by Ronnie Nathanielsz
Our nation and people who often need to be reminded about the heroes of our time who have passed away, will mark the 29th death anniversary of unquestionably the finest gentlemen who ever laced a pair of gloves and became a world champion from the Philippines – Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.
To us he will always be remembered as a beloved friend whose humility and soft-spoken manner were a tribute to a fighter who reigned as world junior lightweight champion for almost seven-and-a-half years and always fought the best in his weight division when multiple world organizations and numerous titles eroded the true worth of a championship belt.
When Elorde was confined at the Lung Center in Quezon City and we were managing the government TV network at that time, Maharlika Broadcasting System Channel 4, we used to visit him three times a day without fail.
We’d drop by the hospital every morning before reporting at the MBS 4 offices then located at the present site of ABS-CBN and spend around 30 minutes with “Flash.”
After grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime we would drive to the Lung Center which wasn’t too far away and at a time when traffic wasn’t as bad as it is today and spend our lunch hour merely watching over him, often eliciting a faint smile if he was awake.
Every evening after the news was put to bed and we were able to sneak in a game of tennis on the court in the TV station compound , we would freshen up and visit Elorde at the hospital, at times even assisting the nurses in changing the tube that drained the blood from his weakening body, wracked by cancer.
It was on one of those nightly visits on New Year’s Day that the nurses told us that the end was near. We stayed around, praying to a merciful God that it wasn’t true, but after midnight and around 1:00 a.m. Elorde opened his eyes one last time, took a deep breath and joined his Maker.
We were numb with sorrow for we had covered most of Elorde’s fights for Radio Station dzHP, the “Sound of the City” and voiced some of his fights on films screened in double-headers in downtown theaters in Quiapo, Manila and had come to know him intimately and to develop a profound respect for the man, both as an extraordinary champion but more importantly as a consummate gentleman in and outside the ring.
Each year on his death anniversary and on the day of his birth, we join his widow Laura and the Elorde clan in a Mass at his tomb at the Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque.
It’s a ritual we follow as a sign of deep respect for an exemplary individual who was unquestionably one of the heroes of our time.
As a fighter “Flash” Elorde always fought the best and never sidestepped anyone. A southpaw who resorted to the shoulder roll long before Floyd Mayweather Jr claimed it was his, Elorde was best known for his speed and his remarkable skill.
Writer Robert Lipsyte once described Elorde as the fighter with the “subtle little temple-dancer moves.”
He successfully defended his junior lightweight title ten times and reigned as Philippine and Oriental champion from bantamweight to lightweight.
Elorde had many memorable fights. We watched him in an absolute classic ten round bout which he won by a unanimous decision against the classy former world lightweight champion Ismael Laguna of Panama after dropping Laguna twice in rounds three and nine if my memory serves me well.
He also scored a rousing victory over Italian lightweight champion Giordano Campari but his most emotionally-charged victory was over featherweight champion Sandy Saddler in Manila in 1955 when Elorde, despite being a victim of the dirtiest fighter in the business who cut, poked, laced and elbowed the gallant Filipino, won a handsome victory.
Respected boxing writer Graham Houston, writing about the rematch at the famed Cow Palace in San Francisco which was stopped in the 13th round because of a terrible gash over his left eye, penned “It was an infamous evening for American boxing, with Saddler, always known as an extremely rough and vicious fighter, guilty of a succession of fouls that drew much criticism at the time. Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "It was a dirty fight throughout and all the onus must be on the 126-pound champion's skinny shoulders. From this corner it appeared highly improbable that he could have successfully defended the title … if he hadn't resorted to all the so-called tricks in and out of the rule book."
In a scathing editorial in The Ring, Nat Fleischer condemned Saddler for using "every foul technique known to the game," which included rubbing his head and the heels of his gloves into the cut over Elorde's eye.”
The crowd lustily booed the decision and three water bottles and debris into the ring but Elorde, ever the gentleman, embraced Saddler and congratulated him.
mes in Manila four years later.
On March 16, 1960 at the inauguration of the famed Araneta Coliseum which was to become the “Mecca” of Philippine sports and entertainment and before crowd which businessman-sportsman George “Nene” Araneta who was the young promoter, estimated at 36,000, Elorde scored a spectacular 7th round knockout of American world champion Harold Gomes after dropping the tough Gomes some five times.
Elorde, in a rematch a few months later, stopped Gomes in the very first round.
The measure of the respect Gomes has for Elorde was when he returned to Manila with his entire family to be special guest at the Annual “Flash” Elorde Awards and Banquet of Champions and to demonstrate his affection for a man he referred to as “a great champion and an even greater gentleman.”
Gabriel “Flash” Elorde will live forever in our hearts because to have known him was a rare privilege and to have covered his exploits in the ring was in itself an edifying experience where his skill and courage shone like a beacon and where his exemplary conduct outside the ring was a testament to true greatness.
Editor's Note: A DVD TITLED 'THE FLASH ELORDE STORY' PRODUCED BY THE WRITER IS AVAILABLE IN ALL ODYSSEY, SM AND OTHER OUTLETS. THE DVD INCLUDES HISTORIC FIGHT FOOTAGE. Tags: boxing