by Ana Julaton
In the Philippines, striving to do your best and staying humble is not an uncommon trait.How many times have we heard Manny Pacquiao say. “I'm just doing my job…I want to make the people happy.”
Here in the United States of America, it's no different. Many Filipino people follow those same principles of honor and humbleness. As a proud Filipino-American, I am always excited to see our culture breaking barriers.
On Friday, I was able to speak to a couple key players for the HBO PPV show in Madison Square Garden tonight. One is featured as the co-main event, and the other as the co-trainer in the main event bout of the evening.
On May 2nd, I was in front of 20,000 people at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila for my ONE FC MMA fight in the Philippines, and wow, did I ever feel the unity and energy of the country. I arrived in NY this past Saturday for the Philippine Independence Day weekend Festival and was fortunate enough to have been included in the festivities with my own float and was shocked to see 150,000 in attendance to honor and celebrate the culture.
The Philippine Independence Day Council Inc. (PIDCI) along with the Philippine Consulate General of New York have built this event for the past 25 years, bringing that same unity and energy in this wonderful city. Madison Avenue was filled with Philippine cultural clothing, food, performances, and dances. This year's theme was “Triumphs of the Filipinos” and how fitting is it that we end the week with one of the biggest fights of the year?
Much of this weekend is surrounded by the Puerto Rican Day Parade and we will see the majority of the fans tonight celebrating their fighters from Puerto Rico. But if you didn't know, tonight's HBO PPV co-feature for the NABF featherweight title will be Filipino knockout artist Marvin Sonsona, who weighed in yesterday at 125.8lbs, fighting Puerto Rican Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., who weighed in the same as the slugger hailing from General Santos.
You may recognize that city when Michael Buffer announces Sonsona, it's a place in the Philippines that has become famous all because of one man, our “Pambansang Kamao” (National Fist/Fighting Pride), Manny Pacquiao.
Marvin Sonsona has had his share of ups and downs in his young boxing career. At his peak, he became the youngest Filipino to ever win the WBO world title at 19 years of age when he defeated Jose Lopez in Toronto , Canada 2009. Now at 23 years old and with a record of 18-1-1 (15KO's), he looks to avenge the only loss of his career in a rematch against the person who derailed his rise to Philippine boxing royalty. At one point, Sonsona was being touted as the “Next Manny Pacquiao” and that all ended in Puerto Rico, in 2010, when he was KO'd via body shot by the son of a legend.
“I was just a child the first time, now he will see Marvin the man,” Sonsona told me while eating lunch with one of his promoters, Allan Tremblay, who brought the young man to Toronto, Canada, which has a huge Filipino community. “I am stronger, I feel good to be back with my original coach and original team….I feel this is my time now.” When asked if he would like a KO tonight he wasn't shy to say he had the punching power to do so, but in his humble tone said, “If it happens, it happens. What's most important is that I'm the true Marvin now. Not like before.”
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. also has had his own share of up and downs, having lost to Nonito Donaire via split decision, losing the crown he had won in a fairy tale story with his legendary father in his home town of Puerto Rico, when he knocked out Sonsona in four rounds. He finds himself again much like that night in Puerto Rico in a fight that could determine his legacy in boxing. This matchup has the makings of fight of the night as both have something to prove to their countrymen and women. Although the majority in attendance will be Puerto Ricans, many Filipinos around the world will be rooting for Sonsona as he now has a chance to be the royal “Prince” of Philippine boxing.
Ironically, another Marvin is in one of the most important fights of his career…as a trainer. Marvin Somodio has been called by many, including one of his prized pupils, Ruslan Provodnikov, as the “Filipino Freddie Roach”. With a nickname like that, there is a lot of pressure, a lot expected when around the presence of a legend.
“I am just a beginner and I feel so honored to be working alongside Freddie. I am not Freddie Roach, he is a legend. I'm just Marvin Somodio and I am just beginning. I want to continue to learn more and get better everyday,” said Somodio. He is small in stature, but carries huge responsibilities in being alongside Roach in the corner of the most popular Puerto Rican fighter in the world today, Miguel Cotto.
I asked his thoughts in what Cotto will bring and with a glow of confidence, and he said, “Cotto was 50% when he first worked with Freddie and myself, now I feel he is 100%, mentally and physically.”
The 5-1 Somodio told me when he was a part of the Philippines amateur national team, the people in charge said he could no longer compete because he was “too small.” Now as a trainer, he has some of the biggest responsibilities in boxing, training champions like Ruslan Provodnikov and Brian Viloria. Should he be successful with Team Cotto against Sergio Martinez, Marvin will be able to add another notch to his growing list of accomplishments.
I asked what would his message be to other Filipino trainers who aspire to be like him. “Just be yourself and remain humble. Be loyal to the people who helped you grow and don't lose faith and believe in yourself,” he said. Great advice from someone who started his professional career as a trainer at an elite level, working alongside Freddie to prepare Manny Pacquiao during training camps in Baguiao. Marvin still remembers the days when he was just a humble trainer at the Shape Up Boxing club. Tonight, he finds himself in the same position for Cotto as he did in the corner of the most influential fighter to Filipinos worldwide.
For me and many other global Filipinos, it's been a pride-filled week in the beautiful city of New York….from seeing 150,000 Filipinos from around the world in a Parade closing Madison Avenue, culminating with seeing two Filipino's in boxing tonight in our sports biggest stage: one as a fighter and one as a coach.
In 2014, we now have so many ways to contribute as Filipinos “just doing our jobs…making people happy” in all aspects of life and it makes me tear a little bit seeing how far we've really come.
As the song, the theme from the film “New York, New York,” said: “If we can make it here, we'll make it anywhere.”