January 2 marks the death anniversary of the late Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, regarded by most as the greatest Filipino boxer of all-time. Ronnie Nathanielsz who was a close friend of Elorde and covered most of his fights remembers with fondess, a fighter and a friend.
By Ronnie Nathanielsz (photo credit to PinoySports)
Gabriel "Flash" Elorde was the youngest in a family of sixteen, born into a poor farmer’s home in the town of Bogo. His poverty served not as a burden but as a challenge.
Elorde walked off the streets of Cebu where he worked as a pier hand, a dishwasher on an inter-island cargo boat and a pinboy in a bowling alley to punch his way to the world junior lightweight crown, in the process winning international acclaim and the hearts of millions of his countrymen.
The Philippines has been blessed with a long line of remarkable champions from Pancho Villa to Ceferino Garcia and in more recent times the incredible Manny Pacquiao. But in the fascinating history of boxing Gabriel "Flash" Elorde stands out as the greatest of all time, not merely for his incredible skill and raw courage but even more so for the exemplary human qualities that shone like a beacon among the heroes of our time.
One of the greatest fighters to ever come out of the Asia-Pacific region, Elorde was born on March 25, 1935 and turned professional when he was barely 16.
An excellent boxer, the famed southpaw became an oriental champion at all weights - from bantamweight to lightweight.
In an active career Elorde had 44 title fights, 15 for world titles, and was involved in at least one every year from 1952 to 1967.
Elorde won his first twelve fights before being beaten by Little Dundee over eight rounds in Davao City on February 24, 1952.
Elorde scored his first big win in a ten round bout with Philippine bantamweight champion Tanny Campo in May 1952 and in a rematch at the Rizal Memorial on July 26, 1952, Elorde won the title.
Less than one month later Elorde returned to Davao City where he sparred on a sandlot in a ring with abaca strands for ropes. On August 12, Elorde avenged his earlier loss to Little Dndee with a four round KO in his first defense of the bantamweight crown.
Lope "Papa" Sarreal, the grand old man of Philippine boxing who was later to become Elorde’s manager and father-in-law, convinced Nick Laurel, Elorde’s manager at that time, to send him to Japan with trainer Cely Villanueva.
"Papa" Sarreal matched Elorde with Horishi Hiroguchi for the orient bantamweight title on October 18, 1952 in Tokyo.
Elorde won by a unanimous decision with all three Japanese judges scoring the fight in favor of Elorde who was only 17. In winning the title Elorde captured the imagination of Japanese boxing fans who ever since, had the highest respect and admiration for him.
In 1953 Elorde dropped a 12 round decision to Larry Bataan in a bid for the Philippine featherweight title in Manila and later lost a 12 round verdict to Japanese junior lightweight champion Masashi Akiyama in Tokyo. Finally however, his quest for success at a heavier weight succeeded. After losing another 12 round decision to Shigeji Kaneko for the Oriental 126 pound belt, Elorde beat Tommy Romulo to win the Philippine junior lightweight championship.
Then on July 20, 1955, Elorde stunned the boxing world when he out-pointed world featherweight champion Sandy Saddler in a ten-round, non title fight in Manila. It was a fight etched in the memories of many for the sheer gallantry of Elorde against a veteran world champion who was regarded by most as one of the dirtiest boxers in the business.
The late renowned journalist Teddy Benigno didn’t give Elorde a chance against Sadler. When it was over Benigno, in his usual masterful fashion, wrote, " with his legs almost shot from under him … his face a rucksack of welts, cuts and bruises … his eyes mere slits … Elorde would pull that courage from some inner, invisible scabbard and turn the tide."
With his new-found confidence and his ranking as a contender, the young Elorde dared to face Saddler in a rematch on January 18, 1956, with Sadler’s featherweight title on the line at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.Elorde fought brilliantly and was leading on the scorecards of all the judges when the referee called a halt to the fight in the 13th round because of a nasty cut suffered by Elorde as Sadler laced, poked, elbowed and pawed the young Filipino in an ugly display of viciousness in the ring.
Boxing fans booed Saddler and howled over the stoppage. Philippine Ambassador to Washington, the eminent diplomat Carlos P. Romulo told Elorde "you may have lost the fight, but you won the hearts of Americans by your gallantry."
Elorde didn’t get another title shot for the rest of the decade but remained a ranked contender. Eventually, Elorde won the Philippine lightweight title beating Tommy Romulo on March 16, 1957 before adding the Orient lightweight belt to his trophy room just over one month later, by whipping Hideto Kobayashi of Japan in Nagoya.
On March 16, 1960, at the inauguration of the Araneta Coliseum … the "Mecca" of Philippine sports and entertainment" and before some thirty thousand screaming fans, Elorde score a spectacular seventh round knockout victory over world junior lightweight champion Harold Gomes of the United States.
It was a day of national rejoicing. A ticker-tape parade through the heart of downtown Manila and a courtesy call on President Carlos P. Garcia highlighted the week’s celebration. Even the movie stars came out in full force to congratulate the world champion.
Elorde became an overnight national hero and was invited by a number of local officials to visit their towns and cities amidst an outpouring of admiration and pride in his achievements.
In a rematch with Gomes five months later, Elorde re-asserted his ring greatness with a sensational first round KO, which was one of the quickest in history.
During the Christmas season of 1960,December 16 to be exact, Elorde met Vicente Rivas of Venezuela who had beaten him on points in a ten round fight in Caracas in June 1959. Before a jampacked crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, Elorde put on a classic display to avenge his defeat with a comfortable decision.
1961 began with a successful title defense against Joey Lopes in Manila. It was a good fight but Elorde proved to be the master.
Then on May 31, Elorde took care of Giodarno Campari in a ten-round, non-title fight before retaining his oriental lightweight crown against Japan’s Teruo Kosaka with whom he had five memorable ring battles.
For their fifth and final clash the Araneta Coliseum was packed to the rafters. It was June 15, 1965. Elorde and Kosaka had become firm friends through the years but once inside the ring, they engaged in an action-packed, fifteen round war.
It was a rousing battle where Elorde decked Kosaka no less than seven times en route to a sensational 15th round knockout.
Before that fifth and final showdown with Kosaka, Elorde had some of the toughest fights of his illustrious ring career, beating Solomon Boysaw over ten rounds, Johnny Bizzarro in a 15 round title fight at the Rizal memorial football stadium and the rugged and sometimes dirty Love Allotey of Ghana.
On February 15, 1964 Elorde went after the lightweight title of the hard-hitting Puerto Rican world champion Carlos Ortiz at the Rizal Memorial baseball stadium. In the seventh round Elorde had Ortiz on the verge of a knockout but just couldn’t put him away. In the end Ortiz came back to win on a hotly-contested 14th round stoppage.
In November that year Elorde clashed with the lanky, rugged South Korean Suh Kang Il and had a hard time before retaining his oriental lightweight title. He met the South Korean for a second time on December 4, 1965 - this time Elorde’s world junior lightweight title was at stake. In another close fight Elorde’s body-punching proved to be the winning edge.
Earlier, in August, Elorde traveled to New York’s famed Madison Square Garden to battle the feared Puerto Rican Frankie Narvaez in a fight aimed at raising funds for a monument on the island of Corregidor. In an action-packed fight that had the fans on their feet, Elorde won by split decision, sparking a full-scale riot by the predominantly Puerto Rican crowd.
In March 1966 Elorde entered the ring against the former world lightweight champion, the flashy Ismael Laguna. Over twenty thousand fans were on hand at the Araneta Coliseum for perhaps one of the greatest fights of Elorde’s ring career. Elorde was at his best against the classy Laguna, decking him in the third and ninth rounds to carve out a spectacular triumph.
Our late father who was a boxing fan flew in from Melbourne, Australia where he lived to watch the fight and never regretted it. He told us later " It was the greatest exhibition of boxing I have ever witnessed."
Elorde’s decline began in June 1966 when he lost the Oriental lightweight title to the young Japanese Yoshiaki Numata. Back in Manila, Elorde beat Percy Hayles and then successfully defended his world title against Vicente Derado before a rematch with Ortiz at Madison Square Garden for the world lightweight crown.
Elorde wasn’t in good shape for the fight and despite smiles all around in a pre-departure courtesy call on President Marcos at Malacanang, it soon became evident that Ortiz was simply too strong.
Elorde fought gamely in a hopeless bid to turn the tide before Ortiz caught him with a thundering right, sending Elorde flat on his back and out for the count for the very first time in his career.
With the years taking its toll Elorde finally lost the title he had held with distinction for almost seven and a half years. It was June 15, 1967 when Yoshiaki Numata jabbed and danced out of trouble to win a decision and wrest the world junior lightweight crown.
In recognition of his greatness the World Boxing Council on its 20th anniversary celebration in New York named Elorde and the flashy Alexis Arguello of Nicaragua as the best junior lightweights in the history of the WBC.
Elorde was also honored by the WBA as a Super Belt winner in the junior lightweight division where he enjoyed the distinction of being in the company of such greats as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.
Elorde was enshrined in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993 and earned numerous accolades for his ring greatness in the ring.
In 1986 the Orient-Pacific Boxing Federation announced an annual award in honor of Elorde. Well-known Australian Frank Quill, president of the OPBF, paid tribute to Elorde as the fighter who made a major impact on his association with boxing.
Flash Elorde was the consummate gentleman in and out of the ring. He was a good and decent family man. He cared for his children and loved his wife. A devout Catholic Elorde helped build Saint Rita’s chapel along Sucat Road in Paranaque. Every time Elorde entered the ring the nuns at St. Rita would pray the rosary while gathered around the radio listening to the coverage over station dzHP.
When Elorde was knocked out by Ortiz, the nuns gathered around the radio and intoned together, "Thank you Lord , it was Your will." One brave sister remarked, "maybe this us God’s way of protecting our Elorde because if he won, he would have to fight again and again."
Elorde was a kind individual … generous to a fault. As a champion he always played by the rules.
Elorde turned the sports complex he built along Sucat road into a haven for young boys from poor families who came to him for help in their quest to try and emulate what Elorde had done. Elorde never turned a boy away and even today his widow, Mrs. Laura Elorde, carries on that remarkable human dimension.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Elorde, during a visit to the clinic one afternoon saw a young boy who was stricken with the dreaded disease. Elorde sat beside him and told the boy to have faith in God and to keep on fighting. Moments later Elorde removed the expensive gold necklace and crucifix he was wearing and gently placed it around the boy’s neck and embraced him.
They shed a tear even as they shared a touching moment that provided an insight into a champion who cared beyond words.
In the fascinating history of boxing in this beloved land, Gabriel "Flash" Elorde stood tall as the greatest of all time … not just for the remarkable skill, the indomitable spirit and the sheer courage he displayed in the ring but even more so for the exemplary human qualities that served as a beacon to those who needed someone to show the way.
Gabriel "Flash" Elorde is truly a hero of our time….someone who richly deserves our remembering because for all of us, the passing of the summers hasn’t dimmed the cherished memories of the greatest Filipino champion of all time.
He was -and will always be remembered- as the quintessential Filipino … a champion and a man beyond all seasons and a gentleman for all time.