In the Philippines, boxing has become somewhat of a national sport. As common as sweet mangoes, the spicy local Bicol Express and as ubiquitous as the Philippine Jeepney, boxing plays an integral part in Philippine culture and pride. All of this, thanks mostly to a small guy from General Santos City named Manny Pacquiao.
Manny Pacquiao’s success in the biggest stage of the sport, brought fame and recognition not only to himself, but to the Philippines as well. In many ways Manny’s success opened opportunities for young kids with dreams of being a world champion, and it has provided many opportunities for the growth of all sports in the Philippines.
Whenever Pacquiao fights, Filipinos all over the world come together. In the Philippines itself, any Pacquiao fight is practically considered a national holiday. Manny’s bouts are always a good excuse for his countrymen to party, get together, enjoy great food and the company of family and friends, all while showing national solidarity.
Since boxing is such an important part of Philippine culture, I’ve added an optional extension to my annual Philippines photo tour and I will include a “boxing shoot” as part of the trip. With this in mind, I went in search of a boxing gym that we could visit, and one that might also turn out to be the “proving grounds” of the next Manny Pacquiao.
My search began in Cebu, which lies about 1 ½ hours flight south of Manila. I had heard about a humble, family owned, “home town” training facility called Flores Boxing Gym in Mandaue City, a working class neighborhood of Cebu.
Finding the Flores Boxing gym proved to be quite a bit more difficult than I had expected, mostly because the place doesn’t even have a proper street address. The Flores Boxing Gym is located in a congested, spider-web of very modest homes in Mandaue city.
After spending the better part of the morning searching the internet, local telephone directories and enquiring with taxi drivers and the police, I decided to hop on a jeepney and head over to a well known, easily-located boxing school called ALA Boxing. Once I arrived there, I met head trainer Edito Villamor and asked if he knew where I might find Flores Boxing Gym. Edito smiled and said, “sure, that gym is run by Brix Flores, it’s not easy to find his place, how about you let me draw you a map?”. A few moment later with Edito’s simple map in hand, I flagged down a taxi and set off towards Mandaue City.
Arriving in the general area described on my simple map, the taxi driver didn’t seem to be having much luck asking locals where Flores Boxing Gym was, so I just paid the taxi fare and hopped out, with the idea that I’d find someone who could help.
While standing on the sidewalk trying to identify someone who looked like they might know the whereabouts of a boxing gym, several unruly kids hurriedly jumped over a graffiti covered wall just behind me, looking like they were up to a bit of mischief. I snapped a few photos of the kids and showed them the back of my camera and we all got acquainted. Since the kids spoke Tagalog rather than English, I put up my fists, making the best “boxing look” that I could muster and said “Flores Boxing Gym?”. One of the boys smiled and motioned me to follow him.
About a block down the road, the boys pointed down an exceedingly narrow alley way, indicating that this was the way to Flores Boxing Gym. After a few minutes of twists and turns through ramshackle houses, I emerged in a small clearing where some boys were playing basketball using a home-made basketball standard. Seeing me the play stopped and the said “hi Joe” (the typical greeting for a western foreigner). I asked if they new where Flores Boxing Gym was, and they all pointed down another small alleyway.
Before walking even 100 paces down the alley, I began to hear the familiar repetitious sound of a speed bag being hit. I had finally found Flores Boxing Gym.
The Flores Boxing Gym consists basically of a single small boxing ring, located at the family home of Crisologo “Brix” Flores. Brix is well known in the Philippines for his Bronze medal at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul Korea.
Since retiring as a boxer, Flores, considered by many to be one of the “most astute ring tacticians” is now a trainer who has personally produced world champions in the family’s humble little gym in Mandaue City, started by his late father Paciano “Pacing” Flores.
When I arrived, Brix was observing a sparing match between two of his protégés and during a time out came over to meet me. Brix is a quiet, unassuming guy with the handshake of a man 5 times his size. I explained why I was visiting and asked if he would mind me taking a few photos and asking a few questions. In the typical welcoming style of Filipinos everywhere, he said “be my guest”.
I began making some photos of the activities, occasionally stopping during time-outs to ask Brix a few questions. I was impressed with the respectfulness of his students and delighted to see their enthusiasm and determination.
The whole place is located in what I would consider more of a common area between the surrounding homes, than a “proper” boxing gym and despite having only the most basic of facilities (a single boxing ring, two speed bags and half a dozen heavy bags hanging from random hooks in the ceiling, the gym has a “Rocky Balboa” feel to it. To the kids training here, the surroundings don’t seem to matter; those practicing here were more interested in learning the fundamentals of boxing and less concerned with the facility being “modern, squeaky clean or high-tech”. Flores Boxing Gym is a real “working man’s” gym, and I could almost imagine that perhaps world champion, Manny Pacquiao himself, had started in a facility not unlike this one, back in his small hometown of General Santos, Mindanao.
I’ll be keeping in touch with Brix not only because we’ll be visiting the Flores Boxing Gym on my Philippines Photo Tour Extension, but also to follow the success of his students, one of whom might very well become the Philippine’s next “Manny Pacquiao.