Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The First Pinoy World Champion

For today's post, I decided to feature the first Filipino World Champion. Francisco Guilledo was best known as Pancho Villa, the legendary World flyweight champion. He stood only five feet tall and never weighed more than 114 pounds but he is now considered as one of the best boxers to ever coma out of Asia. However, he is also remembered for the strange circumstances that surrounded his death when he was at his prime at the young age of twenty three.

Francisco was was born in Negros Occidental, in a little town called Ilog. He sailed to Iloilo City to work as a bootblack, to support his family after his father abandoned them. He befriended a local boxer while he was working in Iloilo,, and together they migrated to Manila, settling in Tondo.

He soon attracted the attention of local boxing promoters after he was seen occasionally sparring with friends. He fought his first professional fight in 1919 and became the Philippine flyweight champion within two years.

Pancho Villa received an invitation from famed boxing promoter Tex Rickard to fight in the United States in May, 1922. He accepted the invitation, and sailed to America to seek boxing glory.

On June 7, 1922, he won his first overseas fight against Abe Attel Goldstein in Jersey City. After more impressive performance in the ring, he was slated to fight against the American flyweight champion Johnny Buff on September 15, 1922.

He defeated Buff by knocking out the champion in the 11th round to win the American flyweight championship. Despite losing the championship in his next fight on a controversial decision, Pancho villa was chosen to fight Jimmy Wilde, the reigning Wold Flyweight Champion.

At the Polo Grounds in New York, Villa was cheered on to victory over Wilde by over 20,000 fans screaming "Viva Villa!" a crashing right to Wilde's jaw in the 7th round gave the belt to Villa buy way of a knockout. Those who witnessed the fight, described Villa as relentless as he pummeled Wilde with both hands en route to the KO victory.

He defended his world flyweight champion successfully several times and never relinquished it until his death just two years later. Villa returned to a heroes He welcome in Manila in September 1924, feted with a parade and a reception at MalacaƱan Palace. He also returned to his old haunts in Iloilo and his hometown in Negros.

He returned to the United States to prepare for his next match, against Jimmy McLarnin. This was a a non-title fight scheduled for July 4, 1925, at Ewing Field in Oakland. However, Villa's face became swollen due to an ulcerated tooth a few days leading to the fight.

Villa went to a dentist to have the tooth extracted on the morning of the fight, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, on the morning of the fight. He insisted on going ahead with fight with McLarnin despite suffering from the pain and swelling. Villa managed to stay the distance and lost by decision ven if he spent most of the fight using one hand to protect his afflicted face.

Villa had three more teeth extracted after an infection was discovered a few days after the McLarnin fight. However, he a spent the next few days carousing with friends against his dentist's prescription of bed rest. His condition worsened thereafter to the point that he had to be rushed to the hospital on July 13, 1925.

It was then discovered that the infection had spread to Villa's throat, resulting in Ludwig's angina. He was rushed into surgery, but he lapsed into a coma while on the table, and died the following day, July 14, 1925.

Thus ended the life of the first Pinoy World champion. In October of 1961, Villa was added by Ring Magazine to its own boxing hall of fame. He was also inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994 becoming the second Filipino boxer so honored after Flash Elorde.

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