‘Olongapo Kid’ Cabanela

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Gaudencio Cabanela

DENCIO ‘Olongapo Kid’ CABANELA

THE FIRST Filipino boxer to gain international fame, Gaudencio (Dencio) Cabanela, spent the final five months of his remarkably short life in Australia.

By JAIME K PIMENTEL
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Dencio was born on August 30, 1900 in San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines, to a poor family that had moved from Daet, Camarines Norte.

He died in the ring on July 3, 1921 in Melbourne, Australia. The fighter had beenĀ idolised by Filipinos and admired by Australian boxing fans from all walks of life for his ring savvy and influence on a rising spirit of nationalism in his mother country.

In his first bout on November 15, 1916, Cabanela took on the name of ‘Olongapo Kid’ and easily beat Kid Fajardo to earn 10 pesos.

Twenty-four bouts later, on September 22, 1917, he won the Philippine bantamweight title from Paul Gyn as ‘Dencio Cababnela’.

During a nine-day Manila carnival in 1981, Cabanela won three 10-round contests and a six-round match, annexing the Oriental bantamweight and featherweight titles in the process.

In November 1918, after defeating Oriental lightweight champion Francisco Flores, Dencio become the only Filipino boxer to hold three Oriental titles simultaneously.

Cabanela arrived in Sydney, Australia, on February 6, 1921 with manager Edwin Tait and other Filipino boxers Macario Villon and Francisco Flores.

The Australian press immediately celebrated the local fight game’s success in attracting the Philippines’ “great ring prize” and noted Cabanela’s “good looks”, short stature, and unmarked appearance despite gruelling fights in the Philippines.

His first bout was against French champhion Eugene Criqui over a scheduled 20 rounds at the Sydney Stadium on March 19, 1921.

The Frenchman was immediately on the defensive as Cabanela took the fight to him. But the Filipino weakened suddenly in the 14th round and collapsed, reportedly from an attack of neuralgia.

Dencio, in fact, had never fought beyond 10 rounds, the limit back in the Philippines.

Cabanela knocked out Australian Joe Symonds in the fifth round in April 30, 1921. But against Sid Godfrey in May 14, 1921, Dencio collapsed again, this time in the 17th round. A couple of years earlier, he had disposed of Godfrey in 40 seconds of the first round.

The Australian press was now voicing concern over Cabanela’s health and “neglect of serious training”.

Instead of returning to Manila, however, he elected to rest in Sydney. But within 49 days, he was back in Melbourne on July 2, 1921 to fight Bert McCarthy, who had substituted for injured Bert Spargo.

In the encounter, Cabanela knocked McCaarthy down in the 10th round. Although the Australian was saved by the bell, he was back on the defensive when the fight resumed.

Cabanela began to tire and, when he complained of a severe headache in the 13th round, referee Val Quirk stopped the bout and declaed McArthy winner.

Dencio had to be assisted from the ring, and in the dressing room he asked Macario Villon to rub his cold head.

Cabanela was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died at 1:15am on Sunday, July 3, 1921.

A doctor who examined Cabanela after his first bout in Australia had suspected a blood clot in the brain and had ordered bed rest. Yet the Filipino continued to fight, including in his schedule a matinee to raise money for the ”industrial blind” while in Sydney.

Cabanela’s body returned to the Philippines in Manila, and for five days thousands of Filipinos from every social class filed past his casket to pay their last respects.

The crowd at the funeral service was reportedly the second largest seen in the Philippines at the time, surpassing that of one of the Philippines’ national heroes, Marcelo del Pilar in 1920.

In an oration during the service at the Olympic Stadium in Manila, lawyer and writer Victoriano Yamzon said: “In obedience to the stern command of death, let us forgive and forget his human imperfections, for Dencio Cabanela was truly a great fighter, and the manner of his death proved he was even greater than we imagined.

“He left us the heritage of his wonderous achievments. Yes my countrymen, Dencio, though dead, shall live forever in our hearts; and from the mysterious realm of eternity, his tranquil spirit, lighted by the touch of Divine Providence, will illumine the path which our nation must come in God’s appointed time.”

Four years later, on July 14, 1925 another Filipino fighter, world flyweight champion Pancho Villa, died in San Francisco, California USA in similar circumstances.

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GAUDENCIO CABANELA, the Philippines’ first boxer of international fame, had a short but remarkable life. Dehumanised and muted by Oriental discourse, exploited by laissez faure capitalism, and controlled by boxing boxing culture, his marketability was assured. Appropriated by the Manila English-language press, it attempted to shape him, with criticism and praise, into a sports idol who reflected American influence and power. Instead, produced was an idol who strengthened Filipino resistance to foreign control. Adored by the Filipino masses, promoted by nationalists and admired by all for his feats of prowess in the ring, as an idol he remained inviolate. With elevation to sympolic defender of Filipino honour, race and nation, his transition from adored idol to noble hero at death gained him the ultimate but brief national recognition. No saint, just a talented Filipino youth in gloved mitts, his destiny decreed by historical events was extraordinary. Gaudencio Cabanela’s boxing career in the Philippine and Australian shows that time and place gave his life and death special social relevance for Filipinos.

~ ANNE R. TAPP,
James Cook University,
Townsville, Queensland, Australia

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Compiled and written by Jaime K Pimentel in 2002 for the Dencio Cabanela Memorial Boxing Brotherhood based in Sydney, Australia. Resource: The Boxing Career of Gaudencio Cabanela ~ a Force for Nationalism, writtenby Anne R. Tapp, of James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

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