The Queen’s Gambit

Spoiler Alert: If you have yet to watch the latest Netflix sensation bearing this article’s title, stop reading this. And do the next best thing: Watch the 7-part drama series that has catapulted to the top ratings since it debuted last Oct. 23. You’ll laugh, feel mesmerized at the sight of a genius; you’ll probably cry and fall in love with chess.

Anya Taylor-Joy was superb. Her portrayal of the troubled chess prodigy Beth Harmon was outstanding. Same with the other cast members in this TV miniseries that’s set in the late 1950s and ‘60s.

This Netflix original is about chess. It’s about brainpower. It’s about battling addiction. It’s about obsessiveness and the need to be abnormal and manic to achieve greatness. It’s about the U.S. vs. the U.S.S.R. It’s about the power of being a woman in a sport that’s all-male. It’s about remembering the past and letting go. It’s about falling down and rising. It’s about friendship.

Like many who have watched The Queen’s Gambit, this is one of the best TV shows that I’ve watched. If there’s only one negative: this miniseries is not a true story. But it may well be. It’s adapted from a book written by Walter Tevis in 1983. Both the book and the Netflix show bear the same title. This is not the author’s first blockbuster as he also wrote “The Hustler” in 1959. And for many who lived in the ‘60s, “The Hustler” movie is the classic starring Paul Newman. Mr. Tevis also wrote “The Color of Money.” This became another blockbuster starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. You will note that the author Walter Tevis wrote about sports — pool (billiards) and chess.  

With The Queen’s Gambit, if you’re a chess lover, you’ll adore this show. (While writing this, I remembered the late Boy Pestaño, our dear friend and fellow columnist who penned a chess column here called “Chessmoso.” He would have relished the show.)

Why “The Queen’s Gambit?” It has a double meaning. The word “gambit,” as we know, is a gimmick or ploy to lure another person. In the game of chess, the Queen’s Gambit is one of the most popular moves where one sacrifices a pawn or some pieces with the end goal of gaining control of the game and winning. Beth Harmon, the queen of chess, played this trick perfectly in the finale.

NETFLIX. If you’re a sports lover, there are many more sports-related shows to watch. For sure, you have seen “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan. 

“The Playbook” is a show I highly recommend. A top-caliber coach is interviewed not only for his or her views on the sport but also on his philosophies and tips in life. I relished the dialogues with Jose Mourinho, Doc Rivers and Patrick Moutaroglou (Serena Williams’ coach).

“Icarus” is an amazing documentary about sports-doping, cycling and Russia’s state-sponsored cheating. “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” is excellent. And, being a tennis fan, “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score” is a film I plan to watch tonight. 

Published
Categorized as Chess

King of Clay

Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – October 11, 2020 Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the French Open final against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

One is the “King of Clay” and the other is termed simply, “King James.” Last week, Rafael Nadal and LeBron James trounced their assailants. 

For the 34-year-old Spaniard, the hippodrome was in Paris and the tournament was the French Open. The doubters were plenty. They said Nadal was sluggish and rusty. The week before, in the only event that he joined since March, Nadal lost to a player that he had never lost to before: Diego Schwartzman. In that loss, the 5-foot-7 Argentine drubbed and clobbered the Spaniard.

Nadal, never mind if he won the Roland Garros trophy a mind-boggling 12 times, was not the favorite to win in Paris.

Standing in his way in the final was a player that he had lost to 14 of the last 18 times that they played. 

Novak Djokovic was undefeated this 2020. Well, the record stated “37-1” but that single blemish was not because he lost in the normal sense; he got disqualified for hitting a linesperson in the U.S. Open. The Serb, 33, possessed the game to outplay Rafa. As he uncorks his two-fisted backhand, the ball would zip past Rafa in a cross-court exchange. Novak’s forehand would force Rafa to play defense as he’d whack that Wilson ball down-the-line.

At the 2020 Australian Open, the rivals played in the finals. Novak bulldozed his way to trounce the embarrassed Rafa, who won a mere eight games.

Would Paris be a repeat of Melbourne?

Goran Ivanisevic, who’s part of Novak’s coaching staff, said this before the final: “Nadal has no chance in these conditions, on this clay and with Novak, who has got into his head.”

Est-ce vrai? (Is this true?) The Djokovic-Nadal final seven days ago was like a heavyweight championship fight. Pundits termed it as the most consequential bout between the two. We expected a five-setter that would exceed 309 minutes. We expected sweat to ooze and drench Nadal’s light blue Nike; for winners to zip past Djokovic’s Head Graphene 360+. We expected Nadal to pulverize “le terre battue” (red clay) and Djokovic to dribble a dozen times before serving a 190-kph serve to outwit and vanquish his tormentor.

We saw the opposite. Instead of a shootout, where one rifles an ace and the other wallops a smash, we saw a demolition job.

First set, six-love. Second set, six-two.

I have watched hundreds of Nadal matches — including, in person, his 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal win — and I must conclude that those were two of his most confident and dominant sets.

He zoomed to retrieve a Novak drop shot. He hustled and charged at every short ball. He backpedaled to strike an inside-out forehand with 4,291 topspin revolutions. He accelerated while Novak looked despondent and morose.

In the 3rd set, we envisioned a further drubbing when Nadal broke to lead, 3-2. But the warrior in Djokovic arose to resurrect his game. It was soon extinguished. The final score: 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Less than 12 hours later, after the King of Clay demonstrated his supremacy in Paris, it was the triumph in Orlando of another King: LeBron James. (To be continued.)

Hollywood Ending

From the King of Clay to King James: Unbeknonwst to either legend, less than 12 hours after Rafael Nadal won the French Open trophy, it was the turn of LeBron James to win the NBA title for the L.A. Lakers.

From Paris to Orlando, from the small yellow fluffy Wilson ball to the Spalding orange leather ball (coincidentlly, by the 2021 season, the NBA will also be using Wilson), it was a championship trophy from the King to the King.

Tennis and Basketball are opposites. One is one-on-one (without a coach) and the other is five-on-one with Frank Vogel and Fil-Am Erik Spoelstra sitting beside their players. 

On Sunday night, Rafael Nadal stood victorious. By Sunday night in the U.S., LeBron James did the same.

For the team representing Hollywood, what a real life 2020 that will rival a reel movie. The shocking death of Kobe Bryant last January 26 — the day after LeBron overtook him in the NBA all-time scoring list — plus the COVID-19 pandemic which has plunged the world into a tailspin, this meant that the Hollywood ending would have to be the victory of the Lakers.

The LeBron-Anthony Davis duo is the 3rd outstanding combination for the Lakers. First was Kareem-Magic then Shaq-Kobe.  

A year older than Rafa at 35 years old, LeBron James has been vindicated. A loser at the MVP awards, he claimed his own Finals MVP plum. Although regarded as No. 2 in the GOAT rankings to His Airness Michael Jordan, it’s LBJ who has more records than MJ. One statistic is the all-time playoff points. LeBron is top-ranked with 7,491 points vs. the second-ranked Jordan with 5,987.

For Lakers fans (including myself), this playoff season in the bubble felt like Christmas. It was a joyous and jubilant period. After the Bucks lost in the East and the shocking loss of the Clippers, there was no denying the Hollywood ending for the Lakers.

LeBron was unstoppable. When he 

Vindicated. Defense. Block. Intercept. Thwart. Stonewall. Charge. Close out. 

Bulldoze. Hustle. Force. Charge. Dart. excuse. Ooze. zip. Fly. dribble. Zoom. hotfoot. Accelerate. Propel. Motivate. Compel. Coerce. Animate. Clobber. Trounce. Outplay. Whomp. Whack. Pulverize. 

Nadal vs. Djokovic

Like Ali-Frazier or Navratilova vs. Evert or Prost-Senna or Nicklaus vs. Palmer, the rivalry between the Spaniard and the Serb is unparalleled. Well, okay, there’s Rafa and Roger but they’ve played “only” 40 times. 

Rafa and Novak are meeting for the 56th time when they collide today to contest the French Open final. 

Head to head, it’s Novak who leads 29-26 and 15-11 in the finals. He’s the world No. 1. This year, Novak is also “undefeated.” If not for the recent US Open embarrassment when he was defaulted, he’s won 37 of 37 matches this 2020.

Advantage, Novak, right? Wrong. Because on clay, Rafa leads 17-7 and, on the Roland Garros clay court, he has a 6-1 advantage. Rafa has reached the RG finals 12 times and has never lost (he’s a combined 25-0 in semis and finals). Of those 12 Finals, he won 36 sets and lost only 7 sets. This year, he has won all 15 sets that he’s played. 

Advantage, Rafa, right? Wrong. Because here’s the truth: having watched these two duel and spar the past 14 years (they first met in Roland Garros in 2006), they are dead even.

“He’s definitely my greatest rival,” said Djokovic. “Playing him in so many great matches, the past will have some effect in terms of respect towards each other and motivation to get out there and play your best.”

For Rafa, it’s obvious that against no other player is he more startled and anxious than Novak. Consider the Spaniard’s left-handed cross-court topsin forehand. Against every other player, when that high bouncing, side-spinning shot careens to the opponent’s backhand, it’s a missile. Not against Novak, whose backhand is arguably one of history’s best. Novak can pummel it back cross-court or wallop it down-the line. Or he can throw a featherly drop shot.

“The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best,” said Rafa. “Without playing my best tennis, (the) situation is very difficult. I know that it’s a court that I have been playing well on for such a long time, so that helps. But at the same time, he has an amazing record here too. (He’s) one of the toughest opponents possible.”

Another area of strength for Rafa is his mental strength. But this, too, is an asset of Novak. They both enjoy grinding and wrestling. In every altercation between the duo, they brawl like prize-fighters. Their dispute mimics boxing. One smashes and the other flings a two-fisted winner. Sweat drenches their Nike and Lacoste tennis shirts.

History looms large today. If Novak wins, he’ll own 18 major trophies — against the 19 of Rafa. If Rafa wins, he’ll do a “20-20.” A 20th major this 2020 to tie Federer’s 20. Also, if the 34-year-old Rafa wins, he’ll notch his 100th French Open victory.

“It’s his ‘maison,’” Novak said of Rafa, using the French term for house. “I will have to be at my best. Playing Nadal at Roland Garros is the biggest challenge in our sport.”

If you have cable TV, watch this “King of Clay” final tonight at 9 p.m. (Phil. time) on Fox Sports. Espero que gane Rafa. Vamos!

Thanks, Bubble

By definition, a bubble is supposed to burst. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a globule typically hollow and light” and “something that lacks firmness, solidity.”

Not the NBA bubble. Not the barricaded confines of Walt Disney World in Florida where, for the past 87 days, ballplayers have been shuttered, their movements restricted. 

This bubble has not burst — and if not for this sealed and plugged habitat, we wouldn’t be enjoying the NBA Finals. 

The players are shut and suppressed from the outside world. They can’t see all their family members. They’re locked inside the 5-star hotel rooms of the Gran Destino Tower. They are unable to high-five fans and absorb the sweet sound of an overcrowded Staples Center.

But it works. And it’s the only way possible for sports to fully thrive. Consider this: for three months, I haven’t read a single report on a person who’s tested positive inside the Disney bubble. Last Aug. 17, for example, when most teams were still playing, a total of 342 players were tested and not one was positive. 

“If we could do everywhere what the NBA is doing in its bubble,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert, “we would get rid of the virus.”

Since the NBA resumed last July 30, we’ve been enjoying uninterrupted games. Like Aladdin’s theme song, “A Whole New World,” the NBA has adopted a new ad campaign, “It’s a Whole New Game.”

Thanks to the bubble — this confined campus where 7-footer giants roam and meander — we have forgotten about COVID-19 everytime we watch Tyler Herro throw a three-pointer or Jimmy Butler sink a 23-footer or AD slam dunk off a rebound like he did yesterday.

Why has this bubble worked?

First, the strictness and obedience. The NBA guidelines were spelled out in a 113-page health-and-safety booklet. Everyone is tested. Nobody goes out. The lockdown is so strict that every morning, players have to log-in to NBA MyHealth, an app where questions on wellness are asked. 

Second, the shortened season and fewer players.

“The NBA was already toward the end of its season when they resumed, so they were only trying to play a certain number of games, not a whole season,” says Miami Heat’s team physician, Dr. Harlan Selesnick. Per team, only 17 players were allowed with a total of 35, including staff and coaches.

The NBA bubble did not come cheap. The league will spend $170 million. Aside from feeding the players and staff and putting them to bed, there’s entertainment. Fishing was a favorite of Paul George. There’s golf at a PGA Tour-level course, plenty of video games and a pool party with a DJ.

The success of the NBA bubble is a perfect blueprint for our PBA. Now on its 45th season, the PBA plans a restart next Sunday, Oct. 11, in Clark, Pampanga. There will be one venue (Angeles University) and one hotel (Quest in Mimosa).

I believe the PBA bubble will work. They just need to follow the rules, be strict, comply with the guidelines, be obedient.

Like the NBA. Unlike Donald Trump.

Manny, money, McGregor

Conor McGregor is 32 years old and hails from Dublin, Ireland. He stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 170 lbs. 

Manny Pacquiao will turn 42 this Dec. 17. He calls Gen. Santos City home, stands 5-foot-6 and weighs no more than 145 lbs.

Conor is a mixed martial artist. He was the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champ. He employs kickboxing and a mixture of Capoeira, Karate and Taekwondo and holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Manny is a former congressman and now Philippine senator. He can’t do a triangle choke, elbow strike or submit the enemy via a kimura or guillotine choke. He is boxing’s only eight-division world champ.

Conor’s performance stage is called an Octagon. It has double the number of sides compared to the boxing ring used by Manny.

On paper, the Irishman and the Filipino have no business doing boxing business. Yet, here they are, generating buzz with talk of a mega-fight. Will this bout prosper?

First, it’s not guaranteed yet. Conor has one of the loudest mouths in all of sports and his tweet yesterday (“I’m boxing Manny Pacquaiao next in the Middle East”) is both hype and hyperbole. Negotiations are underway and he wants to jumpstart the frenzy by announcing what’s yet to be confirmed.

Second, I have to admit: this is exciting. In this year of COVID-19 (shouldn’t the name be COVID-20, so we’ll forever attach it to 2020?), this MP-CM bout provides a thrill.

The Notorious is the superstar of superstars in MMA. Of the top six highest-grossing pay-per-views in UFC history, five of those involve Conor, including the No.1: UFC 229 when he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov. That garnered 2.4 million PPV buys. His boxing gig against Floyd Mayweather Jr. (catchweight: 154 lbs.) drew 4.3 million PPV buys — history’s second-highest.

Pacman is not to be outboxed. His 4.6 million PPV buys against Mayweather trumps McGregor’s and takes the No. 1 spot in PPV history. According to Forbes magazine, the 24 PPV bouts of Pacquiao’s career have generated 20 million buys and a mind-boggling $1.25 billion in revenue. 

Money, Manny, money. This is what this extravaganza is all about. Consider these preposterous figures. In the May 2015 event when Manny faced Money at the MGM Grand Garden Arena dubbed “Fight of the Century,” Mayweather earned $250M while Pacquiao took home (before taxes) $150M. 

Two years later in Floyd vs. Conor’s “The Money Fight,” Mayweather made $275M against the $85M for McGregor. Just on two bouts, the three fighters amassed a gross paycheck of $760M (or P38 billion).

McGregor vs. Pacquiao? Easily $50M per boxer. 

Who will win? As always, it depends who you ask.

“Manny will destroy Conor McGregor inside three rounds,” said MP’s coach Justin Fortune. “He will obliterate him too fast and too strong as an amazing fighter. McGregor is nothing.”

The betting odds agree. Since the news came out, Pacquiao is a -450 favorite. This means that to win $100, you have to bet $450 on MP. At the other side, McGregor is +325. You get $325 for a $100 bet.

Time for Thiem

In sports, when you say “Big Three,” you mean the dominance of a triumvirate. The NBA is credited with (Celtics) Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; (Spurs) Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli; and (Cavs) LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Tennis has Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Starting with the 2003 Wimbledon and ending with the 2020 Australian Open, Tennis’ Big 3 has won 56 of the last 67 Grand Slam singles trophies. This number is incredible considering that there are tens of millions of men’s tennis players worldwide and only three have won 83.58% of all majors in a 17-year span.

“Give chance to others” is not the motto of the trio. 

Which brings us the US Open final tomorrow: Dominic Thiem vs. Alexander Zverev. No Roger (injured), no Rafa (preparing for Paris), and no Novak (disqualified). You can say that the Austrian and German are lucky because they didn’t have to face the Big 3 en route to their first major win.

My pick: He started tennis at the age of six, resides in a small town (pop: 3,000) called Lichtenwörth, and he plays with a one-handed backhand. I first saw Thiem at the 2015 French Open. Then, he was only 21 but was already rumored to be a future star. Watching his match against Pablo Cuevas (in a side court), I stood a few meters away. His Adidas shirt got drenched in sweat as he would muscle and batter each forehand. 

In October 2019, I had another chance to watch Thiem. With my wife Jasmin and doctors Ronnie and Stevee Medalle, we watched the Shanghai Open. Thiem lost in the quarters to Matteo Berrettini (and Daniil Medvedev, whom Thiem beat in yesterday’s semis, won in Shanghai) but nobody impressed us more with hard-hitting tennis than the 6-foot-1 Austrian.

The practice court is the best place to be upclose to these players. For an hour before their match, they’d warm-up and rally. Federer was relaxed and carefree with his strokes.

Not Thiem. The 27-year-old bludgeoned the ball. His hour of practice-hitting was 60 full minutes of 100% I’ll-give-it-my-all tennis. He was Nadal-like intense — and this was just the warm-up. This ferocity and forcefulness makes Thiem the favorite in tomorrow’s final (plus, he carries a 7-2 win-loss record). 

Sascha Zverez, though, is no pushover. He has won the 2018 ATP Finals and, at 6-foot-6, his serve can exceed 140 mph. If he records a high first serve percentage, he’ll be difficult to stop. And remember this tennis adage: “He whose serve doesn’t get broken doesn’t not lose.”

SERENA. If the Big 3 are out, the Big One of women’s tennis was also booted out. After winning the first set (6-1) against Victoria Azarenka, who would have thought Serena Williams would lose?

This US Open has been peculiar and strange. No fans. No qualifying matches. No juniors. No Roger and Rafa. Six of the top 10 women opted to stay home. Djokovic throws a ball to the back and hits the line judge in the throat. A few inches off target and he — not Thiem — would be claiming the US Open trophy.

Published
Categorized as Tennis

3-pointer

Although the NBA was founded in June 6, 1946, it wasn’t until October 12, 1979 that the first three-point shot was made. For 33 years, the NBA did not include three-point shots in the rulebook. Even if you lobbed the ball from half-court, it still counted as two points.

It’s been nearly 41 years since Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics was credited with that historic first trey. Today, this shot has never been more important.

Consider this fact: Three-point shooters are outscoring paint scorers in the 2020 playoffs. As of Monday, there were 4,602 points counted from beyond the arc and only 4,512 from the paint. 

Kirk Goldsberry wrote about this recently in an ESPN article, “NBA playoff success has never been so dependent on 3s.”

This trend of increasing points from 3s has been growing every year. Just six years ago during the 2014 post-season, only 27.9% of all the shots taken came from 3s. Here’s the breakdown: 30.2% (2015); 31% (2016); 34.8% (2017); 35.5% (2018); 37.9% (2019).

This 2020 playoff bubble: 43.4%. In simple terms, more than 4 out of every 10 shots taken is a three-pointer — easily the highest percentage in NBA history.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are to be credited for this spectacle. The 32-year-old Wardell Stephen Curry II is third in the all-time 3-point field goals made (Curry has 2,495 behind Ray Allen’s 2,973 and Reggier Miller’s 2,560). But it’s his percentage that’s mind-boggling. He converts 43.5% of all 3s that he unleashes. His teammate Klay Alexander Thompson is equally impressive with his 41.9% threes converted.

Donovan Mitchell is another standout. He recently bested the Splash Brothers when he made 33 3-pointers in one playoff series (Utaz Jazz’s loss to the Denver Nugges). That eclipsed the previous record of 32 of Curry in 2016.

James Harden is another culprit. He is not only the league’s leading scorer (34.3 PPG, regular season) but he also made the most step-back 3s this season with 195, besting Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.

“Harden’s Rockets have been the harbingers of this whole movement. Back in 2016-17, they became the first team in history to ever take more than 40% of their shots from 3-point range,” said Goldsberry. “Everybody is the Rockets now.”

Everybody is throwing 3s. If we look back at OKC’s Game 5 loss to Houston, for example, the Thunder attempted 46 three-pointers — and converted only seven for a dismal 15% clip. That surely contributed to their embarrassing 80-114 loss to the Rockets.

Toronto won yesterday and is still in contention partly because of Fred VanVleet. For the past two playoff years, the 6-foot-1 guard has made 46% (of 3-pointers) each time they win and a measly 26% whenever the Raptors lose. 

In today’s NBA, plenty of games are decided by how well (or poorly) the team shoots from behind that line that measures (from the center of the basket) 23 feet 9 inches.

Published
Categorized as NBA

All you need is Lab

Yesterday, I narrated how I transformed from being a dog-hater to a dog-Lab-er. I love dogs. No day passes when I don’t play with, squeeze, talk to and walk our four Labrador Retrievers: Bolt (8 yrs. old, brown), sisters Butter and Bean (2 yrs. old, yellow and black), and the puppy of Bolt and Butter, which we named Burger (she’ll turn one this Nov.).

Thanks to this no-thanks pandemic Covid-19, one “positive” has been our being able to spend more time with the dogs.

Jourdan Polotan, my BCBP brother, taught us a formula that we practice. Jourdan calls it EDA: Exercise, Discipline and Affection. The man we call the “Cesar Millan of Cebu” because of his ability to let dogs stay calm and follow his orders, Jourdan advised that EDA should be done in sequence. Before showing affection to your dogs, let them exercise and provide discipline first. Remember this acronym: EDA.

Twice daily, we let our dogs exercise. At 5:45 a.m., our househelp take the dogs on a 20-minute uphill/downhill stroll. They also do their “business” (poop) during this time. Late afternoons, it’s my turn to bond with Bolt, Butter, Bean and Burger. Yes, the 4Bs. I bought two leashes from Caminade and each leash has two chain extensions. With each hand pulling a leash with two mini-chains, I’m able to walk all four Labradors by myself.

Exercise is essential for dogs. I read an article last week that Germany will soon enact a “Dogs Act,” a law requiring that dogs be walked twice a day. Exercising with dogs serves a dual purpose: Both you and your pets get to sweat (in my case, with the 4Bs) and you’re able to fulfill another B: bond with them.

During this pandemic, dogs have an added role in our lives. They help us relax and feel better. Dogs possess healing powers. 

In “The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets” (from HealthGuide.org), the article says: “One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch.. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.”

In “How Dogs Can Help with Depression,” the author Greer Grenley writes: “Dogs can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health. For example, people with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease—just playing with dogs has been shown to elevate oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.”

Everybody needs some extra love these days. The world’s best anti-depressant, it’s said, has four legs, a wagging tail and comes with unconditional love.

“A dog,” they say, “is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

Published
Categorized as Exercise

Dog Lover

I used to detest these four-legged creatures called “man’s best friend.” Back when I was little and our dog got ran over by a car and tears flowed down my mom’s cheeks, I asked, “Why cry over an animal?”

That was 28 years ago. Now, the sun doesn’t set before I bend down to cuddle, talk to and smother with hugs our Labrador Retrievers.

It started in August 6, 2012. That’s when our first dog arrived. It was the Opening Day of the London Olympics — and so we named him “Bolt,” after the speediest man on earth, Usain Bolt. 

At three months old and color brown, Bolt injected a bolt of puppy love into our home. After each schoolday, our then 13-year-old daughter Jana — who was the culprit in convincing us to transplant this hairy creature into our lives — would cuddle and embrace Bolt.

For six years until 2018, Bolt remained our only pet. We’d often play games with him. His favorite: throwing the tennis ball up high as he jumps, in full acrobatic midair (with legs sideways) mode, to catch the yellow orb. Then we’d reward him with his all-time favorite snack: bananas. Bolt loves bananas. His tail would wag and he’d stick out his wet tongue before we say “Sit!” and he’d relax and wait to devour the yellow slices.

Two years ago, we decided to find Bolt a girlfriend. We bought a yellow Lab from a breeder in Subic. But when “Mango” arrived by her lonesome inside a cage via a Clark-Cebu flight, she was in distress, shaking. She had parvovirus and did not last more than a week. It was a sad day. (Lesson learned: never again buy a puppy online — despite those irrestible Facebook photos.)

Jojo Oquias, my neighbor, came to the rescue. His Labrador Retriever (Whitney) just gave birth. When Jana came home from Manila for a short break and we visited the two-month-old puppies, we were smitten. 

We decided to get two female Labs: Bean (color black) and Butter (yellow). (An interesting sidenote: the name of Bean’s dad is Kobe. And when you research the full name of the late NBA superstar, it’s “Kobe Bean” Bryant. We didn’t plan this but realized it later.)

When the girls arrived in late 2018, Bolt went berserk. After six years as a lone ranger, Bolt inherited two lovely girlfriends. And so, the inevitable happened: six months later, Butter got pregnant. 

Sixty five days after — last November — my wife Jasmin and I arrived home just in time (5 p.m.) to assist in Butter’s giving birth to five healthy puppies. Jana was in Ateneo de Manila then and, thanks to Viber, her OB-Gyn parents livestreamed the occasion.

Early this year (when they turned three months), we gave away four puppies: to my dad Bunny (Sky, yellow male), Ariel Uy (Bailey, yellow female), James Co (Brenda, yellow female) and Dr. Ronnie Medalle (Ashe, black male). 

Before the puppies were born, Jana wished that one of them would be a brown female. Her wish came true and we kept one puppy and named her Burger.

Published
Categorized as Cebu

Thank you, ALA

“After 35 years, ALA Boxing (ALA Promotions and ALA Gym) would like to say Farewell and Thank you to our supporters from all over the world,” read the opening line of the letter disseminated to the media last Tuesday.

The two-combination punches of COVID-19 and ABS-CBN’s closure have knocked-out ALA Boxing. But like many KOs in this sport, the fighter can stand up. He can request for a rematch or resurrect from retirement. As my columnist-neighbor Atty. Jingo Quijano pointed out, we hope this is a temporary stoppage. What will stop ALA Boxing — led by Michael Pastrano Aldeguer — from making a comeback? If Oscar de la Hoya can do it..

From 1985 to 2020, Antonio Lopez Aldeguer and the boxing outfit bearing his acronym have produced some of the most exciting moments in Philippine sports. I’d like to honor ALA Boxing by enumerating some of the countless accomplishments. Allow me to reprint (from their Official Statement) the highlights:

Helping the less fortunate street kids have better lives.

Grassroots development program in the 1980s.

Jampacked crowds in Cebu Coliseum featuring Edito “ALA” Villamor, Gerry Peñalosa and the ALA Boys with their famous black trunks in the 1990s.

Golden Boy Promotions partnership (2006): Battle of Cebu WBO world title fight between Z “The Dream” Gorres vs. Fernando Montiel with over 25,000 spectators at the Cebu City Sports Center.

Cebu Coliseum (2008) “Laban na Banal” WBA world title fight between AJ “Bazooka” Banal vs. Rafael Concepcion.

“Pinoy Pride,” the most successful and longest-running boxing series in Asia: launching (2010) at the Waterfront Cebu, Mall of Asia Arena and Smart Araneta Coliseum.

ALA Promotions – the only Philippine outfit to stage fights in Dubai and the U.S.

Donnie “Ahas” Nietes: producing and guiding one of the Philippines’ best ever fighters, solely through the Pinoy Pride events. Nietes became only the third Pinoy boxer to make it to the Ring Magazine Top 10 Pound for Pound (other two are Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire). He is a four-division world champ and the longest-reigning Filipino champion.

Pinoy Pride 30 “D Day” Donnie Nietes and Nonito Donaire (2015) in the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire event with Top Rank (2016) that drew over 20,000 spectators.

ALDEGUER’s PASSION and CARE. When I look back at having witnessed many of the ALA Boxing events, what stands out most are these two:

Bidoy and Michael Aldeguer’s passion. Their deep-rooted love and devotion for the sport. Their can-do spirit for the progress of boxing.

Bidoy and Michael Aldeguer’s care. They treated their boxers like family. They’d pull them out from poverty, house them, feed them, train and tutor them with the right values; mold them to be respectful — while pummeling the enemy. Selflessness is a trademark of ALA.

Published
Categorized as ALA Boxing