ERBITO Salavarria couldn’t be more ecstatic about how Philippine pro boxing has come a long way since his reign as a two-time world flyweight champion.
Now 72, Salavarria noted how a lot of opportunities come the way of Filipino boxers nowadays and therefore, result in the country producing more world champions.
At the moment, the Philippines has four reigning world title holders in Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire Jr., Jerwin Ancajas and Vic Saludar.
Next week Mark Anthony Barriga will vie for the International Boxing Federation mini-flyweight crown, while former three-time world champion Donnie Nietes is also attempting to win the World Boxing Organization super-flyweight belt before the year ends.
“Maganda ang Philippine boxing ngayon, kita mo naman ang dami nating champion sa world,” said Salavarria on Thursday night as he was enshrined in the third batch of the Philippine Sports Commission Hall of Fame at the PICC.
Salavarria shared the stage with fellow honorees Lydia De Vega, Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo, while posthumously inducted were Filomeno ‘Boy’ Codinera, Loreto Carbonell, former Senator Ambrosio Padilla, Ben Arda, Lita dela Rosa and Josephine dela Vina.
Each Hall of Famers were given their trophies and P100,000 cash incentives by the PSC led by chairman William ‘Butch’ Ramirez.
Tall and a skilled counterpuncher, Salavarria was among the few who carried the torch for Filipino boxing in the 70s as he twice reigned as world champion – first as World Boxing Council flyweight holder in 1970 and later on, as World Boxing Association king in 1975.
He won the WBC belt in December 1970 when he dethroned Chartchai Chionoi by knocking him down three times in the second round to the horror of the more than 25,000 Thai fans watching the fight at the Army Sports Stadium in Bangkok.
After one successful title defense against Susumu Haganata of Japan, Salavarria would be stripped of his crown a year later following a 15-round draw against challenger Betulio Gonzalez in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
As chronicled by long-time boxing writer Graham Houston, ringside officials appeared suspicious of what Salavarria was drinking from his water bottle that a sample of it was sent for laboratory testing by the WBC. After being declared of taking illegal substances, the WBC declared the title vacant.
Salavarria bounced back strong, and in 1975 became the WBA flyweight champion after scoring a split decision against Hanagata to end the Japanese’s reign before a hostile crowd at the Prefectural Gymnasium in Toyama.
He would later defeat Hanagata again by split decision at the Bunka gym in Yokohama to retain his crown.
His reign as champion would come to an end at the hands of Panamanian Alfonso Lopez after suffering a 15th round TKO loss in his title defense at the Araneta Coliseum in Feb. 1976.
Salavarria wouldn’t fight for the next two years and only returned to the ring in 1978 when he fought former WBC champion Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh in Bangkok. It proved to be the last pro fight of the Filipino after he was stopped in the fourth round by the Thai.
Salavarria compiled a ring record of 40-11-3 with 11 KOs in a 15-year career span.
Unlike today when prize purses are on a high, Salavarria said fighters back then only get meagre amount.
He recalled that his fight against Gonzalez gave him his biggest prize money.
“Pinaka-malaki ko yung sa Venezuela, $75,000. Title defense ko yun,” said Salavarria.
He no longer shadowboxes nowadays and mentions walking as his way of keeping in shape.
“Naglalakad na lang ako tuwing umaga,” he disclosed.
Salavarria still watches boxing on television, but didn’t encourage any of his children, especially his four sons, to become a boxer.
He considers Pacquiao and another great champion in Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde as the two greatest Filipino boxers of all-time.
“Si (Pacquiao) eight-time world division champion, ang hirap nung gawin,” he noted. “Pero si Elorde seven year na hinawakan niya ang korona.”
Asked where he would put himself in the pantheon of Filipino world champions, Salavarria said he's not in the business of ranking.
“Wala akong masasabi diyan,” he meekly said.
Boxers after all, would rather let their fists do the talking.