Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno, the new president of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP), remembers the first world class fight he ever saw on television.
He also recalls distinctly, but not with much fondness, his first taste of what getting hit feels like.
“The very first fight I saw on TV was Muhammad Ali versus Oscar Bonavena,” says Puno, referring to the December 7, 1970 heavyweight bout between Ali, who was coming out of a three and a half-year suspension from boxing for draft evasion, and a hard-punching brawler from Argentina, who had gone the full distance against Joe Frazier in two previous fights. Ali won the fight via a 15th round TKO.
“I’ve loved watching Ali since,” says Puno, who took over the ABAP reins last May after the untimely passing of longtime secretary-general and later president Ed Picson.
“And, of course, I’ve also been a fan of our very own Manny Pacquiao,” he adds, having long followed the rise and reign of the eight-time world boxing champion.
The erstwhile federation vice president was formally introduced to the national boxers at ABAP’s training facility in Baguio City last Saturday, with ABAP chairman and former president Ricky Vargas, Tokyo Olympics silver medalists Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio, and national coach Pat Gaspi taking turns in welcoming the five-term Antipolo first district representative.
Also in attendance were ABAP secretary-general Marcus Manalo, who hosted the affair, and Karina Picson, executive assistant to the president.
With Puno was his wife, former Congresswoman Chiqui Roa-Puno, a respected TV host and sports broadcast personality, and their son Nick.
“I’m very impressed with our boxers’ living quarters. Ang expectation ko noong una, baka hindi maayos. Maganda pala,” said Puno, who took pictures in front of the boxing ring with the 50 or so members of the national pool.
Setting plans and objectives for ABAP, and working to reach and execute them, Puno said, is of utmost priority.
“Our goal is to make it to the Olympics via the Asian qualifying events, and win the gold in Paris,” he said. Puno then added to applause, “At kasama na rin sa pangarap natin na magwagi ng ginto sa Olympics ay ang mai-angat ang buhay ng ating mga boksingero at nang kanilang mga pamilya.”
Concurrently the vice chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and an instrumental figure in the passage of House bills naturalizing players like Marcus Douthit, Andray Blatche, Ange Kouame and lately Justin Brownlee for Gilas Pilipinas, Puno addressed his ascension to ABAP chief with a touch of humor.
“Nagtataka nga ako kung bakit ako ang napili na maging ABAP president. Kako, hindi naman siguro dahil congressman ako kasi me 300 pa naman sa ‘min na puwedeng pagpilian,” he told his audience, who broke into laughter when he added, “Sa totoo lang, minsan lang akong nasuntok noon, naiyak pa ko. Kaya nga nag-basketball na lang ako.”
Puno was later joined by Vargas and MVP Sports Foundation officials Jude Turcuato, Maita David and Art Aro in handing over incentives to boxing medalists in the recent Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh. The Philippines took home four gold medals, five silvers and one bronze.
Vargas, also the chairman of the Philippine Basketball Association and vice president of SBP, provided some explanation for Puno’s appointment.
“Sa sports kasi, especially kami sa basketball, oftentimes, we call on Congressman Robbie to help us resolve certain issues; he has been our go-to guy in basketball,” said Vargas.
“E medyo nainggit naman kami dito sa boxing, kaya ginawa na rin namin siyang go-to guy ng ABAP. Isa pa, he’s a very good family man, a very loving family man. And here at ABAP, we’re one big family so he’s the perfect choice to head it.”
Vargas spoke of the Olympic Games next year as being on its “fourth cycle” since 2009 when ABAP calculated it would take that much time before it strikes gold.
“Sinabi namin noon, on the fourth cycle of the Olympics, mananalo tayo nang gold,” he said, addressing the boxers. “Yan ang cycle na pinaka-importante, at yan ang cycle ngayon. That’s why the Asian Games [in September] is so important kasi don ka magka-qualify. At kaya nating gawin ito.”