) waiting to happen — exactly 97 hours before Manny and Brandon step inside The Venetian for the Main Event.

Oddly, while the supporting actors have been brawling, the main Hollywood stars are friendly. I watched the HBO Face Off by Max Kellerman (it’s a 13-minute YouTube video you must see) and it’s interesting: These two guys like each other. Seated just three feet from each other’s noses, they smiled, laughed and complimented the other. Rios is forever saying the f*** word — that’s his normal talk; but there was no hatred or outrage towards Manny. None. A big part of this has got to do with the Sarangani congressman. Rep. Pacquiao is just a super nice guy. He is. Though his profession bloodies cheeks and slams ribs and deforms faces — deep inside, Manny is a good person who wants to do no harm. Rios knows this. That’s why he reciprocates by mirroring Manny’s good nature. In the HBO one-on-one, Manny’s goodness is further exemplified because he mentioned “God” so many times. Manny has changed. It is as clear as the full moon of the past couple of nights. He has become good because of his newfound faith. This is good. But whether this has softened The Boxer — whose job is to maim and destroy, contrary to God’s commands — will be a question mark.

As good as Manny is as a human being, the same nice-guy sentiment can’t be applied to Roach-Garcia-Ariza. Their incident has further whetted the public’s appetite. It’s like an appetizer. It prepares the diners (us) for the main meal. Not staged nor produced by HBO 24/7, it raises the heat (“inot ulo” kung Bisaya pa) level, all in fiery anticipation of this Sunday.

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QUOTE. From Robert Garcia: “Twice during the two episodes of ‘24/7’ I’ve heard Freddie Roach say he will ask Manny Pacquiao to retire if he loses to Brandon Rios. Well, Freddie had better buy that gold watch for Manny because the retirement party begins on Saturday night. I guarantee you this will be the last time you ever see Manny Pacquiao on an HBO Pay-Per-View.”

Odds are, Macau will be a jackpot

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This Sunday will be the third time I’ll watch Emmanuel D. Pacquiao live.

The first was nine years ago. It was an open air bout at The Fort in Taguig. Diana Zubiri and Juliana Palermo paraded on stage as ring card girls. On that December 2004 evening, Pacman unleashed a ferocious left hook that smashed Fahsan Por Thawatchai’s ribs so hard that the Thai flew on Manila airspace. Fearless, hard-charging, incredibly confident and en route to superstardom — that was Pacquiao then at 26.

The second time I saw him was upclose — literally, as I sat 10 rows away from the stage, beside Ralph Recto and Ai-Ai de las Alas. That was inside the Araneta Coliseum. Against Oscar Larios in 2006, our Pambansang Kamao was stellar but less impressive. He didn’t hammer the Mexican as hard. Nor did he put him to bed in Quezon City. The fight lasted 12 full rounds and, in the early part, Larios even staggered the usually-unshakable Gen. Santos City native, scaring us all.

Those two contests were fought on home soil. Since then, Pacquiao has fought exclusively in the Land of Barack Obama. Of his last 12 bouts, 10 of them have been in the “Sin City” where gambling collects money 24/7. Las Vegas has been Pacquiao’s home; a place of refuge where he puts opponents to sleep.

This weekend, for the first time, Manny will do battle in China. At 1.36 billion, it’s the world’s most populated nation, dwarfing its nemesis, the United States of America, by a billion residents. China is huge. In land area. In population. In economics.

Add boxing to the list. This weekend, China will be huge — in this sport of Muhammad Ali. It’s like China’s “We’ve finally arrived!” party.

MONTE CARLO OF THE ORIENT. We know Macau to be a gambling den. It’s lured high-rollers since the 1850s. But it’s only been since 2002 when the monopoly was shattered and Macau opened its doors to the entry of U.S.-based giants like Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands.

Speaking of entertainment, while plenty of gigs have been hosted by Macau — concerts (Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga), tennis matches (Agassi vs. Sampras), NBA exhibition games (prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, my brother Charlie watched the U.S. Dream Team there) — it won’t be until this weekend that a blockbuster boxing fight will transpire.

I’m sure Brandon Rios is excited. He should be. Arriving Wednesday last week in Macau, the Texas-born resident of California made sure to be jet lag-free by this weekend. He’s early. (The extra hours in Macau will give him more sightseeing time as he won’t have that luxury this Sunday if he gets pulverized.)

As for our same-blooded Pinoy, he arrived late yesterday afternoon in Macau; by private plane, of course. (Guaranteed $18 million, what’s the tiny cost of a 2.5 hour flight?)

MEDIA SCHEDULE. Sharing with you the Media Itinerary sent to us via email, tonight at The Venetian will be the official Grand Arrivals of Rios and Pacquiao. This will mark their official grand entrances; Rios entering 9 tonight while Pacquiao follows 30 minutes later.

Tomorrow, the festivities heat up. At 12 noon, it gets interesting. It’s labeled the “Zou Shi Ming Comic Exhibition Opening Ceremony.”

Who’s Zou Shi Ming? He’s China’s most successful amateur boxer ever, having won three world titles and two Olympic gold medals in the ‘08 and ‘12 Games. He’s scheduled to fight in the undercard this Sunday together with four other Chinese boxers. (Glad to report that Cebu’s very own boxing judge Salven Lagumbay will be judging the Zou Shi Ming – Juan Tozcano undercard.)

Also tomorrow is the Public Undercard Workout from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Then, scheduled at 9:30 p.m., it’s the Main Event Press Conference featuring Bob Arum and his two gladiators…

Only five mornings remain. The clock ticks and the slot machines ring in Asia’s Las Vegas. Like you, I can’t wait.

c100cf7d13f89ca5573348e15e62cfd7(Photo by Edward Wong)

London calling! It’s Nadal v. Djokovic for No. 1

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If you follow the ATP Tour of men’s tennis, then you’ll know that this week is important. The venue is England. The players number only eight. It’s the season-ending finale called the ATP World Tour Finals. Many refer to this as the “fifth Grand Slam of tennis” that’s played indoors. It’s being held at the 02 Arena in London — one of the world’s busiest where concerts rock audiences and sporting events thrill spectators.

By-invitation-only, the world’s top eight are joining. Minus hometown boy Andy Murray, who’s recovering from back surgery, the likes of Wawrinka, Gasquet, Ferrer and Berdych join the popular names of Del Potro, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.

Instead of a knock-out format like in all others (you lose one and you’re out), this week it’s round-robin play. Two groups of four are divided; the top two of each bracket advance to the semifinals.

One million six hundred thousand dollars awaits the undefeated champion. And, for the non-winners, even if you lose every single match, you’re still richer, just by showing up, by $120,000. Not bad.

The sub-plot of this mega-event is the battle for the title, “2013 World Tennis Champion.” Will it be Rafa or Novak? Last night at 10 p.m. (Phil. time), Rafa played Stan Wawrinka. If the Spaniard won, he would have clinched the year-end No. 1 spot. If he lost, Novak still has a chance.

images-1For Roger Federer fans, it’s not game-over yet for the 32-year-old Dubai resident. Though he’s amassed nearly $80 million in prize money and owns most of tennis’ records (17 slams and 302 weeks as No. 1), he’s only been victorious in one tournament this entire 2013 (Halle, on grass, in June). This is embarrassing for The Great One who’s garnered 77 total tournament career wins. Can he win one more Grand Slam title? I’m unsure. His best prospect is Wimbledon, where he’s won seven, but basing on his result this year (he crashed out in the second round), it doesn’t look good for RF.

What’s working for Federer is his good health. Unlike the injury-plagued (and five years younger) Nadal, the Swiss has hardly ever been injured. He stretches. He doesn’t grunt and grind and exert as much physically as Rafa. And as long as the cute twin girls, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, don’t pester their dad too much, Roger is expected to play for three or more Novembers.

With Nadal, what a comeback year. Out for seven months under rehabilitation, his rejuvenated and second-hand/good-as-new body wins 10 tournaments this 2013, including the French Open (which he forever owns) and the U.S. Open. Can he add the only missing piece in his storied life story, the ATP World Tour Finals, which he’s never won before?

406068Xisca Perello with Rafa

“Last year was a big miss for me,” Nadal said. “Even if I was not able to play my best a lot of times here, I really have great feelings every time I have the chance to play in this stadium.”

Will he emerge as champion this Sunday? We’ll see. But the way Djokovic has been playing of late — winning Beijing, Shanghai and Paris; 18 undefeated matches so far — I’m rooting for (though I’ve never been a huge fan of) the Serb.

On the topic of indoor tennis, I like it. If you watched the Paris Indoors last week, you’ll see the difference. Lights are dimmed. Loud music pumps the hearts of the fans. Smoke machines fumigate harmless excitement. Laser lights dance as the players prance. Unlike the sunny/sweaty drip of the outdoors, indoor tennis is cool, concert-like, captivating.

urlSpeaking of ticket prices, I checked the website and they range from P1,600 to P4,800. In the finals, it shoots up to P7,000 — but they’re sold out. That’s in London.

To us here in Cebu, the best thing is called HD TV. That’s High Definition. If you’re subsribed to it (mine’s on SkyCable; channel 702), then I need not explain further. As the saying goes, “It’s best seen, not explained.” If you love sports and can spend a little bit more on home entertainment, go HD.

Greg Slaughter: Proud to be Cebuano

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Greg towers over Manny Pacquiao as (from left) Raffy Uytiepo, Jun Migallen, John Pages, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo look on during the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards

I spoke to the No. 1 draft pick of the Philippine Basketball Association yesterday. Standing tall at 7-foot-tall, he spoke with soaring confidence.

Greg Slaughter was ecstatic. “I first dreamed of becoming a PBA player in Cebu,” said Greg. “It was in 2004 when I first watched the PBA. It was an All-Star game. From then on, I knew I wanted to be like those guys.”

Right now, Greg is one of those guys. Not just one of them — but THE number one — having been chosen first by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel. “Dream come true,” Greg added.

When we talked, he was inside a gym. Noise rebounded off the background.

“I feel really good,” Greg said. “Very happy with the new team.” I asked Greg if he had met his Ginebra teammates and it turned out that they already had a practice session. Yesterday morning at 9, one of this nation’s most popular teams gathered. For three hours, they practiced. But it wasn’t only a time to do drills; it was a moment to welcome the rookies, especially their prized star, Mr. Slaughter. (The PBA ought to be thankful that our island has produced Twin Towers in Greg and Junemar Fajardo.)

Of his hometown, Greg said, “I hope to be back in Cebu soon. But with the compressed PBA season, it might take sometime. We might play a game in Cebu. Or, if not, in-between the season.”

I asked what he misses most about Cebu and the place where he earned triple-honors (back in 2008, when he led UV to its 8th crown, Greg was the CESAFI season MVP, the All-Star MVP and the Finals MVP — an unprecedented, may-never-be-broken feat).

“Oh man, definitely my family,” said Greg, whose mom, Emma Fuentes, met his dad William here before they moved to Ohio where Greg was born. “I miss them. That’s where my family is, in Cebu.”

Greg Slaughter: Q & A with the triple MVP

Back in October of 2008, I interviewed Greg Slaughter… here’s the full article…

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Greg Slaughter (left); Sun.Star Cebu photo

OCTOBER 2008 — Less than 48 hours after leading the University of the Visayas (UV) to its eighth Cesafi basketball title, I sat down with not only the tallest person at the Ayala Center Cebu last Friday—but also the only player in Cesafi’s eight-year history to be named the season MVP, the All-Star game MVP and the Finals MVP.

Together with UV shooting guard (and his best friend) Von Lanete, who’s headed for the PBL on Tuesday to play with Harbour Centre, Greg Slaughter and I exchanged stories during lunch at Bigby’s Restaurant. Von and Greg had just finished lifting weights at the Fitness First—and were famished. And so, just between the three of us, we ordered two large plates of sandwiches, two bowls of pasta, a plateful of quesadillas and their Rack-a-bye Ribs. For nearly two hours, I queried Cebu’s 20-year-old superstar…

With UV shooting guard Von Lanete

How was your childhood? “My dad, William, met my mom, Emma (Fuentes), when he visited Cebu many years back. They got married and I was born in Ohio. My dad worked for nuclear power plants and so, when I was very young, we moved around a lot. When I was 7 years old, we relocated to Virginia… that’s where I studied and where my parents still live until today.”

How did you become so tall? “My dad is 6-foot-3. My mom’s 5’7”. So, yes, they’re tall but not super, super tall. My dad’s and mom’s relatives are not also very tall, so I don’t know… I’m just really tall.”

How big a baby were you? “I was 11-plus pounds at birth! My mom would later tell me that I was the second-biggest baby ever born in that hospital.”

At what age did you reach 6 feet tall?
“When I was 12. I was, obviously, always the tallest in school. And when I finally started playing serious basketball at the age of 15, I was 6-foot-6.”

Since you’re only 20 years old, you think you’ll grow that one extra inch to be 7-feet-tall? “Well, when I wear these (looking at his black adidas shoes), I’m over 7-feet-tall. But, without shoes, I should be a little over 6’11.” But, yeah, I hope to be a 7-footer.”

When you fully stretch your arms, how near the basketball ring are you? “Maybe 8 inches away from the ring. I can tap the backboard and grip the middle of the net. So it’s just a few inches of jumping then I’m on the ring.”

Apart from basketball, what other sports did you play as a child? “Fencing. My dad was into fencing when I was young and I took up the sport. I had this big advantage because of my height and, especially, my reach. I’d fully stretch my arm and it would be difficult for opponents to hit me. That was fun.”

I watched you play Cesafi last year and found you moving awkwardly. How did you improve so much in 12 months? “I practiced everyday. We’d scrimmage a lot, joined leagues. Our coaches Boy (Cabahug) and Al (Solis) practiced us hard, Monday to Saturday from 3 to 7 or 8 p.m.”

Your free throws are excellent. In the Cesafi Finals Game 2, I saw you make 8 of 9. What, unlike Shaq, is your secret? “Coach Boy (Cabahug) asks all the players to shoot 50 free-throws everyday before we start practice. Not 50 attempts—but 50 free-throws in. That goes for all UV players. That helped. Also, because of my height and because I’ll get a lot of fouls and will also be shooting free throws, I always hear this comment, ‘Gotta make those free throws, they’re important to the game.’ So I remember that line.”

Favorite NBA player? “Tim Duncan! He’s so good… so good. He’s not flashy and gets the job done. He’s also a two-time MVP. The thing with Duncan is he doesn’t look dominant—but he is dominant! And so I watch a lot of his games and try to follow him. One time, I followed his signature move… attempting to score a hook shot, faking, turning, then driving in for a lay-up… I tried the same move and it worked. I love that move.”

Hobbies? “I love playing videogames, the PSP (Sony Playstation). I just finished the game, ‘God of War.’ I also play card games around my neighborhood. We play tong-its!”

More on Tuesday….

The ‘Tim Duncan’ of Cebu basketball speaks

Part 2 of our conversation with Greg (October 2008):

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Last Friday, I sat down for lunch with Greg Slaughter and asked him a plateful of questions. Here is the rest of my Q & A with the Cebu basketball phenomenon who stands nearly 7-foot-tall (…now I know why his jersey is No.7).

Greg (center) dwarfs John Pages and Von Lanete


How does Cebu compare to your home in Virginia, U.S.A.?
“I really like the people in Cebu. They’re more friendly. People here, especially families, help each other out. So I really like it here. In Virginia, we lived there for 10 years and I didn’t even know the people around my neighborhood. In the States, it’s more individualistic. Here, generally, people are more friendly.”

Are you American or Filipino? (Laughs.) “I’m both. I carry two passports. And, when I’m lining for immigration, I show both passports. So I’m both. I’m Fil-Am.”

Best friend in Cebu? (He points to the man seated beside him, Von Lanete, the star UV guard who’ll be joining the Harbour Centre PBL team.) “We get along very well. Ever since our first practice last year with UV, Von and I have become really good friends.”

How popular have you become? “Well, because of my height, everywhere I go people stare at me. But now, especially with the Cesafi All-Star and the Finals, people recognize me more. A few days ago, we were at the beach and someone approaches to congratulate me for playing well. Here in the (Ayala) mall, people come up to me to shake hands.”

Girlfriend(s)? (Laughs out loud then points to Von.) “He’s got plenty. No comment on my part.” (Then Von points to Greg and speaks.) “He’s got a girlfriend… on and off.”

Your goal? “The PBA. Maybe also the RP team, if I’m called. But it’s got to be the PBA. Which team? The team that pays the highest! (Laughs.) But, seriously, I want to go pro.”

When? “I don’t know. Maybe next year. Maybe two years from now. It all depends if there are offers. I also want to take the next one or two years to continue improving myself. I want to be ready before I join the big league.”

What do you need to improve? “Everything! My left hook, my right hook… my footwork… my running… my perimeter shooting… everything. I’m also doing a lot to strengthen my legs. I’m doing a lot of gym work, especially squatting and, without any gym weights, doing the ‘invisible chair’ where I bend my knees to harden the leg muscles.”

Know how to speak Cebuano? “Gamay. (Laughs.) It’s easier to understand than it is to speak. So I understand the basic Cebuano words.”

Like? “It’s funny because the very first word I learned—and I still remember this until now—is ‘manananggal.’ It’s funny but I just remember that word. Maybe I saw it first on some TV show.”

How does this season compare to last year? “Big difference. When I arrived last year, I got sick a lot. Maybe it was where I stayed… at our quarters. But since I moved to my uncle Fernando’s house (the younger brother of her mom, Emma) in Mambaling, I’ve really improved, health-wise. I’m also able to eat more. Also, last year, I had a hard time adjusting, especially when we practiced or played at the (Cebu) Coliseum. I got pneumonia, had colds… people would smoke inside the Coliseum or they’d roast peanuts… I’m allergic to the smoke from roasted peanuts. But now, I’m healthier.”

Your body weight? Shoe size? “I’m 240 lbs. When I arrived last year, I was around 235—so I gained some weight, possibly added muscle. Shoe size? I’m a size 15… but my feet are starting to hurt and I’ll have to get size 16. It’s difficult buying that size here. I often ask my parents (who’ll be coming here for Christmas) to bring me some.”

What’s next? “Well, the next major event is the Champions League, which pits all the top college teams. Last year, we reached the finals and lost to Ateneo. This year, the event is in November… so that will be exciting. It was difficult last year because, coming from out-of-town, you’d have to wait several days in-between games. It’s a big advantage to the Manila teams because they live there. For us, from Cebu, it’s difficult. But it will be exciting to play Ateneo, La Salle, San Beda….”

Well, I wish those Manila teams good-luck. For as they face UV, they’ll be welcomed into Greg’s Slaughterhouse!

Cebu Marathon Registration

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A year ago, the New York City Marathon was canceled because of the superstorm Sandy. Two days ago in NYC, 50,000 runners joined the most festive 42K in the world, with over 1 million people lining the streets cheering-on the marathoners.

Here in Cebu, we, too, will soon host our own version of the NYC Marathon. It’s CCM. The Cebu City Marathon will be this January 12, 2014 and, to all long-distance runners, this Sinulog festival-themed race is a must-join marathon.

While 01-12-14 is still over two months away, the deadline for the Early Bird Registration is this Sunday, Nov. 10. Today until Sunday, the fees are as follows: 21K (P1,000) and 42K (P1,400). But, starting Nov. 11, these increase to P1,400 and P1,800, respectively. All participants will receive singlets, finisher’s shirts and medals (including the half-marathoners). Register now at the Active Zone of Ayala Center or online at www.cebumarathon.com.

MP: Macau Panalo?

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(Photos by Chris Farina/Top Rank)

I’m excited. Three Sunday mornings from today, I hope to be inside CotaiArena of The Venetian Macao wearing two sets of hats: One is of a neutral, unbiased, scribble-what-I-see journalist covering Asia’s biggest boxing Sunday; the other is of a Filipino, just like you and our 90 million other kababayans, heart-pounding and forever prayerful that our fellow Pinoy will emerge with both arms pointed to the sky, thankful to God for a victory that’s taken 24 months long.

Yes, it’s been too long — two long years — since Manny Pacquiao savored victory. That was against Juan Manuel Marquez. Since that Nov. 12, 2011 moment, he’s lost and lost. Against Timothy Bradley. And, in their 4th installment, against J.M. Marquez.

When Pacquiao climbs the ring this Nov. 24 against Brandon Rios, it will be nearly one full year since he last fought — and that last memory, of him lying as if lifeless on the floor, was nightmarish.

I hate saying this but this might be Manny’s last fight. Boxing is as unpredictable as an aftershock. Unlike Macau’s casino owners — who, at the end of each month, are always guaranteed millions — boxing offers no guarantees. There’s extra pressure for Manny in this fight. It’s a must-win. Even Freddie Roach said so himself: a third straight defeat will put an end to the eight-division-titlist’s career.

MP. Will this stand for… Macau Pildi? We hope not. We pray that MP will collect his 55th win.

Together with my compatriot on this page — Atty. Froilan “Jingo” Quijano — I’ll be in Macau to witness live the battle.

What’s unique about this world championshp fight is that it’s not in the U.S. It’s always been in Las Vegas. The mega-casinos are there. Bettors proliferate and money exchanges hands as quick as Manny’s hands.

Macau is the Las Vegas of the Far East. The only venue allowed by China to exist as a gambling haven, Macau is actally much, much richer than Vegas; it generates five times the gambling revenue. Last year, Macau’s gaming receipts exceeded $38 billion. Shockingly-huge but maybe not that shocking: Let’s not forget that China has a population of 1.35 billion.

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There are 40 casinos at work 24/7 in Macau. For a tiny Chinese peninsula that has an area of only 30 sq. kms., that’s plenty of slot machines. And you want to know how much the Chinese spend when they visit Macau? On average, those who trek to Las Vegas spend $156 per person on gambling; in Macau… it’s $1,354.

The biggest question in gambling is this: Come Nov. 24, what type of Manny Pacquiao will we see? He hasn’t fought in a year. He’s lost back-to-back. Will he be less aggressive? More cautious? Will the Mike Tyson-like, always-combative Pacman be timid? Has he lost his super-powers?

Manny is turning 35 years old on Dec. 17. Professionally, he’s fought 61 times. Speaking of (old) age, if there’s one person Manny should emulate it’s Money. The undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is the undisputed fittest athlete on earth. Remember his bout against Saul Alvarez, when he toyed with the Mexican and improved his number to 45-0? Mayweather is older — he’ll turn 37 this February — but he’s still bouncing like a teenager.

Rios is seven years Pacquiao’s junior. I hope this age difference becomes a plus for the Pinoy — the added years of experience — and not be a liability because of the “bug-bug” (too beat-up of a fighter) syndrome.

As to Manny’s preparation, Freddie Roach is still the “coach” but what’s new is the absence of Alex Ariza, who handled his conditioning for many, many fights. Also, the main difference, they won’t be headed to Los Angeles. While Manny’s previous camps included must-training sessions at the Wild Card Gym, this time, it’s just in Gen. Santos City. This is new. It’s a plus because he’ll see Jinkee nightly but it might be a minus because, well, it’s not the familiar setting of Wild Card Gym.

For now, it’s 21 days and counting… Excited about Macau? You bet.