UV: The University of Victory

(Sun.Star Cebu photo)

Seven years. That’s how long the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi) has existed. And ever since it began, one school has dominated the league’s No.1 sport, basketball.

The University of Victory.

Yes. Don’t call UV the University of the Visayas. I’m calling it by another name. Isn’t it fitting to call the school that’s won starting in 2001, won again the year after, won again and again until last weekend when it faced the University of San Carlos (USC)? And what did UV do last Saturday? In the season-finale? Game 5? It performed the one act that it performs best: It won again.

University of Victory.

“We heard mass Saturday morning,” said Elmer “Boy” Cabahug, the PBA star-turned-UV coach, when I spoke to him on the phone the night after their 82-71 championship victory. “Sir Eddie Gullas, who was celebrating his birthday that day, was there. And so was the whole Gullas family. I promised Sir Eddie that we’ll win that afternoon… And we delivered.”

Cebu lucky to be a part of Pacman

When he climbs the ring at past 11 a.m. (RP time) today, this we are proud to declare: Manny Pacquiao trained in Cebu City.

He jogged on the steep hills of Alta Vista. Sprinted near call centers named People Support and eTelecare along the I.T. Park. He setup camp at a Labangon hideaway called the Rex “Wakee” Salud (RWS) Gym. Inside that blue-and-white building, Manny skipped rope, attacked the double-end bag, and logged 112 sparring rounds. At the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, he slept in a suite room and feasted on Cafe Uno’s breakfast and dinner buffets.

Basketball? Sure. As part of his Sunday morning routine, Manny dribbled together with Team Pacquiao—his loyal gang of trainers and rah-rah boys—against us, the Cebuano sportswriters. Twice, we traded jump-shots at the City Sports Club; once, we collided and tumbled on the parquet floor of the Cebu Coliseum.

Why Cebu?

Good question. From August 14 until September 21—that’s 39 days—why did the King of Boxing train in the Queen City of the South? Wasn’t he supposed to be at the Wild Card Gym? In Los Angeles? As devised by Freddie Roach?

Yes, yes, yes—but here’s another Yes: Cebu is perfect for Pacman.

Manny Pacquiao is ‘The Gambler’

With my brother Charlie

Although he calls the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino his home here, I haven’t seen Manny pulling the levers of slot machines or sitting on a high stool and rolling the dice to wager on Craps. It’s not that kind of gambling I’m speaking of.

It’s this: Manny loves taking risks. Inside the ring, you know his style. Does he hide behind those two red gloves to cover his mustache? No. Manny pounces. Attacks. He’s aggressive. Assertive. He knocks on the head of his enemy not to kiss him—but to tutor the student on the definition of “K.O.” He swings punches that break ribs and bend jaws. That’s Manny. He sees blood, goes for blood. For the risky shot. He gambles.

Take basketball. For the past two Sundays, I guarded Manny on the wooden parquet floor. Is playing this game of LeBron James, you ask, a gamble? Of course. Think about it: Who, in his right mind, would risk injury and play basketball weeks before a Las Vegas fight that would pay him P150 million?

No one. Except one. Manny.

Far left, that’s Manny with the jump-shot… That’s me (No.9)

Last week, I sat beside Freddie Roach at the lobby of Waterfront. He was alone and I introduced myself. We spoke about our basketball game—and how Manny and I collided and fell to the floor.

Bang! Boom! What a double shocker

One punch. All it took was one punch.

For Gerry Penalosa, he played defense on the first round, blocked with his two red gloves on the second, jabbed in the third, then, all the way until the seventh, he stood relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. He was losing. Sev Sarmenta and Dyan Castillejo saw it, you and I saw it, Jhonny Gonzalez saw it. And then… BANG!

One punch. It was a left wallop at the rib cage of the lanky Mexican, who took two hops backward then knelt on both legs and hands. GERRY WON! GERRY WON! Who would have believed it? Didn’t you jump? Scream? Feel proud for the 35-year-old, who became the oldest-ever Filipino world champ?

One punch. For Rey Bautista, all it took was, ironically, one punch. He didn’t hide or spar or warm up the enemy—he brawled with the brawler, faced him face front, flirted with the bare-chested monster. And then… BOOOM!

One punch. It dazed Boom-Boom, wobbled his knees, clouded his vision. It thwacked like a cannonball. Struck with the impact of a Caterpillar bulldozer. Boom-Boom stood up, but it was all over…

Wasn’t it shocking? Minutes after Gerry’s shocking win… this? Win after win after win—five straight—hadn’t we grown accustomed to winning? To celebrating? To ordering another San Mig Light? To toasting the bottle on the air? And, tell I’m wrong, weren’t the words “Six-Zero” and “How embarrassing for the Mexicans…” pasted on our minds?

Role models? Meet the Lagman 6Js

Tomorrow, a Sunday, August 12, 2007, Jacob Lagman (the country’s No.1 tennis player in the Boys 12-and-under category) will fly to Seoul, South Korea. He’ll join two major events spanning two weeks. His father, mentor and coach… Jess Lagman… will travel with him. Here’s an article I wrote for Sun.Star Cebu in March 4 of last year…

Jess and Julie and Julian and Julius and Jessica and Jacob are all, as you can see, one and the same. They’re all J’s. But one thing more binds them together. Their second name.

Lagman. Open these back pages often, visit an age-group tennis event at the Cebu Country Club, surf the internet, go to Google and type “Cebu junior tennis,” and you’ll hear a familiar tune.

Lagman. They’re all J’s. They’re the 6J’s. They’re one family, one team, just like yours and mine. But here’s the twist. When you visit their home, you’ll notice that it’s packed with one more item that ours don’t possess.

Trophies. How many trophies? I called Jess and Julie, the parents of the other 4J’s, to ask. They couldn’t give a reply. So I had to await the answer that evening. How many trophies? “About a hundred,” answered Julie. One hundred? Trophies?

No King Kongs in Hong Kong

If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, one question that will pop to mind after you land and hours after you stare at all the residents there is this: “How come there are no fat people here!?”

It’s true. In Hong Kong, their people are lean, slim, slender, svelte, sexy; they possess flat stomachs, 30-inch waistlines, and are nowhere near the obesity nightmare in the United States.

How bad is obesity in America? About 31 percent (or 59 million) are obese—which is defined as roughly 30 or more lbs. over a healthy weight. And—here’s the more shocking figure—almost 65 percent of Americans are either obese or overweight… defined as 10 to 30 lbs. over a healthy weight.

Hong Kong? Is there a statistic for under-weight?

Last week, for four days, I was in Hong Kong. I observed. I gazed at our Chinese neighbors. And here’s my conclusion: Hong Kong residents don’t walk. They never do. They run. They sprint. They rush from Point A to Point F to Point Q. The men? They walk faster than a robot being chased by a Doberman. The women? They clip their bags on their hips, press Start, and zoom!

Minus Lance, it’s still ‘Le Tour’

Football has the World Cup. Basketball owns the NBA Finals. The NFL has the Super Bowl. Boxing features Manny vs. Erik. The 100-meter dash will be held at next year’s Beijing Olympics. Golf: The Masters. Tennis? Last week’s Wimbledon. Every single sporting spectacle has that one solitary event when all the world’s 6.6 billion eyes are glued and when all the athletes’ muscles are flexed.

Cycling? It’s happening now. It’s 21 days. It’s 3,553.9 kms. It’s 189 men in helmets and skin-tight shorts. It started in London and will end in Paris. It is, in my mind, the most grueling activity ever invented by man.

The Amazing Story of Jack Mendez

I can write a 365-page biography of him. His life story, if grabbed by the producers of Viva Films, will turn into a movie blockbuster. Listen to him speak for 45 minutes and you’d wish you had 25 hours to listen. Thousands of people I’ve met in life, but few will compare to this story…

Jacinto Villarosa Mendez is the third of seven children of Victorino and Anita Mendez. In elementary and high school, he studied in Ubay, Bohol and in college, took up law at the University of San Carlos. To support his studies, he mopped floors in the homes of relatives in exchange for free board and lodging. He lifted wood at the pier as kargador to earn a peso. On his final year in law school, his father, a firewood dealer, decided that his brothers and sisters would stop school to allow him to graduate. Jack did not allow that to happen. He stowed away on a boat and worked as a security guard in Manila. “I was assigned at a furniture company,” he told me, “and had to squat on top of tables each night as there were snakes everywhere.”

Cebu Megadome: What we needed yesterday

This is NOT the Cebu Coliseum

Last Saturday night, I parked near Colon Street, strolled about 157 meters, and stepped inside the Cebu Coliseum.

San Miguel Beer, the most famous bottle ever produced in this country, paraded 6-foot-6-tall giants who dribbled and dunked as the building’s parquet floor shook. It was the PBA—“Live In Cebu!”—and I arrived midway through the second quarter to watch the Don-Don Hotiveros-less SMB versus the Red Bull Barako contest.

The game was hot! Oven hot. You see, while the Cebu Coliseum is no longer called just “Cebu Coliseum”—they’ve added a first-name and named it “NEW” Cebu Coliseum—I couldn’t figure out what was new about our city’s only sports arena. New? Ha-ha. Instead, I suggest to replace that word with another three-letter word: Hot.

The “Hot Cebu Coliseum.”

Barely seven minutes after I sat down on the front row of the Lower Box, trickles of sweat slipped down my cheeks. And they said this place had air-conditioning? I wonder if those cooling units were the same ones from 1879—the year the Cebu Coliseum was born. (Just kidding. I tried to research when it was built but couldn’t find the answer. But this I’m sure: it was decades and decades and decades ago…)

Isn’t it time for Cebu to have a real NEW COLISEUM?

Imagine with me. Imagine if this proud land of ours, if this city and province that we call “RP’s Best” while those from Manila call “taga-probinsya,” imagine if we had a 25,000-seater arena?

Where to hold Dennis Rodman and his Bad Boys? No problem. Where to stage a future Madonna concert? No problem. Where to hold a Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal exhibition? No problem. Where to hold the Binibing Pilipinas? No problem. Where to hold the World Wrestling Federation rumble?

Sayang. Remember then-governor Pabling Garcia proposed that we build the Cebu Megadome? Where the CICC is now located? Remember that? Had that pushed through—at only a fraction of the CICC’s cost, P250 million—Cebu would be a world-class sports destination today. We’d bring in more tourists. We’d bring in more of our neighbors from Bohol and Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete to watch and applaud and scream from the stands. And best of all, we’d have no problem where to hold the World Cup of Boxing.

Two months ago, I spoke to Michael Aldeguer, the dashing young son of Antonio Lopez Aldeguer (ALA) who wore a black suit with a silver tie during the Boom-Boom Bautista and AJ Banal fights in Las Vegas. You know what, according to Michael, is Cebu’s problem with the World Cup?

It’s not the fighters. Boom-Boom and AJ won and they’re hungry to gobble nachos and enchiladas with the Mexicans. It’s not the money. Aldeguer has lots and the Cebu City government, with the backing of Mayor Tommy and Councilor Jack Jakosalem, has lots. It’s not the Cebuano audience. There’ll be more of us spectators than there are seats. Remember “Moment of Truth” last March? The Cebu City Sports Center bleachers overflowed. So what’s the problem?

The venue. Why? Because the World Cup of Boxing has to be fought on Saturday night in the US. And Saturday night there means, to us here, Sunday morning. Now. Can you hold a Sunday morning fight—from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.—at the open-air Cebu City Sports Center? Sure you can. But the spectators around the boxing ring will be fried, cooked, torched by the sun. And the whole Sports Center will flood with sweat.

The World Cup of Boxing needs an indoor arena.

The New Cebu Coliseum? Don’t make me laugh. Or sweat.

On clay, the No.2 is always No.1

I pity Roger Federer.

He’s Tiger Woods holding a racquet, the Michael Jordan of his game, the Michael Phelps of this dry swimming pool named tennis court, and yet, when it comes down to a boxing fight between the world’s No.1 and No.2 players—he bows down, wobbles, trips, and gets KO’d.

Funny? No. Embarrassing. How can you be declared Numero Uno if you keep on losing to Numero Dos? Think about it: In the last five times they’ve met on clay, Rafael Nadal has dirtied and spat at and thrown dust into the face of Roger Federer.

Yet, if you visit the Basel, Switzerland home of Roger, he has 10 Grand Slam singles trophies that adorn his cabinet. For years, he’s been perched at the summit of tennis’ Mt. Everest. In 2006, he won three major titles and last January, snatched the Australian Open. Inside his Swiss bank account sleeps $30 million in prize money earnings and, for sure, more than double that in endorsements.

But, whenever he faces this 20-year-old Spaniard, the red color of his Swiss flag turns pink.

The other night, together with two of my closest tennis buddies—Dr. Ronnie Medalle and Macky Michael—I watched the Monte Carlo Open finals.

Was it a contest? Sure it was. It’s called a “No-contest.” Nadal bloodied Federer. He ran him left. He ran him right. He feathered a drop shot that died as the ball crossed the net. He hit to Federer’s weaker backhand, hit to Federer’s stronger forehand—it didn’t matter—Nadal hit straight at Federer’s chest. He stabbed him. With Nadal’s high-bouncing topspin, the Swiss was defensive, unsure, shaking his head, shaking the demons. The normally unflappable Federer struck 19 winners and 38 unforced errors. Yes, no misprint there: 19 winners, 38 unforced errors! The man labeled as “The Greatest” was renamed “The Weakest.”

Here’s my observation: I’ve never seen Federer defensive. Not against Andy Roddick or James Blake or Tommy Haas. Roger is Roger because he’s the aggressor. He dictates play. He’ll shoot an ace down the T, rifle a forehand crosscourt, or chip a slice backhand that’s as sharp as a Swiss knife.

But not against Rafa. And not on clay.

You see, this is why I love tennis. The surface changes. Name me a sport where, after this month or that season, they change surfaces. Basketball is always on wooden parquet. Golf, though hopping from Augusta to Dubai to the Scottish links, is on grass. Same with badminton and bowling and billiards.

Not tennis.

In this game, there are a myriad of surfaces: clay, grass, Taraflex, indoor carpet, artificial grass, Har-Tru. And so, this is what makes tennis different—and interesting. On grass (Wimbledon arrives on our cable TV this June), it’s fast! fast! fast! On hard-court at the US Open and the Australian Open, it’s fast and not so fast—or medium-paced. On clay, it’s this….


Why? Because on grass the ball skids and slides while on clay, the ball grips the dirt and hugs it for half-a-second before flying.

And this is where Rafael Nadal was tailor-made by God to succeed. Nadal is quick, hits heavy topspin (that even a 6-foot-1 Roger has to hit above his shoulders), he never gives up a point, can sprint for 26 hours non-stop, is left-handed, and has the fighting spirit of a raging bull from Spain.
Nadal is a Spanish raging bull.

And so, after 67 straight wins on clay dating back to the Stone Age, here’s what’s next for Rafa: He’ll win Hamburg, he’ll win Rome and—against Roger in the finals on June 10—he’ll win the French Open.

And, guess what, he’ll still be No.2.