This Saturday, August 21, come to the Koret Center on the University of San Francisco’s campus and meet the members of the Philippine National Boxing Team, who continue their march toward the 2012 Olympics in London.
Better yet, why not try out and see if you have what it takes to represent the “Perlas ng Silanganan” in international competition as a full-fledged member of the squad?
In addition to a ten-plus bout exhibition card where the fighting Filipinos will take on some of Northern California’s best amateurs, tryouts beforehand will be supervised by coaches Pat Gaspi, Nolito Velasco, Ronald Chavez, and 1992 light flyweight bronze medalist Roel Velasco. The festivities begin with a clinic run by USF varsity head coach Angelo Merino on Friday.
“You never know,” said Merino. “We might find somebody here in tryouts. But there are a few requirements before they can even be eligible to compete for the national team.”
So what are these prerequisites? Here they are:
1) You must possess Filipino citizenship, dual citizenship, or be eligible to acquire dual citizenship. For eligibility requirements, click this link: http://bit.ly/bdYJg0
2) You must be able to travel for a set training period in the Philippines and compete as a member of the Philippine team on an international level.
3) You must be between 17-26 years old.
4) You must have completed a minimum of four amateur bouts.
As for the current composition of the team, seven men and four women with Olympic aspirations will disembark from a Philippine Airlines flight in San Francisco International Airport tonight. Among the hopefuls are 2009 South East Asian Games featherweight gold medalist Charly Suarez of Davao and 2008 women’s World Championships flyweight silver medalist Annie Albania of South Cotabato.
“Charly Suarez is good and he’s young at 21 years old,” shared Merino. “He throws a lot and never backs down. He’s got a lot of heart and he’s very calm and collected. The kid knows his game. He’s our best bet in the next Asian Games.”
According to the USF head man, Albania is also one to watch, as the women get their crack at Olympic glory in London next year when it becomes a medal sport for the first time. “I think Annie is going to kick butt in Barbados and beyond. The only hindrance with her is that she’s already 28 but she can bang.”
Rounding out the men’s squad are pinweight Gerson Nietes Jr., light flyweight Victorio Saludar, flyweight Rey Saludar, lightweight Joegin Ladon, welterweight Delfin Boholst, and 16-year-old bantam Recky Dulay.
“The men are really young,” opined Merino. “(2009 AIBA light flyweight world champion) Harry Tañamor was a great amateur for the Philippines and now he’s stepping aside and giving way to these new kids. In two years, you’re going to see what they can do.”
The Filipino females also include a talented group. Besides Albania, pinweight Josie Gabuco was a bronze medalist at the 2008 World Championships and light flyweight Alice Kate Appari earned the gold at the 2009 SEA Games. Featherweight Nesthy Petecio will also make the trip to California.
Among the Northern California boxers who will go toe-to-toe with the Filipinos this weekend, reigning U.S. national champion light flyweight Jessica Ponce of Salinas stands out. She faces Albania in the fight of the night. On the men’s side, featherweight Roman Morales and lightweight Andy Vences, who have been nationally ranked within the past year, are on the docket to face Suarez and Ladon, respectively. In addition, local welterweights like Jake Operskalski of Oakland’s King’s Gym and Aaron Coley of the hometown Straight Forward Club are slated for action.
After their stay in the Bay Area, the team reportedly will travel south to the Los Angeles area to compete in the Blue and Gold Tournament in Maywood from September 2-5. Ed Picson, executive director of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines, has stated in the past that the team’s American tour will serve as a springboard for the men’s Tammer Cup in Finland in October and the Women’s World Championships in Barbados from September 9-18.
With the London Olympics just over the horizon in 2012, the Philippine national boxing team is hungry to capitalize on the newfound rise in the sport’s popularity among Pinoys following their fighters’ recent success in the professional ranks. Last year marked the first time that two fighters in the consensus pound-for-pound top-ten were Filipinos (Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire).
Still, if one were to ask Merino, there’s quite a bit of work to do, especially in building the amateur program. “The last time the Filipino team came here to prepare for the World Championships in Houston (in 1999), no one even met the team at the airport.”
A welcome show of supporters will be greeting them at the gates this time, however, with WBO women’s super bantamweight champion Ana Julaton among them. Although she has a busy schedule lined up this weekend that includes an appearance at the Filipino Adobo Festival in Sacramento, meeting the team and training with them were two events she refused to pass up.
“I’m excited to meet them all,” said Julaton. “I believe it’s important to support our amateur program to help uplift our Filipino community. I am especially excited for the female team because, this Olympic year, female boxing will be recognized and I believe the first [boxing] gold medal for the Philippines may come from the female side!”
The prospect of females winning the gold for the “Three Stars and Sun” has added significance for the Filipina star since not too long ago, she was denied the same chance when she was an amateur.
“It was always my dream to compete in the Olympics but unfortunately I was never given the opportunity because it had not been accepted in 2008,” lamented Julaton. “But I’m happy to support the future of Philippine female boxing and female boxing in the Olympics. I believe they have a great coaching staff and, with everyone helping out, they can be elevated to compete at the highest level.”
With this momentum pushing Philippine boxing as a whole to unseen heights from an exposure standpoint, Merino puts the onus on the new generation to continue this progress. Julaton added, “Boxing has always been in our culture. The art of fighting, whether it’s been Arnis, Eskrima, or Kali, is a livelihood. It’s entrenched in Filipinos and I think that’s why it’s important to keep this going. And we need to show support to these Filipinos so they know they have a home here too. It’s a matter of Filipino pride and learning about the culture wherever it is, whether it’s in the Philippines or here in America.”
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On Saturday, August 21, the Philippine National Boxing Team Presents: United States Tryouts. The event will take place at the University of San Francisco’s Koret Center on 222 Stanyan Street and it is open to the public. Here is the schedule:
Weigh-in: 12:00-2:00 PM
Physicals: 2:00-3:00 PM
Bouts: 4:00-8:00 PM
Registration and Questions: Contact Coach Angelo Merino at email@example.com or 415-422-2773.
Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.