To Sir ALA, thank you for the memories

It was at Casino Español 13 years ago that I first saw Antonio L. Aldeguer got emotional. It was the Sportswriters Association of Cebu-San Miguel Sports Awards and Z Gorres, one of his favorite boxers, nay people, of all time, was to receive the Presidential Award after surviving life-threatening conditions in his last fight in Las Vegas.

Gorres, then wheelchair-bound, or so we all thought, stood up to receive his award, silencing a boisterous crowd that was previously howling and laughing with the previous awardees.

THE MAIN EVENT. Antonio L Aldeguer and son Michael and some of the boxers they have nurtured through the years spent a memorable night with writers and photographers who have covered them.

ALA, as sir Tony has come to be known, said in his speech, “I had a speech prepared but what can be more telling than that.” He went on an impromptu spiel that, in my years of being a sportswriter, was the most listened to speech in the SAC awards. Not even when we had Manny Pacquiao as speaker or not even when I gave a closing speech.

The ever-discerning Cebuano athletes and audience always knew when they are part of a special moment.

We had a chance to look back at our own special moments when Sir ALA met members of the media who have covered them all throughout the years for a dinner. Sir ALA, now in his 80s doesn’t look a step slower even though he had a major operation, I learned that night, a few months ago.

SELFIE MODE. Previous ALA activities with the media were all about their fighters. This one was for ALA and us. Here’s me in the middle with sir ALA himself and John Pages, now the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission.

Sportswriters are always on “work mode” and when we got the invitation, not a few thought that ALA Promotions would be announcing a comeback. Not me though, ALA and his son Michael, have always been straightforward when it comes to invitations, they don’t do surprise announcements, it’s how they return the favor to journalists who’ve covered them diligently.

“Thank you, thank you. This is all for you,” he told us while checking some of the printouts of articles written by those who were there and are now part of boxing history. I saw a glint in his eye because Sir ALA knew that we knew he wasn’t meeting journalists, he was meeting old friends he hadn’t seen in a while.

That ALA changed the landscape of Philippine boxing is an understatement. When I started, an event was considered big if it had a PHL championship in the main event. At the height of the Pinoy Pride series, international championships of the major boxing alphabets merely served as introductory bouts.

BATCH 97. Me with The Freeman sports editor Emmanuel B. Villaruel. We started together in The Freeman in 1997 as 18-year-old newbies; he as a History major from Cebu Normal University and me as a BS ECE sophomore from USC.

From Pinoy Pride 1 of October, 2010 to Pinoy Pride 40 plus of 2018 ALA took Cebu boxing to places it never had been, spoiling a crowd that turned from a loyal Boom-Boom Bautista fanbase to one that booed him into retirement.

There were hiccups along the way; like that fake Genaro Garcia who came to town, that fighter who said he’d take Albert Pagara to a boxing clinic but spent his fight running away. Boom-Boom was there, now a corporal in the army and so were Donnie Nietes, Michael Domingo and coaches Edmund and Edito Villamor.

Gorres, known to sportswriters as Butchoy, was there, too.  Whenever I cover ALA’s events, I don’t compete with the writers for stories about the fights, I always look to ALA’s table to observe him, and almost always, during the main event featuring his fighters, people he has come to look as sons, he won’t be there.

That night I did that too. Butchoy, after spending time with the writers who covered him, sat with ALA. They talked for a bit, and ALA got something from his pocket, took a couple of pills and plopped it in Butchoy’s mouth. That was touching I thought, Sir ALA keeping the maintenance meds for his ward. As I got closer, I saw it wasn’t. It was mint tablets that Sir ALA was carrying.

And that reminded me what sets him apart from the rest in sports, or even, all the major players in other industries I’ve covered in my more than two decades in the field, ALA takes care of the little things.

To Sir ALA, thank YOU, for the memories.

SILENT FOUNDATION. Mannypacquiao.ph and Philboxing.com creator Dong Secuya, one of the major movers in Philippine boxing, takes a photo of Donnie Nietes.
IDOL. Edito Villamor was the first boxer I ever followed as a second year high school student who was taking my first steps in sportswriting in 1994.
THE MAN BEHIND THE LENS. Me with Ruel Rosello, the guy usually sent to cover ALA fights outside of Cebu. Our “same-same” moment, thanks to a Thai journalist during the SEA Games in 2005 in Bacolod, earned us our unique nicknames.
THE YOUNG, THE OLD, AND THE BEAUTIFUL (NOT IN ORDER.) Finally got to have a picture with the sangays, Michael Domingo the boxer, Mike Limpag the writer and Michael Aldeguer the dashing promoter.

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