Shadow Boxing with Politics
I heard a first-hand memory of Pancho Villa from
an old-timer in New York who related the story to me the after the victory
"blow-out" he witnessed in the 1920s. The bunch of old Manongs
shared the glory of the first Filipino boxer to capture the world title.
They relived the great match with a little shadow boxing and the happy
moment when Pancho treated them to a celebration that would bring them
closer to home. The champion was liberal spender and great showman.
As they were not pulling any punches, my first lesson
on Filipino American history was only beginning. They were single men
working menial jobs, they treated me like the son they never have.
As they were not pulling any
punches, my first lesson on Filipino American history was only beginning.
The sweet science became my sports fascination.
I still enjoy shooting stories with Filipino old-timers as I find myself
as old as they were now. Now I am able to connect various boxing events
that I would like to share with you.
The US Armed Forces brought boxing as a martial art to the Philippines
in the early 1900s. The first schoolteachers were the US soldiers. They
did the best they could but comprehensive education required civilian
guidance. And the Thomasitte soon arrived.
Almost at the same time, boxing was promoted between the soldier and
sailor. It was supposedly to keep healthy body and mind and staving
vices that would be otherwise learned. Matches became big time and the
local Filipinos soon were invited for the challenge. There were some
American boxers who would later become famous after serving in the Philippines.
Mike Ballarino of New Jersey was among the US soldiers who learned boxing
in Manila and later became a boxing champion like Jersey Joe Walcott.
He was a junior lightweight but he honed his skill by losing to a then
unknown flyweight eight times in Manila named Pancho Villa. They fought
in matches that went for 20 rounds couple of times
Pancho Villa born in Iloilo in 1901.
His father left the family and joined the US Navy when he was only an
infant. Pancho Villa so impressed Frank Churchill that the promoter
brought him to New Jersey. On March 1922 Pancho Villa made his boxing
debut in the United States at the old Oakland Athletic Club in Jersey
City while Mike Ballarino was heading for a heavier division.
Almost the same year Jersey City held
the first world multimillion-dollar boxing gate. It was the beginning of the
reign of one of the most powerful mayors in the United States. Mayor
Hague was true to his Irish roots with a passion for boxing, a prizefigther and
promoter in his early youth. He was
known as a political powerbroker of the likes of FDR courted his favor.
He was a kingmaker in more than one way as he supported a New Jersey
favorite son rule the US boxing championship. It was inevitable that
on September 1922 Pancho Villa and Johnny Buff, defending his US title
It was the beginning of the golden years
of Filipino boxing. Pancho was at his best, inspired by the fact that
he had beaten a much larger boxer from New Jersey eight times and soundly
served Johnny a beating. The punishment was so severe that Mayor Hague
stood up and left the front row abruptly before it was completely over.
Little Johnny went back and joined the Navy. Today you will see his
only legacy; his grandson is Johnny Buffer, whose stentorian voice you
hear "..ready to rumble" in almost all the major title fights, In 1925 Mike Ballarino, the
Italian bull of Bayonne became the Jr Lightweight champion. He never
fought Pancho Villa in the United States.
The Cenderella Man, Jim Braddock became a printer's devil in a Jersey press shop when he was 14.
It was about this time that he shimmied over the fence of a ballpark to watch the later Pancho Villa,
sensational Mexican flyweight, box an adversary.From (Braddock Dazed by Fame Champ,
Descendant of Irish Kings, an Alger Hero-review by By JACK MILEY on the Movie). This is
story of Jim Braddock who won the Heavyweight title in a big upset ove Baer.
this is a terrific story built around James J. Braddock, a gritty heavyweight
of the Depression era who came off the bread lines after it seemed his
injury-marred boxing career was over, and eventually became the world champion
in 1935.He was born in New York city but grew up around Hudson County during Pancho
Villa haydays. I dont know if the Jim Braddock thought that Pancho Villa, the boxer
was from Mexico.
Mayor Hague ruled the City of Jersey with his iron fist like the Irish
Mayor Daley of Chicago. He remained Mayor till the middle of the century
and brought federal funds to Jersey City through his influence, the
powerful democratic machine. He rose from a little Irish community north
of the present day Manila Avenue and fought like a tough Irish boxer.
Jersey City became a recipient of several Federal projects, among them
is the state of the art Jersey Medical Center The site is now being
replaced by a new building but not before it became the major sponsor
of nursing exchange program. It was the beginning of the arrival of
foreign Medical practioneers to Jersey that saw the formation of a Filipino
community in the east coast. Medical institutions sponsored more immigrants
from the Philippines than any institutions.
When I went to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, I watched the Boxing events,
as this was the best chance of a homeboy winning a medal. I saw instead
an unknown amateur-Cassius Clay. About 20 years later I settled in Jersey
City, saw Cassius (aka Mohammed Ali) in an exhibition match against
Mayor Tom X Smith of Jersey City, who also had a passion for boxing.
Now when I chat with the old-timers, I point to the ground at the corner
of Oakland and Newark the site of Oakland Athletic Club where on June
6, 1922 Pancho Villa fought his first fight in the United States. The
mayors of Jersey City have a romanced the Filipinos, now numbering over
15,000 since. Jersey city is the most diversified city in the United
States, 100 years ago it was impossible for a poor Irish pug to became
Mayor but Hague proved them wrong, and just last year African American
Glenn Cunningham was elected mayor. Is there a Filipino in the horizon?
Maybe not - the average income of the Filipino household in New Jersey
is $85,000, according to the latest census. That is almost the same
as the Mayor's salary, and more than 20,000 the average family in New
Jersey is making.
In Hawaii in the 1920's boxing was very popular but illegal as cockfighting
among the early Filipinos. According to Joseph Smith, Journal of Combative
Sport, July 2001