02 February 2017

Shortened Periods Just to Watch Muhammad Ali Fight


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There was something that the Brothers used to do sporadically that I just cannot imagine happening at the school or any other school in the present day: declare “shortened periods” so everyone could watch fights of Muhammad Ali. It was ridiculous, really. All subjects were shortened to twenty minutes from the standard forty.

On the other hand, Ali was this larger than life figure whose career was followed by an entire planet. My entire family used to watch his fights on television. Yes, even my Mom. But in October of 1974, he was the underdog trying to regain the world championship title from the undefeated champion George Foreman. The latter was just this humongous beast who routinely put his challengers to sleep.

The “Rumble in the Jungle,” so named because the championship fight was being held in Zaire in the African continent, was being beamed lived via satellite worldwide. As expected, the Brothers declared that all morning subjects would be shortened so that by ten or eleven, students who could left school to watch the match at home.

I don’t now recall why I watched the match at the library; but this must have been after our Zenith television set had broken down and Mom refused to have it repaired on account of the frequent fights that broke out in the family for viewing rights.

The Brothers had considerately set up a console at the library and there many like me who did not go home and were happy and eager for the opportunity to watch. I had no pretenses about understanding the technical side of boxing, but when watching Ali there was absolutely no need to. On the canvass, to quote his own words, he was just this graceful figure who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.”

This bout in Zaire, however, was an entirely different matter. From the opening round to the eighth, Ali hardly threw a punch, taunting Foreman instead to keep coming at him. The latter needed no invitation and kept pommeling Ali with punch after solid punch. Initially, it looked bizarre to be watching a boxing match when only one boxer was throwing punches. Then, it became apparent to all of us inside the library that Ali was employing a strategy and trying to tire Foreman out.

It was still depressing to watch from a pro-Ali point of view, and that it was dangerous as a strategy was also plain for all and sundry to see. I mean, Foreman was really powerful! While Ali had his forearms and hands up to cover his body and head the entire time, there was still the possibility of one killer punch slipping through.

Then, before the end of the eighth round, Ali woke from his stupor and unleashed a swift combination of punches aimed at Foreman’s head and body. I can still recall the cries inside the library when he did. But then, the seemingly unthinkable just a while back happened: Foreman started to teeter on his feet and then fell heavily onto the canvass. He couldn’t get up in the ensuing count of ten. Ali was again world champion!

Everyone in the library, except for the few who rooted for Foreman, erupted in pure joy. Ali was just pure genius. When he retired, before Manny Pacquiao became a household name the only other boxer that I was interested to watch was Sugar Ray Leonard. Ali’s retirement, at least to me, just left this large void that to my mind no boxer to date has really managed to fill.


My football coach in my junior year was Brother Jess Hechanova. Years later, I would hear that he had left the Christian Brothers and become a priest. Until his recent retirement, he was President of St. Louis University in Baguio City.

But as football coach back when I was in high school, he was, well, enthusiastic. He loved his football, alright; but let us just say that the football didn’t love him back. He was certainly not in the same league, at least as a player, as Brothers Ray Suplido or James de Guzman.

There was this one afternoon during scrimmage, for instance, when he looked visibly annoyed that he couldn’t nick the ball from off my feet as I dragged it this way and that to keep it away from him. My teammate Sonny Figueroa, a senior, couldn’t stop laughing after training about how I was “toying around” with Brother.

I coached football teams for three decades years later, and especially before I reached middle age, none of the hundreds of boys who trained under me could do the same to me. Put it this way, had anyone had the nerve to actually try, he would have ended up face down on the pitch eating grass. I would have kicked the bastard!

So I’m thinking, perhaps Brother Jess wanted to kick me that afternoon, too! Wink! Being a Brother does have its disadvantages.

For all the amount of time I spent on the football field practicing, in fact typically we played an average of no more than five matches in each of the three years that I played high school varsity football. My own players when I was already coaching never knew how spoilt they were for matches. A typical season for my teams in the eighties up to the new millennium started in mid-August and the boys were playing almost every weekend until the end of February.

When I was in high school, the entire season consisted of a match or two against St. Bridget’s College – and this was if they had a team at all – probably a game or two against teams from the air base and finally the annual defeat to a team from Greenhills.

On the rare occasions that we had playing engagements in Manila, I tossed and turned the night before each game unable to sleep from sheer excitement and anticipation. And this was why, each time, I probably ended up playing way below what I was capable of, drained as I was from the utter lack of sleep.

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