The discipline and fearlessness of Gerry Peñalosa
MANILA, Philippines – When Gerry Peñalosa retired from professional boxing, he had two things to fall back on that were still in tiptop shape – his health and his finances.
As a professional prizefighter, Peñalosa fought 65 times, winning 55 bouts with 37 coming by way of knockout, drawing twice, and losing 8 times.
Most of his losses were controversial decisions. He won two world titles in two weight divisions. How he managed to preserve himself and come out with his mental faculties still intact can be largely attributed to his exceptional defensive acumen. Renowned trainer Freddie Roach once said Peñalosa is the most technically skilled fighter he has ever seen.
He also took care of his career earnings well enough to give his family a comfortable life.
"You need a good wife who knows how to handle money and a husband who is afraid of the wife," he quipped as he explained his formula for good financial management.
Turning serious, he shared, "Of course, my wife and I worked together for our children. Our earnest desire really is to give our kids a good future."
He now owns a number of branches of the Gerry Peñalosa Boxing Gym and also promotes boxing cards.
The Peñalosa clan is one of the most famous boxing families in the Philippines. Their legacy spans 3 generations – from patriarch Carl Sr, who fought in the 1960s as a stablemate of Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, to the second generation featuring his sons Gerry, Dodie Boy, who was the Philippines' first two-division world champion, and Jonathan, who also fought for the world title, then now the third generation bannered by Dodie Boy Jr and Dave.
Fearless Gerry, having fought on the biggest stage against some of the most prominent fighters of his era, remains the family's crown jewel. He also had the longest career which began on May 20, 1989 in Mandaue City, when at 17 years old, he stopped Fidel Jubay. His last fight was held on October 10, 2010 in Zamboanga City when Peñalosa, already 39 years old, finished off Anan Saeauy of Thailand in 4 rounds.
They say the mark of a succesful career in any field is to have a good, solid foundation.
"It was only later when I realized I was made to face really good opponents early in my career," he reflected in hindsight. "I was of course a bit nervous facing them since they were more experienced than me, but I learned a lot from those fights which helped toughen me."
Unlike other young prospects who are brought up slowly by being fed patsies to minimize risks of losing, Peñalosa from a young age faced some of the biggest names in Philippine boxing.
As a teenager, he drew with future world champion Ric Siodora and beat tough veteran Ric Magramo, who was 10 years his senior. At 21 years old, he dropped a close decision to Philippine champion Samuel Duran, but bounced back by defeating former IBF flyweight world champion Rolando Bohol, who two months prior had beaten Dodie Boy. He also avenged another Dodie Boy loss when he knocked out former WBC world light flyweight champion Rolando Pascua.
While he was busy fortifying his boxing resumé, Peñalosa was also building up his academic resumé as he finished his college degree in criminology from the University of Cebu. He took up a second course in management, which he was unable to finish.
Peñalosa's reputation slowly grew even beyond the country's shores, as he became one of the most avoided challengers in the super flyweight division. It took 8 years after he turned pro before he finally earned a crack at the world title.
The path to the belt, though, was never easy.
He had to travel to Japan in February 1997 to face WBC superflyweight titleholder Hiroshi Kawashima, nicknamed the "Untouchable" because of his outstanding defense. The Japanese champion was on a 16-fight win streak before facing Peñalosa. Aside from the crowd support, Kawashima also enjoyed the advantage in acclimatization to the Japanese winter.
"It was my first time to fight in that kind of weather. It was difficult to break a sweat and to lose weight," Peñalosa recalled.
Peñalosa defeated Kawashima by split decision – some experts felt it should have been unanimous – to win his first world title.
After defending the crown 3 times, he flew to Korea to take on challenger In Joo Cho on August 29, 1998. The hometown bet got the better end of the judges' favor to escape with a disputed split decision and snatch the belt from Peñalosa.
Peñalosa wishes there had been a Filipino promoter back then who was willing to stage his title fights in the Philippines.
"It is different if you fight on home soil. Your welfare and rights are protected. You do not need to adjust to the weather and to the food. You know the judges will give you a fair shake," he said.
Peñalosa traveled back to Seoul for a rematch with In Joo Cho 5 months after their first bout. He lost again via split decision. A few years later, he went to Japan to challenge Masamori Tokuyama twice for the Japanese's WBC belt. In both fights, Peñalosa lost close decisions. A number of boxing scribes believe that if Peñalosa fought both In Joo Cho and Tokuyama in neutral territory, he would have won all those 4 fights.
If there was one fight where Peñalosa came in with extra motivation, it was in 2007 against WBO bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzales of Mexico.
"Gonzales was younger than me [by 10 years]. He was taller and stronger. I first saw him in action the year before when he won against Fernando Montiel. I was so impressed because he was the complete package."
Most boxing experts wrote off Peñalosa. He was after all 36 years old, considered by many as past his prime. For the first 6 rounds of the bout, Gonzales validated what everyone seemed to be saying as he led in all the scorecards.
Then it happened.
Just as Gonzales unloaded a combo in the closing seconds of round No. 7, Peñalosa uncorked a perfectly timed left hook to the body which saw Gonzales crumple to the canvas and unable to beat the referee's count.
A decade after winning his first world title, Peñalosa won his second world championship.
"I wanted to ask the critics and non-believers, where are you now? No one believed I could beat him. But I knew I could. Freddie believed too. Winning at that age was like being given a second chance in my career."
When people talk about Peñalosa, they remember an astute and cerebral boxer who made very few mistakes in the ring and proved to be a defensive maestro. Behind his success was his discipline and hard work.
"Even if I did not have fights calendared yet, I stayed in shape and I was always ready to fight. I made sure I would get enough sleep. I would eat right," he said. "I may not have the advantage in talent against an opponent, but I knew I always had the advantage in training and preparation." – Rappler.com