Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gilas defeats Iran’s ‘Great Wall in China’

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(Photos from Rappler.com)

It wasn’t The Finals. It wasn’t a win in China that will transport us to Brazil. It wasn’t even the quarterfinals. It wasn’t an Olympic berth to propel Dondon to face LeBron.

It was historic. It was a game that was unexpected and shocking; a 14-point rout that should have favored the Middle Eastern squad.

Prior to yesterday, Iran had annihilated its enemies. In its first game against Japan, they embarrassed our neighbors up north, 86-48. That’s a 28 point spread. In Game 2, they decimated India by 22 points. In their third outing, they slaughtered the Malaysians by 80 points: 122-42. And last Sunday, the Iranians obliterated Hong Kong, 111-56.

In all, Iran defeated their opponents by an average of 46 points. Can you believe that disparity and dominance?

Gilas Pilipinas? We wobbled. The other afternoon, I watched the game when Gilas played Japan. We nearly faltered. The game was a seesaw. Andray Blatche limped. We escaped with a seven point victory.

Scary. Sloppy. Shaky. And, of course, who could forget our first game against Palestine? Fully charged with the Cebu training camp, we trembled, losing a shocker, 73-75.

This was the premise: Iran was undefeated in four games, averaging a 46-point margin per jaunt, while we, Pilipinas, though sporting a 3-1 count, quivered and appeared wobbly.

Take Mr. Blatche, the former Brooklyn Nets center. Against Japan, we saw how his right ankle twisted. He hopped on one leg, grimaced, and asked to be excused. Minutes later, he returned with the same result: he stumbled and carried all of his 260 lbs. weight on one leg.

Eighteen hours later, forgetting the injury that caused him to appear debilitated, he faced the Iranians, his 6-foot-11 frame shoving and elbowing the 7-foot-2 giant named Hamed Haddadi. Blatched scored 18, pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots and stole the ball four times! It was a clash between goliaths and the Am-Fil quashed the bearded Iranian.

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Speaking of Haddadi (or, as his official name says, Ehadadi), I call him Iran’s “Great Wall in China.” He’s an inch taller than Shaq, weighs 265 lbs. and was formerly with the Phoenix Suns.

Three Augusts ago inside the MOA Arena during the 2013 FIBA Championships, I saw him play. He’s not only tall and imposing, he’s herculean. His mere presence underneath the goal sends tremors to the invaders.

Yesterday after lunch, I caught the Gilas-Iran game at its best moment. There were five minutes left in the 3rd quarter and we trailed by two. Wow, I told myself, this is close. We have a chance.

Next thing I realized, we squared the game at 52-all. Cebu’s hotshot, Mr. “Cebu Gems” Hontiveros, buries a long-distance trey to move us ahead. Terrence Romeo, whom I call a spitfire, was too quick a Pinoy cat to be caught. In about a minute’s time, he scored two three pionters and a two-pointer. Dumbfounded and alarmed, the Iranians panicked. They attempted to retaliate with their own three-pointers. They missed. They turned the ball over multiple times. By the end of the third, the improbable was turning possible: we led, 65-60.

Good thing we did not experience a collapse like we did against Palestine, when we squandered a 12 point lead to lose by two.

Not this time. Not when history was dribbling inside the excitable heartbeats of Jason Castro, who topscored with 26. Not when Raniel de Ocampo pulled down 10 rebounds; when Romeo shot 3 out of 5 from three-point range.

Our lead extended in the fourth. The whisper “Hopefully, we can” transcended into “Maybe we can do it” before being trumpted as “Yes, we’ll definitely beat Iran.”

It was a definitive win. Fourteen points against the defending champs is large. If this were a punctuation mark, it was an exclamation point, as if to say… Take that, Iran!!!

But, wait, we may have won the battle but the war’s not over yet. Today, we’ll beat India but what beckons are the three most important games, in the quarters, semis and finals, possibly against Korea, China and, again, Iran.

Go, Gilas!

Kennan Radaza Rooney talks about his son Maxime

Last Thursday, I wrote about how Maxime Rooney, three years ago, wanted to represent the Philippines in future swim meets. Led by his dad Kennan, they sought — and got — permission from the US national swimming association for Maxime to swim for Team PHL.

Unfortunately, they were informed by Mark Joseph, who heads the Phil. swimming association, that Maxime needed 12 months of residency in the Philippines — an impossibility given his studies in California. In the end, Maxime Rooney was told no.

Sorry, Philippines. The happy beneficiary? USA.

I ask these questions: Could other ways have been exhausted? I mean, the US officials already said yes to the Rooney family’s request. Maybe the Phil. swimming association did not realize fully the potential of Maxime — that he will turn out to be a junior world record holder and, very, very possibly, be a future Olympian? And, who knows, maybe even a gold medalist — what could have been our nation’s first Olympic gold?

The fact is, complained Kennan, months would often pass before a simple reply (from Mark Joseph) would reach his email inbox.

Now, it’s too late; Maxime competes for Team USA. And just the other week, he was sent an email by the national team with the words that are the most coveted of any American athlete: “Welcome! You’re a U.S. National Team member!” Among his teammates are two guys you might have heard of: Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Maxime Rooney is excited about the Olympics. Like any world-class athlete, the ultimate goal is to compete in this once-every-four-years event. For Maxime, the main target is 2020. That’s five years from now during the Tokyo Olympics and Maxime will be a ripe 22 years of age.

But, wait, next year, there’s Rio de Janeiro. And while he’s much younger than the other big boys, Maxime is ready.

“Maxime plans to join the US Olympic qualifying in July next year,” said his father Kennan, whom I met two weeks ago in Mactan together with his first cousin, Lapu Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza.

During my hour-long chat with Kennan, I got to hold with my fingers, for the first time, a gold medal and a silver medal. I’ve held dozens of similarly-colored medals before (courtesy of my daughter Jana), but these were Milo or Palaro or Batang Pinoy medals. Local hardware. What Harry and I held were FINA Junior World Championships medals — which Maxime won in Singapore. (Maxime not only won a pair of gold medals and a silver but he was also voted by the U.S. squad as “Team Captain.”)

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Kennan (center) with JP and Harry

After the possible stint in the 2016 Olympics, Maxime’s goal is to join the University of Florida team. Not only does the squad possess some of the nation’s best collegiate swimmers, but the coach (Gregg Troy) was the head coach of the US team during the London Olympics. Plus, one of the assistant coaches competed in the Barcelona Games. This means that, in the next several years as Maxime’s body develops and he churns out faster times — all focused on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when he’s peaking — he’ll be coached by some of the world’s best mentors.

Physically, the 17-year-old Maxime, who devotes 22 hours each week in the pool, will still grow stronger. He hasn’t engaged in weight training yet, instead focusing on building his lung capacity. 

Standing 6-foot-4, I asked his dad (who’s about my height, 5’8”), where Maxime got his tall build. “My wife Charlotte, who’s Belgian, is tall,” he said. (Speaking of Belgium, here’s an interesting side note: When the Belgian swimming officials heard of Maxime, they, too, wanted him to swim for them. In a two-way skirmish between the Phils. and Belgium, it’s the U.S. who’s emerged victorious.)

How big a celebrity is Maxime at home? Only recently, said his dad. Prior to the junior world record of Maxime, the school principal (in their town of 80,000) knew that their star athlete was superb — but the principal didn’t know he was that outstanding.

Maxime’s maxims? I asked his dad.

“It’s not that I love to win… I hate to lose!”

“Love God. Love people.”

Maxime Rooney: the future Olympian we ‘almost’ had

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(Photo by Donna Nelson)

Senator (and VP hopeful?) Francis Escudero appeared in the newspaper back pages last week. No, the story did not revolve around him and Heart; it was about sports. Surprising. We know Sen. Pia Cayetano to be a triathlete, but Chiz? Well, when the elections are just eight months away, politicians will do all they can for self-promotion.

But Chiz made sense. He spoke about Brazil next year, lamenting how our 100-million-strong sports-loving nation has never won an Olympic gold medal. Worse, we might only have a handlful who’ll qualify for the Aug. 5 to 21, 2016 Olympics.

“So far, we only have one athlete qualified to play in Rio de Janeiro in 2016,” said Escudero, citing the trackster Eric Cray.

Since we competed in our first Games in 1924 in Paris, we’ve won a total of nine Olympic medals (seven bronze and the two silver medals in boxing by Anthony Villanueva in 1964 and Onyok Velasco in 1992).

Will we ever win gold? There is one athlete that I wrote about who “may have” delivered for us that elusive gold medal.

I’m referring to the swimming sensation in America who could have represented the Philippines. His name is Maxime Rooney and, just last month, he broke a junior world record in the 200-meter freestyle. His time of 1:47.10 last Aug. 7 is not only the fastest ever swum by a below-18-year-old but, had that time been recorded by Maxime in the SEA Games last June, he would have won gold and snapped the fastest ever SEAG time.

Maxime is only 17. I met his father Kennan the other week. After watching his son compete (and win two gold medals and a silver) during the 5th FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore, Kennan flew to Cebu to visit his relatives for a few days.

Kennan Rooney is a Radaza. He looks like one. Spending an hour with him and his first cousin (Lapu-Lapu City Councilor) Harry Don Radaza at Kennan’s mom’s (Amy Radaza Jessup’s) 18th floor condo unit at the Movenpick Hotel was memorable. It’s not often that you’re seated beside the dad of a future Olympian.

Maxime’s story began at the age of three when the family moved to a new home in California that had a small swimming pool. Maxime dipped in the water. No, it wasn’t formal and he wasn’t swimming laps. He simply loved the water. This was his first taste of being surrounded by this clear fluid that covers 71 percent of our planet’s surface.

When Maxime turned six, that’s when he started to join swim meets. Towering tall for his age, he quickly swam like a fish and won by several lengths over his stunned classmates. Coaches took notice. This kid is special, they thought.

Since then, Maxime hasn’t stopped and has clocked thousands of hours by his lone self, covering his eyes with Speedo goggles, knifing the water with his fingertips, breathing out and exhaling underwater.

Today, Maxime’s training schedule is not for you and me. He arises before 4 a.m. and swims from 4:30 to 6 from Mondays to Fridays. Then he goes to school. After, he’s back at the rectangular-shaped pit, strengthening his muscles in the pool from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m.

And you’d think, given his all-swimming schedule, that Maxime would do badly in school? This kid is Superman in trunks and in school uniform. He has a 4.3 grade point average.

The word is “sayang.” Lost opportunity. Three years ago, Kennan approached the Phil. swimming association, headed by Mark Joseph, and informed them that Maxime wanted to compete under the Phil. flag. Kennan exhausted all means for Maxime to represent us. He’d send Mark Joseph an email but would get a reply weeks or months after. In the end, Mark Joseph rendered this conclusion: Maxime was ineligible.

“Although Maxime, at an international meet in Dubai, competed under Team USA,” said Kennan, “I communited with the American swim officials our intention for Maxime to shift and swim for the Philippines. Our request was approved, first by the coach and next, by the US swim organization. The path was clear. Maxime was excited to swim for the Phils…” (to be continued on Sunday)

Number one, Novak wins No. 10

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(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

After Serena Williams’s heartbreaking loss last Friday, the American fans wanted redemption. They wanted their “very own” to win. Not that Roger Federer is American; he’s as Swiss as Lindt, Rolex, UBS and Nestle. Yet, because he’s old at 34 and he’s won in New York from 2004 to 2008, they’ve grown to call the older statesman as their own.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic thwarted those cheers for Roger. He did it in Wimbledon two months ago when they met in the final and he did it again yesterday in the same fashion: The Serb winning the first set, the Swiss scoring the second, only for the man from Belgrade to win the final two.

Game, set, goodbye, Roger. The most painful part was how Roger squandered his chances. He had 23 break point chances and converted only four times for a depressing 17 percent clip.

“Maybe I haven’t played this offensive for a very long time,” Federer said, “And that’s maybe the reason maybe I was slightly shaky when it comes to the crunch on break points. Who knows?”

This we know: Djokovic is invincible. He’s even “better” than Serena this 2015, winning three majors and reaching the finals at the French Open. (Serena won three but lost in the NYC semis.) This means that Novak was just one win shy of a Grand Slam — an astonishing statistic.

Federer Express? As well as Roger’s been playing this hard court season, this loss was huge. This opportunity was similar to Pete Sampras’ in 2002 when, after not winning a major for a couple of years, he wins the U.S. Open against Andre Agassi.

Roger had not won a major since Wimbledon 2012. That’s more than three years ago. His Grand Slam record of late has been miserable, going 5-8 since 2008 after winning 12 of his first 14 major finals.

Now, Djokovic has 10 majors — just one shy of Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver; Nadal has 14 and Federer owns 17. Given that the Serb is only 28, can he catch the Spaniard and possibly reach the Swiss? I think Rafa’s record is within reach. Novak has no weaknesses. His backhand, especially that down-the-line, may be the all-time best. His defensive skills, sliding all the way left to retrieve a shot, then sprinting right to power a forehand winner — that’s peerless. So is his mind. He thrives on the grand Arthur Ashe stage and, never mind the crowd being against him, he’s able to block all of that and emerge triumphant.

“It’s been an incredible season, next to 2011 the best of my life,” Djokovic said, who also won three majors four years ago. “I’m enjoying this year more than I did any previous one because I’m a husband and a father, and that makes it sweeter.”

Back to Roger: He tried, he really did. He had not lost a set in his first six matches at the Open. Last Sunday, he lost three. At 34, he was attempting to become the oldest champion in 45 years. He retooled his game, taking the ball on the rise on second serves and being very aggressive. “You have to find the right dose of risk,” Federer said. “Sometimes I did it well and other times not as well.”

Roger had to try harder, often eliciting more mistakes. His total unforced errors: 50. This number accounted for more than one-third the total points that Novak won (147). And, speaking of his strongest weapon (forehand), it was from that wing where he elicited the most mistakes (29 errors).

“I knew why I lost the match very clearly the moment I sat down, 5-2, in the fourth or after the match was over,” Federer said.“It was because of the mistakes I made. I have to get better at that. It’s just pretty simple.”

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Djokovic is one of the best defensive players of all time. He’s the Dennis Rodman of lawn tennis, able to rebound from a sure-winner to counterpunch and snatch the point.

The Roger-Novak rivalry is the sport’s most compelling. They’ve met 42 times and the score is tied, 21-all. In major finals, it’s 8-6, in favor of Novak. This RF-ND duel beats the Federer-Nadal rivalry (23-10, in favor of the Spaniard), Sampras-Agassi (they’ve met 34 times) or Borg-McEnroe (22 meetings).

Serena Slam but no Grand Slam

Ms. Williams has won the last four Grand Slam singles titles. Dating back to the 2014 U.S. Open 12 months ago, then to the Australian Open last January, then to Paris when she won the French Open in June, and to the greenest and grandest stage in tennis, Wimbledon, she won that, too, completing an unbeaten run of 33 matches won in Grand Slam play.

That’s called a “Serena Slam.” The only problem is, it’s not in the same calendar year. That one’s called “The Grand Slam.” And, after losing yesterday to a netter whose ranking is 42 spots lower than hers, Serena lost that bid to become only the seventh person ever to with The Slam.

Serena was poised to win. Her record against Roberta Vinci was spotless. The Italian had never won a set, not even reached a tiebreaker, against the American. And after Serena routinely won the first set in their semifinal yesterday, 6-2, you’d think it was another one of those walk-in-the-Flushing-Meadows-park type of days for the younger sister of Venus.

But Vinci won the second set. No problem for SW. In two of her previous three matches at the U.S. Open, Serena had lost a set; but she’d always win the third. And, against Vinci, she led the third set 2-0 and was up 40-30 to take a commanding 3-0 lead. But Vinci, who stands only 5-foot-4 and was the world No.1 ranked doubles player early this season, wasn’t about to book a Sunday flight to her hometown of Palermo, Italy. Instead, she booked a trip to the finals.

And so, on an unforgettable “9/11” in New York, sadness once again fell on the Americans at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Serena is 33 years old. She won’t get this chance again. Very, very, very few individuals get to be so close — winning the first three majors and the first five matches only to lose in the second-to-the-very-last match.

What happened? I did not get to watch the game. It was dawn, Philippine time, and, based on my readings, it was all about one word: pressure. Surprisingly, the 21-time major champion denies it. “No, I told you guys I don’t feel pressure,” said Williams. “I never felt pressure. I don’t know. I never felt that pressure to win here. I said that from the beginning.”

Not true. Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champ, said, “I saw a frozen Serena Williams. I saw a paralysed Serena Williams. She succumbed to the nerves. She is human.” On ESPN, Evert added: “It was apparent to all of us who have watched her for 20 years that she was nervous today.”

This moment was such a disappointment for Serena because the draw aligned for her expected victory. Against Vinci, she sported a 4-0 record; against the finalist at the opposite end, Flavia Pennetta, seeded a lowly 26, Serena has faced her seven times and won all seven.

“This is monumental. It’s a shocker,” Tracy Austin said. “This is one of the biggest upsets in the history of tennis, because of what was on the line.”

I agree. We’ve witnessed Rafa lose before or Roger get beaten by a 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in Wimbledon. But nothing like this. Serena had won 26 straight GS matches this year and was two supposedly-easy wins away from the record — only to get upset.

And it’s not like Serena played too badly. Based on numbers, she recorded a high 50 winners (versus only 19 from Vinci). This, however, was negated by her mistakes: 40 unforced errors. Serena also recorded 16 aces, against only one from Vinci. And, in total points won, she scored 93 — higher than the 85 of her opponent.

But, in tennis, it’s not “total points won” that matters most, unlike basketball or football. It’s a game that says, whoever-wins-the-very-last-point-wins.

“The toll of this journey she was on was too much for her today,” said Sky Sports TV host Leif Shiras. “She was trying to dig deep and the way to generate energy for her is to get that passion out. But I think that can tire her; there is an element of fatigue that plays into this story. She was at a breaking point; she was boiling. And Vinci was drawing that out of her. It was amazing drama.”

Viva, Italia.

Can Serena Williams win the Grand Slam?

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Tennis, like golf, has four major tournaments. When we talk of “major,” these are the biggest of the biggest. Of the ATP and WTA calendar’s hundreds of tournaments that litter the globe, these four stand tallest. Like the Oscars. Or the World Cup. They’re also often referred to as “Grand Slam events.”

But when we speak of THE Grand Slam, we mean only one thing: winning all four majors in the same year.

Impossible? Well, close to. Among the men, only two have achieved such a feat in singles: Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). The likes of Sampras and Borg or even Federer and Nadal (who painfully exited yesterday) have not won all four majors in the same year. Among the girls, only three have achieved the same: Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988.

This means that, of the hundreds of millions of netters that have swung forehands since Wimbledon (the first major) started in 1877, only five individuals have won the singles Grand Slam.

A sixth one is about to be enshrined: Serena Jameka Williams.

So far in the United States Open, the fourth major this 2015 (the first three were the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon), she is midway through the quest. Serena has won three matches (beating Diatchenko, Bertens and Mattek-Sands) and needs four more. Can she do it? I hope so.

I first got to see Serena 16 years ago. She was 17 then and was popularly known as “the younger sister of Venus.” She was not tipped to win the 1999 US Open. Yet, Serena triumphed. My dad Bunny and I were inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis arena, to witness her victory.

That was in New York. This week, they’re in the same venue and, bombarded with the most extreme of pressures as she targets The Slam, all Babolat rackets and Nikon camera clicks are targeted on Serena.

Between that ’99 first major trophy and today, Ms. Williams has amassed over $73 million in prize money (and much more in endorsements from Nike, Gatorade and Audemars Piguet). She owns 21 major titltes and, if she wins next Saturday, she’ll equal Steffi Graf’s 22 — and will just be two shy of the all-time record (Margaret Court) of 24.

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(Serena, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf-Agassi/Reuters photo)

Reading through her list of accomplishments is like enumerating the record credentials of a Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. Yes, she is in that league of sports greats.

Through the years, I’ve had the good fortune of having seen her play. At the Olympics in Beijing, my wife Jasmin and I watched her win the doubles gold with Venus. Last October during the WTA Championships, though she got clobbered 6-0, 6-2 in the preliminary round by Simona Halep, Serena bounced back and won in Singapore. And at the French Open last June, I saw her steely resolve (and muscles that are steel-like) as she overpowered all opposition to win in Paris.

(My encounters with Serena, though, pale in comparison to Stephanie Medalle, who, while watching the IPTL Tennis last Dec. in Manila, happened to be in a parlor one relaxing morning when in comes Serena. They chatted and took a photo. Nice one, Steph!)

What makes Serena great? Her mind. She walks confidently on court, willing her brain as she closes her eyes to envision winning the next point. She pumps her fist to boost her backbone. She screams to unleash that champion’s spirit.

Her offensive mindset. Serena steps close to the baseline and hits the ball early. She doesn’t stay back like a Wozniacki to run tennis marathons. With her muscular biceps and even more muscular legs, she overpowers the girls. (Plenty have proposed a “Battle of the Sexes” between her and a Top 100 male player.)

Her focus. While she goes on beach outings with Wozniacki (her best friend), once she steps inside that rectangle, nothing else matters.

Her athleticism. Her competitiveness. Finally, the single greatest shot in tennis: Her serve.

My wish? That SW aces that W.

ALA: From Cebu to the world

Thirty years since the inception of the ALA Boxing Gym in Alang-Alang, Mandaue City by its founder Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, whose initials bear the company’s name, it has staged promotion after promotion on Philippine soil, produced world champions like Gerry Peñalosa and Malcolm Tuñacao, became the pride of Cebu with “Pinoy Pride,” as it traveled to the Middle East and, amidst the 450,000-strong Filipino residents there, staged two spectacles named “Duel in Dubai.”

Six weeks from now, it’s another continent. ALA Sports Promotions Internaitional, Inc., codenamed ALASPI, is landing in America — the first time that a company from Asia is promoting a boxing show on American soil.

The date is October 17 and, like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which labels its promotions by numbers (it’s UFC 191: Johnson vs. Dodson 2 this weekend), the ALA group does the same: it’s Pinoy Pride XXXIII. For short, that’s PP33.

The main attraction is ALA’s star attraction: Donnie “Ahas” Nietes, the longest-reigning Filipino world boxing champion.

“Donnie Nietes’s opponent is Juan Alejo of Mexico,” said Michael Aldeguer, the President/CEO of ALASPI.

Alejo is world rated No. 8 in the Light Flyweight division. And while a No. 8-ranked fighter looks already-beaten against Nietes, consider this credential of Alejo: He hasn’t lost a bout since Dec, 2009, sporting a 21-fight winning streak. But, like the 36 others who’ve bowed to Nietes (who hasn’t been beaten since 2004), the Mexican will have difficulty against the Murcia-born world champion.

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Donnie Nietes with Michael and Tony Aldeguer

“The public wants to see Nietes fight a Mexican because of the rivalry between the Phils. and Mexico,” said Michael. “You can never take a Mexican fighter for granted.”

The Oct. 17 event is called “Filipinos contras Latinos” as there will be others from Latin countries. In the undercard will be the Pagara brothers Jason and Albert and ALA’s top bet, Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo. They will be joined by other Pinoy fighters based in the U.S and the venue is the 8,000-seater Stub Hub Center in Carson, Los Angeles.

The American invasion is not the only dream of father and son, Tony and Michael Aldeguer. They’ve set their vision to conquer the world through this sport that’s called “The Sweet Science.”

“The 10-year plan is to build ALA Boxing in the U.S. the way we did it in the Phils. The plan is to draw Fil-Ams to fight and train under the ALA banner. We hope to have an office and a gym in the coming years as next year we are looking to do more events every quarter in California and it should grow as the years come. That’s for the U.S.,” said Michael.

For Europe, the first target is London in 2017 or 2018. “Boxing has become big in Europe with some world champs and we plan to build something there,” he said. “Not to mention the thousands of Filipinos living in Europe.”

With the Middle East, since ALA has already staged two successful events in Dubai, the goal is to promote in Doha and in Saudi Arabia. Of the latter, it is acknowledged as the largest hirer of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), with nearly two million Filipinos residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“From 2020-25, we hope to do Canada, Japan, Singapore and Australia, where a lot of Filipinos are,” said Michael. “The thrust is to grow the sport and connecting it closer to the heart of the Filipinos around the world as it is only in boxing we can excel and be respected around the world. Once we achieve that, the business side of things will come as the fan base becomes bigger. Naturally, more international promoters, advertisers and networks would want to work with us which will help us achieve our goal to be in an equal playing field.”

The target is for ALA to conquer America next month and the rest of the world in the coming decade.

“Gone are the days when international advertisers, TV networks and promoters just think of ALA Sports Promotions International Inc. (ALASPI) as based only in the Philippines,” said Michael.

ALA’s dream: A Filipino-owned company based all over the world.

Michael Aldeguer: ALA invades USA

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(Michael Aldeguer with California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster)

No promotional boxing outfit from Asia had ever secured a U.S. license before. Many have tried but all have failed. Until now.

It took Michael P. Aldeguer years and years of shuttling back and forth California and Cebu; thousands of dollars of phone bills and innumerable hours on the phone; hundreds of emails exchanged until finally.. Yes.

“It was difficult and painstaking,” admitted Michael, a friend whom I’ve known since high school when we competed in basketball. “At first, we felt it couldn’t be done as no one in Asia had done it before but we had focus and perseverance in finding ways to make it happen.”

The Aldeguers have always been persevering and successful, be it in business or in sport. In boxing, having conquered Cebu and Manila and, just recently, Dubai, it was clear that the next major hurdle was the American market — a huge, huge market for Pinoy boxing, given that there are over four million Filipinos residing in America. Nearly half of all Filipinos, if my research is correct, reside in California. Thus, next month’s October 17 promotion of ALA Boxing is ideally situated in the 8,000-seater Stub Hub Center in Carson, Los Angeles.

Michael Aldeguer credits his company’s securing of the U.S. boxing license not solely on himself — although he is the CEO.

“The credibility of the name ‘ALA’ helped a lot in putting us in the map,” he said. Ever mindful of how they started, he pays tribute to his father, Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, who, thirty years ago in 1985, founded and started the ALA Gym.

“It was because of my dad’s love and passion for the sport — and mainly because he wanted to help poor kids out of poverty,” said Michael. “The tradition and history dad has built through the fighters and trainers made the difference. The ALA Boxing group wouldn’t be where we are now without my father who is still the Chairman.”

Michael also gives credit to ABS-CBN, in particular to Gabby and Raffy Lopez, the owners of the TV giant, for believing in their vision and plans. He cites one other ABS-CBN top official, Peter Musngi, the VP for Sports (and also the voice of ABS-CBN and now the consultant for sports), for bringing their plans to Gabby and making things happen. “Without ABS-CBN,” says Michael, “we wouldn’t be here.”

The ALA Sports Promotions International Inc. (ALASPI) — the full name of the company — has a clear direction, thanks to their CEO.

“We have a strong foundation in our organization and the employees follow the culture,” he added. “There is a path they need to follow to carry the tradition and values we expect at ALA. If they don’t, then we take them out and replace the positions with the right people to ensure that they carry the values in the organization for the future.”

Finally, in our Q & A via email, Michael complimented one sector for helping promote boxing.

“The last but certainly not the least is the Cebu media,” he said. “The Cebu media has helped our organization the past years to be recognized, at first, nationally, then in Asia, and now the world.”

The goal of being in Ameica is what Mr. Aldeguer has always sought after. “You have to be in the U.S. to be taken seriously in the boxing world,” he said, citing the great Manny Pacquiao as the leader in promoting Philippine boxing.

“Donnie Nietes, Nonito Donaire and Brian Villoria have also carried the torch,” he said. “And they will soon pass it on to the new stars of the sport. It is for this reason that we worked hard in getting a U.S. license so our future stars don’t have to rely on American promoters and TV networks to be able to fight in the US. We can show the world too that not only do we have great Filipino fighters but we have a capable promotional company and TV network.”

As to making Cebu known worldwide, thanks to ‘Pinoy Pride’ and ALA Boxing, Michael says: “During our international interviews or write-ups, we always use ‘Cebu-based ALA Promotions.’ We are so proud to be a Cebu-based company and it is our pride to be Cebuano.”