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How Philippine Martial Art Form Was Main Ingredient In Modern Boxing

The styles and techniques of modern boxing can be traced to The Philippines and a martial art form named pangamot. Pangamot translates to “maneuvering of hands” or “bare fist.”

Modern Boxing

In the final decade of the 19th century, United States warships sailed to The Philippines as part of the military assistance extended to Philippine insurgents fighting to overthrow Spanish rule. To help pass the time while in port, the American sailors organized boxing matches and tournaments.

The sailors used the formal boxing stance of the day – hands kept little more than waist high, palms up, and extended from the body, something like where the arms wind up when dirt is shoveled. It was the style of famous heavyweight boxers such as John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett, and Paddy Ryan.

It was a robotic style. Fighters stood erect and moved in straight lines, forward and backward. Neither stance nor style was designed for power punching. That, combined with no limit on the number of rounds fought and a rule that a bout did not end until one or both fighters could not continue led to titanic struggles.

Middleweight champion William Thompson fought fellow Ben Caunt three times. He won the first bout on a foul in the 22nd round. He lost the second on a foul in the 75th round. The third bout ended in the 93rd round, again on a foul.

The Marquess of Queensberry rules were introduced in 1867. The rules provided for three-minute rounds with a minute rest in between. Professional fights were contracted for a specific number of rounds. If both fighters remained upright at the final bell, ringside judges decided the outcome.

A Survival Technique

Fighting for sport was something new to the Filipinos. Their Pangamot form, which originated in the country’s Mindanao region, was a street-fighting survival technique. It was created and taught as a way to combat an opponent armed with a knife or stick. The hands were held high, palms down, to protect the head and face. The hands also were used to parry thrusts and jabs.

Fighters crouched to protect their bodies and to generate punching power. They did not move in straight lines. They circled each other until they saw an opening. They then pounced, throwing flurries of punches with incredible speed.

There were no rules. Kicking, scratching, head butting, even biting were allowed.

Filipinos who were working on the Navy ships, usually as cooks, put on their own matches. The Americans were intrigued by the pangamot stance and technique. The movement and footwork impressed them; they were amazed by the punching power the technique generated. And they began incorporating pangamot techniques into their brand of boxing.

They also were calling the Filipino form panantukan or “dirty boxing.”

Boxing’s New Style

After the Navy ships returned to their homeports, this new hybrid boxing style was taught to others. It rapidly spread through the sport, picking up modifications and alternations along the way.

Boxing, organized fighting, was illegal in The Philippines until 1921. Filipinos looking to earn money with their fists began moving to the U.S. in the early 20th century. Macario Flores was the first. Cerefino Garcia fought for the welterweight title. Both set the stage for a young fellow who called himself Pancho Villa – his real name was Francisco Guilledo.

Villa stood 5-foot-1, and campaigned as a 115-pound flyweight. In the ring, however, he was a whirlwind. He was 21 years of age when he left The Philippines in 1922 with two national titles and the reputation as an unrelenting, punishing fighter. Five months after his arrival he knocked out Johnny Buff in the 11th round to win the American flyweight title. Less than a year after that he knocked out Jimmy Wilde in the seventh round to win the world flyweight championship, becoming the first Filipino to win a world title.

Manny Pacquiao

Tragically, at age 24, Villa died of Ludwig’s Angina that started as a tooth infection. He still is considered the greatest Asian fighter in boxing history, according to The Boxing Hall of Fame’s Boxing Register. Manny Pacquiao is challenging the claim. He has a 50-3-2 record and has won titles in five weight classes.

Manny Pacquiao also is from The Philippines. He was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, located in the Mindinao region. Mindinao is the same region that more than a century ago provided modern boxing with one of its main ingredients.

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