As early as 1983, Cagayan de Oro had already gained a reputation as the “Mecca of Philippine Boxing.”
Boxing’s rise as the no. 1 form of entertainment in the city could be attributed to several factors, not the least of which was the sustained interest of city residents for the sport.
Interest in professional boxing cards at the city’s Gold City and Oloy Roa Coliseums, and also to the sustained presentations of amateur boxing cards at, of all places, at the Golden Friendship Park (nowadays better known by its former moniker Plaza Divisoria) gave impetus to boxing’s popularity in the city which lasts even up to this day.
Dubbed as Boxing at the Park, the program featured amateur boxing cards for free to the public every Sunday afternoon with crowds that would number no less than 3,000.
The program was a brainchild of Cagayan de Oro sports authorities like the late Sports and Development Council Chairman Kagawad Guilly Parrel, the late Dr. Alex Magbag, Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) Regional Director for Northern Mindanao, the late ABAP Cagayan de Oro Chapter President Dick Palacio, and Sports Coordinator Ireneo “Rene” Barrientos, a former WBC/WBA super featherweight/junior lightweight champion.
No less than then the late Cagayan de Oro City Mayor and later Senate President Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. was the program’s main champion and prime mover of the intensified sports development program in the city.
The regular amateur cards were primarily motivated by the desire of the city to improve the quality of its amateur boxers. Little did the organizers of Boxing at the Park know that the program would become a prime attraction not only for city residents, but even those from nearby towns, who came in droves and overflowed the park every Sunday afternoon.
Even those who could not make it to the park or get a vantage seat to enjoy the bouts still managed to get a live coverage courtesy of a panel of sportscasters from DXIM, a government run radio station.
When Boxing at the Park was started by the city government in 1981, it was initially greeting with indifference as just another ningas-cogon project and was expected to expire even before it had taken off the ground.
Indeed, the project had its trying moments. It stopped for sometime in 1982 after encountering some teething problems, including lack of funding. However, some generous citizens chipped in to have the program continued. This gestured snowballed the support for the undertaking.
Boxing at the Park gained further impetus when the late ABAP National President and Congressman Roilo Golez thought of making it a national program when he visited Cagayan de Oro in October 1982 to meet with local ABAP officials headed by ABAP Regional Director Dr. Alex Magbag.
Golez was even more impressed when Cagayan de Oro’s amateur boxers- all products of the weekly Boxing at the Park, made an impressive showing at the Davao City ABAP National Open amateur boxing tournament by capturing 3 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze medals.
Roberto “Bobby” Jalnaiz, a flyweight, was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Boxer. Jalnaiz went on to become a part of the Philippine team and is best known for winning the Philippines’ only gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games. Competing in the bantamweight (54 kg) division, he also represented the country at the 1988 Summer Olympics and 1992 Summer Olympics.
Two other program talents joined him in the Philippine National Team: Flyweight Fermin Laput and Welterweight Rey Suico.
Going by the track record of the program to that date, it had attained more than what it aimed to do. In fact, with the Oro boxers fine showing at the Davao tournament, 1986 was a bumper year for Boxing at the Park.
“If our performance in the Davao tournament is to be the gauge, then Boxing at the Park has been vindicated,” said Dr. Magbag. “It certainly proves our point that a consistent sports development program can produce the desired results.”
Besides Jalnaiz, other medalists from the Davao Tourney included Alberto Gonzales (flyweight), and Fermin Laput (light flyweight), gold medalists; Allan Bulawin (pinweight), Joseph Elloren (flyweight), Bonifacio Balientos, and Danilo Eslop (paperweight), Sergio Alcover (pinweight), and Jimmy Nacalaban (bantamweight), silver medalists; Gerry Jumamoy (featherweight), and Daniel Namoco (light flyweight)-bronze medalists.
Cagayan de Oro boxers- all products of Boxing at the Park, followed the successful Davao stint with an impressive showing at the Boxing at the Park in Manila, routing their foes from Iloilo.
Since then, amateur boxing became a regular fixture at Golden Friendship Park every Sunday afternoon. So much so that, if for some reason, no boxing card was held on a Sunday afternoon, residents would inundate the organizers with queries on why it was not held.
The program also had its fringe benefits for those directly involved in it, as well as its spectators. For one, it has provided an outlet for rabble rousers to give vent to their pent-up emotions and get paid for it.
Amateur boxers are given token prizes for appearing in the right, and it the organizers see some talent, they are recruited to the city pool of amateur boxers.
But the spectators get the most out of it with free, exciting, and wholesome entertainment, while sitting or standing in the park, or even listening to the live radio coverage in the comfort of their homes.
(Originally published by Proc Maslog in Sports Weekly Magazine, August 9-15, 1983, and updated with the benefit of hindsight. Mr. Maslog, former City Information Officer of Cagayan de Oro and former amateur and professional boxing judge, is widely recognized as the Dean of Kagay-anon Sportswriters.)
The Cagayan de Oro Boxing Team has progressed far beyond its salad days at Boxing at the Park. Click on this short video from the City Information Office to see how it has grown to what it is today.