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Ceferino Garcia, the inventor of the "bolo punch" and world boxing middleweight champion in 1939-40
By Rolando O. Borrinaga
(This article was featured in the Sports Page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 27, 1994.)
"WHY, is he here?" loudly asked Alberto Garcia, 76 years old, balding, and slightly deaf. Man Ambing, as he is called, posed the question to Primo Hotricano, his acquaintance and my friend, who helped me gather additional biographical information about Ceferino Garcia, boxing’s Hall of Famer who introduced the "bolo punch" and was world middleweight champion in 1939-1940.
We chanced upon Man Ambing one early afternoon, in shabby shorts and shirt and headcap, repairing the ramshackle pushcart which he uses in his trade buying and selling empty bottles in my hometown of Naval in Biliran Province. He now resides with a cousin in the dilapidating Garcia ancestral house across the church in the poblacion. He takes his meals in the house of a nephew’s family some 300 meters from where he lives.
After Al S. Mendoza published my letter in his "Spectator" column last Sept. 14, word somehow reached Man Ambing that Ceferino’s name appeared in the papers. He took this to mean that his boxer-brother is still alive, and in the country. Thus the almost discordant question that, unfortunately, did not solicit a positive answer for Man Ambing’s life-long yearning.
The interview corrected Man Ambing’s false impression and enabled him to reminisce his past and the early years of his long lost brother.
Ceferino Garcia, the boxer, was the eldest child of Fortunato (Porto) Garcia and Pascuala Pieras. The couple bore six children, but only five grew up to adulthood. The second child was Francisco, the third was Leona, and the fourth was Rufina. Man Ambing was the fifth and deemed the youngest, a younger sister having died in childhood. He is six years younger than the champion boxer.
Ceferino was baptized Cipriano and nicknamed Predo. He typified the poor, less schooled, and rural-bred Filipino who aspired for wealth and fame through the boxing arena.
Predo did not complete his Grade I studies in Barrio Caraycaray, Naval, where he was born and grew up to adolescence. This literacy deficiency would later disqualify him from enlisting in the US Navy, the other avenue for peasant escape from poverty in the 1930s. He seemed to have been drawn early to gambling, hantak (head-or-tail betting game, using three old one-centavo coins) being his mania. He was also good in the pool table.
And in street boxing matches. By age 15, when Predo left home for good, he was so feared that nobody would pick a fistfight with him in the neighborhood or in the poblacion.
But Predo was a good blacksmith, the obvious favorite among the three sons of Porto. It did not take long to finish a bolo from his powerful blows with the sledge hammer. Man Ambing idolized his brother for this.
I asked Man Ambing about extant pictures of his brother. He had none. Instead, he ran inside the house from where he got and then showed me his picture as a young man. He told me he had similar facial features with Predo, who was tall, lean but husky, and with thin wrists. The photograph had the typical Garcia features, memorialized in a sketch of his great grand-uncle, the priest who established Naval as a town in the 1860s.
To Boxing Fame
Predo left home with a heavy heart. The cause was believed to be his spurned love proposal to the local girl of his fancy, who supposedly dismissed him for his gambler’s ways.
He joined the master baker of the local bakery on a trip to Cebu City, where he was introduced to some boxing promoter and started his professional boxing career. He had not returned home since he left, for which he was sorely missed by many of his contemporaries.
Man Ambing recalled that his brother, having assumed the boxing name Ceferino, became a prominent boxer around 1936 or 1937, first in Cebu and then in Manila. He became famous for the dreaded "bolo punch," of which he was the recognized inventor.
In 1938, Ceferino traveled to the United States to take a crack at the world middleweight crown. He succeeded in his quest. During the same year, he provided the country’s boxing spectacle of the 1930s when he successfully defended his title by beating the (white) American challenger, Glen Lee, at the Rizal Track-Football Stadium. He was assisted in this match by the famous Jack Dempsey.
Afterwards, he returned to the US, where he probably lost his crown, and did not come back to the Philippines.
The "bolo punch" presumably assured Garcia’s place in the Boxing Hall of Fame. Two other Filipino boxers had been inducted to this august Hall: Pancho Villa and Flash Elorde. Primo Hotricano told me that Garcia’s boxing feats were once featured in an article, perhaps in the Philippines Free Press.
Somehow, the Garcia family had dispersed before World War II. Man Ambing’s brother, Francisco, settled with his family in Mindanao. He retired as a captain in the Philippine Army. In his deathbed, he asked his children, now settled somewhere in Cubao, Quezon City, to locate Man Ambing. This they had obliged.
Leona settled somewhere in Pampanga, now a lahar country. Man Ambing failed to tell me about her fate.
Rufina got married to an American named Foreman, and settled somewhere in Oregon, USA. Man Ambing recalled that she bore three children by her American husband. He has not heard from her for decades.
The war caught Man Ambing in Manila. Life was desperate there, but it helped that he was the brother of Ceferino Garcia, the boxing champion. Basking in his brother’s glory offered some comfort and opened a few doors for him during the war years.
When the US Forces reached Manila in 1945, Man Ambing worked with them as truck driver transporting military cargo between Manila and Cavite. He was offered to join the troops in Okinawa, Japan. But he refused, because he had to attend to his ailing father back in Leyte. The Americans offered him transport to Cebu.
Man Ambing located his father in Ormoc and brought him home to Naval. Along the way, he sold the family’s blacksmithing tools to a junkshop. His father died not long afterwards.
Man Ambing returned to Manila, where he failed two attempts to settle down in marriage. He has no children of his own.
Not long ago, he wrote to the US Army Archives in Missouri, USA, to inquire about the possibility of his being recognized as a veteran for his war services. The answer told him that his name does not appear in the official roster of Filipinos who can qualify for veterans’ benefits.
Now, Man Ambing is spending his sunset years in Naval.
Where is Ceferino Garcia?
Throughout the interview, Man Ambing expressed his wish to know the fates of his brother Predo (Ceferino) and sister Rufina in the United States. Is Ceferino dead, or still alive? Did he ever marry and raise a family of his own? If still living, Ceferino would be 82 years by now.
The answers to Man Ambing’s questions are probably with his sister Rufina, if still alive, or with her children, if they are still in Oregon, USA.
Perhaps, living boxing contemporaries of Ceferino in the US can also help provide some answers.
Fifty years after Gen. MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, Man Ambing continues to await words about his champion brother, Ceferino Garcia.
(NOTE: I learned recently that Ceferino Garcia had been inducted to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1981, but not yet in the other hall, International Boxing Hall of Fame. A rejoinder to this article, written by somebody else, narrated Garcia's professional exploits and his retirement in the United States, where he passed away. Unfortunately, I failed to get a copy of the Inquirer that carried the latter article. Man Ambing himself passed away around February 1996. Around early 2000, a California-based descendant of Glen Lee, whom Garcia defeated in Manila in 1938, informed this writer that his uncle was in fact white, not black. Very recently (January 2002), I established contact with Andrea Garcia Hursala, Ceferino Garcia's granddaughter, who had stumbled upon my website. She sent me the photograph above of Ceferino Garcia and Ceferino Jr., Andrea's father.)
Just old, not wise
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Heya Kadyo, ole buddy!
The Garcia- Lee fight is often referred to as the FIRST WORLD TITLE MATCH HELD IN THE PHILIPPINES. The title at stake was the NYSAC version of the Middleweight title. Garcia was defending (1st defense). He won the title from Fred Apostoli via a 7th round KO (Garcia floored Apostoli thrice in the 7th) at the Madison Squre Garden, NY, some two months prior to meeting Glen Lee in Manila.
Jack Dempsey was NOT Garcia's assistant; he was the referee of the rainsoaked affair (the fight was held al fresco the Rizal Track/Football Stadium where the great Babe Ruth also hit a homerun). Garcia floored Lee in the 13th round twice, for a count of 8th on the first KD and then for a count of 9 in the second KD. Dempsey halted the contest and declared Garcia KO winner when he saw that Lee was too groggy to continue.
Lee had defeated Garcia (PNTS) some two years earlier at the Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles when he outweighed the Filipino by some ten pounds in a welterweight non-title contest.
In his very next fight, Garcia held the great Henry Armstrong to a draw in a "World Middleweight" clash recognized only by the state of California. His NYSAC title was not on the line.
Close to two months after the Armstrong fight, Garcia dispatched Allen Matthews in the fourth round in a non-title fight, before staking his crown against Ken Overlin.
The New York Times reported that Garcia was a disappointment to his fans who had expected him to blast his foe with his lethal right hand; instead, he allowed Overlin to dictate the tempo and was outpointed; UD 15.
The Associated Press had a two paragraph obit carried by the January 2, 1981 edition of the New York Times announcing Garcia's death. He was said to be 77, according to AP.
Most sources say Garcia's date of birth was August 26, 1906. If that is so, he must have been only 74 years old when he died. The AP obit was also mum on the place of death. Some sources put it at, "San Diego, California".
Also some sources mistakenly note his place of birth as Tondo, Manila, The Philippines. He was actually born in Caraycaray, Naval, Leyte.
He has not been enshrined in the younger, "International Boxing Hall of Fame", based in Canastota, NY, but was inducted TWICE to the older (founded in 1980 in "Southern California", but currently based in 121-year old Los Angeles Athletic Club) World Boxing Hall of Fame. Why twice, I don't really understand, but it is so noted in the official website of the WBHOF.
Garcia has also been inducted to the Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame (1977). The magazine's Hall of Fame was begun in 1954 and enshrined 155 greats until it was abandoned in 1988.
NOV. 3, NEW CHAMPION
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i haven't read the article yet, but did Kid Gavillan invent the bolo punch? At least that how its been told since i've watched boxing.
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