“We were robbed, we were robbed”
No, that was not a line picked up from the storm of protests that greeted Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Tim Bradley over the weekend. Rather it was broadcaster Ron delos Reyes’ distressed cry from Atlanta after Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco’s defeat to Daniel Petrov Bujilov in their gold-medal match in the 1996 Olympic Games.
Ironically, that same line was heard from the late Joe Cantada, dean of Filipino sportscasters, 32 years earlier in Tokyo after Anthony Villanueva’s own shot at an Olympic gold was ended by Russian Stanislav Stepashkin in another questionable decision that, like Pacquiao and Onyok’s shock losses, was met with condemnation back home.
But it wasn’t always Filipinos who ended up with the short end of the stick in the world’s dirtiest game. Who can forget the ‘premature bell’ that saved Rolando Navarrete in his title defense against Korean Choi Chung Il at the Rizal Stadium, with no less than the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in attendance?
It only goes to show that Pacquiao’s loss may go down as one of the darkest episodes in the history of the sport, but it wasn’t the first match tainted by controversy that a Filipino fighter had been involved in – and certainly not the last.
Here’s a list of the seven most controversial fights involving Filipino boxers both amateur and professional as compiled by Spin.ph boxing columnist Ed Tolentino, with input from the country’s top boxing writers and columnists.
ERBITO SALAVARRIA VS BETULIO GONZALEZ, November 20, 1971
Salavarria traveled all the way to Venezuela to defend his World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight title against home hero Gonzalez. After 15 rounds, Salavarria appeared to have done enough to retain his belt. But in a chaotic ending, the scorecards were read in Spanish and Salavarria’s camp had no idea if the Filipino had won or lost. The fight was declared a draw despite scoring referee Mills Lane’s insistence that he gave the fight to Salavarria and that the Filipino should have won by split decision. Worse, the scorecards could no longer be found amid all the confusion. The Zulia State Boxing Commission later insisted that Gonzalez should be named the new champion, claiming the Filipino had allegedly used an illegal substance (sugared water) during the fight. In December 1971, the WBC stripped Salavarria of the title but Gonzalez, acknowledging that the Filipino had won the fight, refused to accept the belt.
MANNY PACQUIAO VS JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ, May 8, 2004
Bradley-Pacquiao wasn’t the first fight for the Filipino ring icon marred by controversy. In May 2004, Pacquiao challenged Mexican Marquez for his combined World Boxing Association-International Boxing Federation (WBA_IBF) featherweight titles - the first showdown of what would turn out to be a memorable trilogy for the arch-rivals. Pacquiao floored Marquez three times in the opening round but the Mexican survived and salvaged a draw after 12 rounds, allowing him to keep the crowns. But as it turned out, judge Burt Clements admitted he erred in scoring the fight 113-113 since he failed to give Pacquiao an extra point for the third knockdown he scored in the first round. Had Clements’ true score been reflected in the scorecard, Pacquiao would have won the fight. Despite Clements’ admission, the result of the fight was never changed.
ANTHONY VILLANUEVA VS STANISLAV STEPASHKIN, October 1964
In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Villanueva battled Russian Stepashkin in the featherweight division finals, needing only a win to bring home the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal. Villanueva fought his heart out but still lost to Stepashkin via a razor-close 3-2 verdict. Just about every boxing expert, however, thought the Filipino did enough to win. Even Nat Fleisher, the founder of The Ring magazine, scored the fight for the Filipino.
MANSUETO “ONYOK” VELASCO VS DANIEL PETROV BUJILOV, August 1996
Velasco became the second Filipino after Anthony Villanueva to fight for an Olympic gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games when he faced Daniel Petrov Bujilov of Bulgaria in the light-flyweight finals. Onyok was several inches shorter than the Bulgarian who also enjoyed a big advantage in reach, but the Filipino fought gallantly and landed punches cleanly in the exchanges. The judges scored the fight aided by computers but, for some reason, most of the punches Velasco landed against the Bulgarian were not reflected in the scorecards. Petrov escaped with a 19-6 victory, making a close fight appear lopsided. Velasco settled for the silver medal.
MANNY PACQUIAO VS TIMOTHY BRADLEY, June 10, 2012
With millions of fans around the world watching, Manny Pacquiao suffered one of the most protested decisions in the sport’s annals. That it happened in a day and age when information is spread quickly through television, the internet and other mediums has only added to the bout’s infamy. But how American judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford scored the fight in favor of Bradley – despite punch stats showing the Filipino ring hero landing the more punches and dominating the American challenger in every other category – is a mystery only the late great novelist Agatha Christie can write.
ROLANDO NAVARRETE VS CHOI-CHUNG IL, January 16, 1981
Navarrete, the “Bad Boy from Dadiangas,” successfully retained his WBC super featherweight title with an 11th-round knockout of South Korean challenger Choi Chung-il before a huge hometown crowd at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. The fight was however marred by controversy in the fifth round, after Choi floored Navarrete with a flurry of punches. While referee Chuck Hassett was in the process of administering the count, the bell rang prematurely. The fight, witnessed by no less than President Marcos day before he was to lift Martial Law, was carried live by a television station but the TV audience never saw what happened during that fateful moment since the live feed mysteriously got cut off. Choi accused the organizers of intentionally ringing the bell early to save Navarrete and the WBC agreed with him. The WBC ordered an immediate rematch, but the fight never took place as Navarrete lost the WBC belt in his next fight against Mexican Rafael “Bazooka” Limon by 12th-round knockout in May 1982. It was Limon who instead faced Choi in September 1982 and the Mexican scored a one-sided 7th-round knockout.
GABRIEL ELORDE VS SANDY SADDLER, January 18, 1956
Elorde battled Saddler in San Francisco, California, a the heavy favorite to win the world featherweight crown, having defeated the American in their non-title meeting in 1955. Elorde fought brilliantly and was two rounds away from winning the title when he sustained a cut in the 13th round. To his horror, referee Ray Flores immediately stopped the fight without verifying if the cut was serious, allowing Saddler to retain the title. Flores was banned after the fight and never worked another boxing match.