The night Flash Elorde crowned himself the world junior-lightweight king

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  • A few months back before Filipino junior-lightweight title pretender Gabriel “Flash” Elorde fought American-Portuguese Harold Gomes for the latter’s world  135-pound crown, “Bay,” as he was also popularly known, just came from successive losses to similarly world-ranked Vicente Rivas of Venezuela and American Solomon Boysaw of Cleveland.

    It was no surprise, therefore, that Elorde, then nine days shy of his 25thbirthday, came as the underdog even weeks before that fateful March 16, 1960 encounter which, incidentally, fell on the day the air-conditioned dome of the Araneta Coliseum was inaugurated.

    This despite the Flash’s winning his next two outings – a decision victory over Japanese Hisao Kobayashi to retain his Oriental lightweight title and countryman Bert Somodio.

    The underdog tag though was good only, it turned out, to the so-called fight buffs and not to his loyal, plain and simple compatriots, who started lining up the coliseum gates as early as the morning that fight day for tickets.

    Fans who could not afford ringside seats, incorrigible procrastinators who waited for the last moment to purchase tickets, provincial folk who came via land, sea and air transports, all converged at the cavernous Quezon City Dome with only but one wish – for Elorde’s victory.

    A riot of sort, in fact,  ensued as fight time neared when the excess of the 27,000 fans the Big Dome can accommodate scaled the gates going to the first floor via the turnstiles. Some were dragged away by the police securing the gates, but still hundreds of the more resourceful succeeded in squeezing through, gaining entry and glued themselves in every inch still available.

    Those not successful consoled themselves watching the contest on a giant tv screen provided by BigDome management.

    Both foreign and local media  outfits reported that fans inside and outside the coliseum roared in cacophony as the ring announcer stepped atop the immaculate white ring following  the last preliminary bout screaming over the public address system that the fight “we’ve all been waiting for is about to begin.”

    From the time the Philippine pride connected his first big blow that shook the title defender, the crowd knew Pancho Villa (the first Filipino and Asian, for that matter, to win a world boxing championship) had a successor.

    Elorde, the meek and humble off the squared arena, turned killer that night sending the outclassed Gomes to the seat of his pants seven times that only pride of being the champion kept him on his feet each time the Filipino dropped him to the canvas in each of the seven rounds the title showdown lasted.

    Bay dropped Gomes to the canvas in the second round with a right hook to the head. The Filipino challenger knocked the 25-year-old Gomes down again in the third and in the fifth, sending him over the ring’s lower rope at the end of round five.

    In the sixth, Gomes mounted a brief comeback, but at the start of the seventh, Elorde hammered him again, connecting with rights to the head followed by a left to the jaw that sent him lying in the mat once more. The outclassed Portuguese-American defending champ  got up but was floored again after receiving a combination of lefts and rights.

    Similar lightning-like combinations forced referee Barney Ross to count him out at the one-minute, 50-second mark of the period.  When Gomes recovered, he went to Elorde’s corner and whispered: “It was a good fight.”

    Doubters and non-believers who thought Bay was on the way out and nearing washed up before that pivotal evening of the 16th of March welcomed the victory that ended the nation’s long wait – 47 year after Villa won the world flyweight crown and 21 years after Ceferino Garcia, acknowledged as the father of the “bolo punch”  crowned himself the world middleweight kingpin.

    Elorde defended the crown 10 times until June 15, 1967, where he lost a majority decision to Yoshiaki Numata of Japan. This made him the longest-reigning world junior lightweight champion ever (seven years and three months).

    And had the lefty Filipino heeded the clamor for him to hang his gloves following  his twin KO defeats to Carlos Ortiz for the world lightweight title and to dirty featherweight Sandy Saddler for the latter’s plum, the Philippines would have had to wait several more years before enjoying the honor of having a Filipino world champion.

    Elorde reigned as junior-lightweight king of the world for seven years before Father Time caught up on him. On July 30, 1971, 11 years after mesmerizing the entire universe by his stunning triumph to grab the world 135-pound plum, his own country’s governing body in boxing, the Games and Amusements Board, to his consternation, retired him so he would never fight again. (To Be Continued)

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