Rotary Cebu West + ALA boxers = a knockout night!

Call me biased. As president of the 48-year-old Rotary Club of Cebu West, I presided over a terrific evening of stars and laughter and Christmas celebration last Tuesday. Our guests? World-class boxers. Not one, two or six—but eight of Antonio Lopez Aldeguer’s best.

Donnie Nietes. Rocky Fuentes. AJ Banal. Jason Pagara. Boom-Boom Bautista. Milan Melindo. Z Gorres. Mark Melligen. All these famous men, all in one room, all sharing their stories – how Nietes started as a janitor before becoming world champ; Boom-Boom’s “secret” three months “abstinence” story, too juicy I can’t share with you here; Melligen’s black eye on Floyd Mayweather, Jr. during sparring; Z Gorres’ touching words and handshake.

Wow. I wish you were all there. The seating arrangement was like a press conference. Lined up on a perched long table with nine seats that included coach Edito Villamor, the boxers were peppered with questions. But, the best part, all queries were light, funny, relaxed. And so – unlike a formal pre-fight press-con where frowns are required – we had a dinner plate of jokes and cheers. Thank you, Michael Aldeguer. Thanks, Dennis Cañete and Chad Cañares. Thanks, most of all, to Tony Aldeguer.


Categorized as ALA Boxing

Georges St-Pierre and Emmanuel Pacquiao

Two boxing fights were aired simultaneously last Sunday. On SkyCable’s channels 12 and 33 were Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana and George St-Pierre against Josh Koscheck. The unanimous winner? Freddie Roach. He was in Khan’s corner in Las Vegas, Nevada; he was in St-Pierre’s mind in Montreal, Canada.

(Michelle Butalon, AFP)

It was a boxing lover’s Super Sunday. For with the No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in Mixed Martial Arts, he engaged not in MMA—but in boxing. He mimicked another P4P numero uno. GSP was MP. The two are friends. The two admire each other. The two are pupils of Coach Roach. The two are the very, very, very, very, very, very best. How many verys was that? It doesn’t matter because Manny and George are the quickest, most athletic—and very best—fighters of this era.

GSP, thanks to Roach, jabbed and punched his way to bleeding the eye of Koscheck. That’s called boxing. And, in the many times that I’ve followed UFC, I’ve never seen mixed-martial artists spend so much time on four legs. UFC is often about takedowns. Sure, they spring roundhouse kicks and throw uppercuts, but, most often, these bouts involve floor exercises called grappling and wrestling. Not GSP. Not last two days ago.

George St-Pierre and Manny Pacquiao? They are so alike that, starting today, I call them this: beauty parlor beauticians. Their job: they perform facial treatments.

With Antonio Margarito, he had to undergo surgery on his fractured orbital bone. His right eye was shut closed by Manny. With Josh Coscheck, it was the same: his orbital bone was broken. Which side? Of course, GSP pounded on the same side as MP—the right eye. Nagsabot si Manny and George.

As to the sport of MMA, it’s gaining immense popularity. If this were business-talk, it’s eating “market share” from boxing. For, in boxing, what would the sport be like today without Pacman? In three words: Not as popular. Remember the days of Sugar Ray Leonard, Duran and Hearns? Or of Mike Tyson? Muhammad Ali? Frazier, Holmes, Foreman? Boxing was glorified then—especially the heavyweights. Today, minus Pacquiao, the sport would be sluggish and stale.

Mixed Martial Arts? “MMA is boxing…plus more,” wrote Lee Andrew Henderson in “MMA vs Boxing,” a May 18, 2007 Yahoo! Article. “MMA took the great sport of boxing and added amateur wrestling, ninjitsu and kickboxing. Many people refer to boxing as ‘the sweet science’ because of the strategy needed in boxing. Well the MMA multiples the amount of science. Boxers have to know from match to match what type of boxer their opponent is. There are different types of boxers with different strengths and different weaknesses of course but there are even more challenges for an MMA fighter. Just like a boxer, an MMA fighter might be facing a guy with great stand up who can box. This fighter might be light on his feet or he might be a slugger; he might have a great chin or he might have a glass chin. But in addition to that he has to know, how is his takedown? Can he defend the takedown? Can he submit me? What kind of ninjitsu does he know? How are his kicks? Everything that is great about boxing is multiplied by MMA.”

Two more points I’d like to add. One, UFC appeals to the young. Maybe because of the added brutality and blood. Maybe because of the louder music and more in-your-face TV commentary. Maybe it’s the unusual shape of the octagon versus the square of boxing. UFC crowds are younger—and they wear less Armani suits. AFFLICTION! their shirts scream. Two, the undercards are better. In world title boxing fights today, do we even care about the undercards? For sure, Bob Arum doesn’t. There’s only one Main Event and all eyes are on those two gladiators. In UFC, no. Thiago Alves was superb. The 6-foot-11 Stefan Struve against 6-foot-7 Sean McCorkle—that was towering.

Finally, why do I say that MMA is more followed? Click on the Sports Illustrated website, Scroll through the menu found at the top. What do you see? Two sports lumped together. But guess which one comes first? MMA & Boxing.

New York City Marathon photos

Dr. Albert Santos, Jane-Jane Ong, Nica Ong and Andrew Ong

Santos family: Dr. Albert, Dr. Maureen and Samantha

Albert, Jane, Nica and Andrew

Categorized as Marathon

Azkals: No longer the stray dogs of football

If you’re a soccer aficionado, rejoice. In this game of kicking, we kicked a$$! Not since decades ago has our Philippines been as celebrated in international soccer. One game changed all that. Against the defending ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup champions, Vietnam—played on their home grass in Hanoi amidst 40,000 Vietnamese—we stunned the hosts. Nobody expected it. We won, 2-0. But we won much, much more: the lavish attention now spotlighted on PHL.

After three games at the Suzuki Cup, we were never defeated. In our first game against Singapore, the score was 1-all, thanks to the great Chris Greatwich, who scored during injury time. In Game 2, the upset win against Vietnam; and, last Wednesday, the zero-all draw against Myanmar.

“Honestly, it’s still kind of surreal,” said our team captain Ali Borromeo. “Nobody ever thought that we could beat Vietnam,” added Dan Palami, the team manager-turned-hero who hails from Tacloban. “We keep on dreaming and we keep on dreaming we can do it.”

Yes. This is what sport is all about. The ability to dream the insurmountable—and to make that vision of the unreal… real. Consider that our Philippine squad was the laughingstock of soccer. Would you believe that, just a few years back, we were ranked 189 out of 208 nations. We were in the top 10 percent… of the world’s worst football-playing countries.

Today, our FIFA world ranking should be nearing 140. Obviously, that’s nowhere near Manny Pacquiao’s No.1 rating in boxing, but it’s a major jump and promotion. We should feel proud. Ecstatic. Shout… Yahoo! Yet, we should also feel concerned. Our semi-final opponents, Indonesia, boasting a population of 238 million versus our 92, is a powerhouse. In three AFF Suzuki Cup games, they won all: a 5-1 thrashing of Malaysia, a 6-0 victory against Laos, and a 2-1 score against Thailand.

What’s worse in the upcoming Dec. 16 and 19 semifinal games between PHL and IND is that both will be played in Indonesia. It’s supposed to be one home-court game per nation (home-and-away format) but—given that none of our arenas meet the AFF standards—then it’s “sorry nalang.”

Our Philippine Football Federation (PFF) requested for the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City—the venue of the 2005 SEA Games and the 2006 AFF Qualifying—to host our game. Sadly, this was turned down by the AFF, owing our minimal seating capacity, among other issues.

“This is a disaster,” said Phil Younghusband in an interview with The Inquirer. “We’re absolutely gutted. We have to play at home if we really want to promote the sport.” Added his older brother, James: “What’s the point of making the semifinals if we can’t play at home?” Coach Simon McMenemy said, “The players worked so hard and not playing at home is absolutely criminal.”

Both games will be played in Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, a cavernous complex seating 88,000. It’s not only listed as the largest in Southeast Asia—it’s the 10th biggest football stadium in the world.

This “home-court disadvantage” is painful for two reasons. One, the boisterous Filipino crowd would have given the Azkals a huge lift. From Davis Cup tennis to the NBA to the Olympics, home-court advantage is important; the influence, tremendous.

Two, it’s a loss for Philippine football. Imagine the impact. Imagine the boost to football. I, for one, with sportswriters Nimrod, Mike, Noel, Max, Edri and Rico, plus hundreds of other Cebuanos would have driven to Bacolod. The positive bounce of such a significant event—wow, that’s immense.

But, let’s not dwell on what-could-have-beens. The game, as announced, will be in Indonesia. This means one thing: The odds are that, seven days from today, we go home defeated. Those are the statistics. But those same odds also said we’d never beat Vietnam. Maybe, just maybe, our squad, given the nothing-to-lose mentality and buoyed by the Vietnam upset… will win. Who knows? The football is round. If an azkal like Manny can do it for boxing, who says these Pinoys can’t?

Categorized as Football

Graeme, Max, Mike and Noel on ‘ASKALS’

After Donaire and Pacquiao, it’s football as our men’s team are the latest sports heroes. Want to know how our squad got its nickname, ASKALS?

Max Limpag, the ultra-marathon man who ran 50K the other Saturday, was a former soccer fanatic. Here’s his story…

“In July 2005, I got into a discussion with former FC Korsaaven (that’s the name of our college team in UP Diliman) football teammate Noel Villaflor and former Sun.Star Cebu sports reporter Glenn Michelina on the moniker for the Philippine football team.

“In an online forum on football, someone suggested calling them askals. We laughed at first but then thought it could be a good moniker. I said we were askals because we lack football pedigree. I think it was Noel who said it’s also a good play on Calle Azul because the Philippine team color is blue. We were also askals in a way because the team was abandoned by government and lacked needed support.

“Glenn Michelina then did a quick drawing of a logo of a fierce-looking dog with the country’s colors. Noel submitted it to the forum and I blogged about it in my site. I didn’t know the moniker would stick after all these years. But one that didn’t stick was “irbogs” for irong buang, which we proposed to call people like ourselves, rabid die-hard fans.”

The brother of Max—our sports editor, Mike Limpag—wrote an expanded version of the ASKALS story five years ago. “Fans want RP booters to be named ‘Askals,’” here’s Mike’s article…

“THE Netherlands has the Orangemen, France is Les Bleus, and Italy has the Azures. Philippine football fans want to call their national team Askals.

“The menacing street dog has just been elevated to national icon status after a few fans threw around an idea on what to call the national team in an Internet forum dedicated to Philippine football.

“Names like Tamaraws and Eagles came up first before the fans agreed on Askal, short for asong kalye or street dog.

“The idea started after national coach Aries Caslib appealed for more fan participation in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games (Seag), where the country will try to win its first medal in football.

“Caslib appealed for vocal support after seeing how the other countries supported their teams in last year’s Tiger Cup.

“One fan has come up with an Askal logo, and plans to have it reproduced on shirts and flags are being discussed by regular posters Graeme Mackinnon, Paul Weiler and others.

“Even coach Caslib is on with the idea: “I want to know if the design for the Askal is final because we might help in producing the shirts,” he told Sun.Star Cebu in an earlier interview.

“As to whether the national team will be as menacing as the street dog is left to be seen as they are still to test their readiness in a pre-Seag tournament in Vietnam before leaving for a month-long training in China.”

Thanks Max and Mike. More on the football hysteria, I sought the commentary of Graeme Mackinnon. Australian-born but—after 14 years here—Cebuano by heart, Graeme had this reaction:

“One win and the Philippines has woken up to football. Such is the impact of that historic win by the AZKALS 2-0 over highly-fancied Vietnam. We are still in the group stage and hopefully overnight the AZKALS have booked their place in the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup. There has been a tsunami-like groundswell of support for the AZKALS. The country is experiencing international football fever the likes of which we haven’t seen before. There are new AZKAL logos, musical anthems on YouTube and AZKAL tributes on Facebook. Facebook is in meltdown. There are just so many people talking about the team.

“AZKAL coach Simon McMenemy was criticized by Vietnam’s coach Henrique Calisto for his tactics. McMenemy’s tactics were correct. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team and set his tactics accordingly. His foundation for the win was the defense. If they don’t score then the AZKALS don’t lose. As the highly-favoured Vietnamese became more frustrated, the AZKAL counterattacks took advantage of the holes in the Vietnamese defense. Calisto had no answer to the AZKAL tactics and so his criticism smacks of sour grapes. So fire the bark up and be loud and proud of the Philippine AZKALS football team!”

MORE. Read the blog of Rick Olivares at

Categorized as Football

Dr. Albert Santos runs New York, New York!

Of the hundreds of 42K footraces in the world—including the oldest annual (Boston, starting 1897), the highest (Everest Marathon, at 17,000 feet), the loudest (Country Music Marathon with 50 artists performing along 28 portions of the route), and the coldest (the North Pole Marathon, temperature: -25 C)—none compare to the biggest and most famous: New York City.

Last Nov. 7, a total of 44,704 runners finished the NYC Marathon. One of those was Dr. Albert Santos. Cebu’s top pulmonary wizard, Dr. Santos not only helps Cebuanos fix their lung-related illnesses, he himself relishes this sport that’s lung-busting.

Back in February 2008, Dr. Santos ran his first marathon race, flying to Hong Kong with 13 others from Cebu. Steady-paced with a relaxed motion throughout the 42.195 kms., he made the cutoff time by finishing in five hours, 26 minutes.

Running is an addiction. And—as perplexing and contradictory as it sounds—marathon-running is the most painful experience that you’d want to keep on repeating. It is hours of (temporal) pain transformed into years of (unforgettable) memories.

After Hong Kong, the Dr. Santos strode onwards, completing three more 42Ks. In Singapore, we were together with the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) in December of 2008. Albert finished in 6:08. Next, Milo in Manila (5:55). Then, the impressive Amsterdam Marathon showing (5:03).

Finally, the “Wimbledon of Marathons” … New York, New York. Coming from Vancouver, Canada for a pulmonary conference and landing in the Big Apple two days before the marathon start, he had a scary beginning.

“I almost didn’t make it to Staten Island,” said Dr. Santos, of the starting point. “Nov. 7 was the first day to shift back to standard time from DST. I adjusted my watch one hour earlier but apparently the clock automatically adjusts itself. So when I arrived at the subway, it was empty! I got scared. The subway time was 8:10 and the ferry will leave at 8:15 a.m.

“But, God won’t be outdone. All of a sudden, after I asked a lady if she’s joining the race and she said ‘No,’ another lady from the back said, ‘I am’ (she’s a New Yorker). Whew! I reached the island together with a busload of others… the very last batch.”

Despite wearing a Garmin GPS watch, Dr. Santos opted not to monitor his pace during the run. “That was my mistake in Singapore,” he said. This time, he simply checked his watch to guide him when to take the energy gels.

“The crowd was the biggest plus factor of all,” he said, of New York’s two million spectators. “They were there after the bridge of the race, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It was a never-ending cheering squad.”

When I asked for memorable moments, Albert said: “I don’t know what came to me but I decided to wear the pace time at the back of my shirt. Jane-Jane (Ong) gave it to me from the expo. My wife Mau advised the time “4:50.” So I wore the shirt.

“I totally forgot about it until runners were asking me whether I was the official pacer because I was running faster than my paced time. Even the pacer 4:20 was just ahead of me after the 2nd and 3rd wave of runners merged at Mile 8. Anyway, I decided to slow down, afraid that I might end up with the devastating cramps (like in Singapore). God is good! No cramps all throughout.”

Dr. Santos finished in a Personal Record (PR) time of 4:47:07. The others from Cebu? All speedy… Dan Climaco, 3:38; Andrew Ong, 3:59:08; Jane-Jane Ong, 4:12:31; Fr. Joy Danao, 4:29:15; and Nica Ong, 4:30:32.

How was this fifth 42K different? “The weather was colder, crowd was fantastic, race support very efficient,” he said. “I was better motivated because I wanted to give it my best for my wife Maureen and daughter Sam who were waiting at the finish line. Also, because running NYC is a chance of a lifetime.

“God is good! He put in order my schedule, profession, and family life so that I was able to prepare well for New York… ‘Where The World Meets To Run!’”

Categorized as Marathon