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Excerpts from the "Origins of Filipino Boxers"  by  Joseph R. Svinth


Between 1881 and 1942, the Pacific Fleet enlisted blacks primarily for service as cooks and mess stewards, and the Marines did not enlist them at all. Therefore most sailors and all Marines fighting in the Philippines were white. Examples of white fighters who served in the Philippines include Harvey "Heinie" Miller, a sailor assigned to the USS Wilmington who boxed (and beat) a Japanese jujutsuka during a Manila festival held in 1908 or 1909. Earlier, Miller had fought Jimmy Dwyer for a Pacific Fleet lightweight title. Their fight was a 45-round affair with four-ounce gloves, and Miller won by knockout in the thirteenth, despite a broken nose, cuts around the eyes, a broken rib, and a broken hand.

After 1902, however, the Pacific Fleet began replacing its Japanese cooks and mess stewards with Filipinos, and some of these latter men took up shipboard boxing. For example, in 1903, a 20-year-old Filipino named Eddie Duarte and another forty Filipinos enlisted for service aboard the US Army cable-laying ship Burnside. (Army is correct; in those days, most ships designated for logistical support belonged to the Army rather than the Navy.) Between 1903 and 1904, Burnside laid telegraph cable between Manila and Seattle, and subsequently it laid cable from San Francisco to Valdez, Alaska. "Every evening when the sailors were at leisure," Carroll Alcott wrote in The Ring in October 1928, "some of the boys would don the gloves and a youthful Eddie made up his mind to have at try… Eddie made his first public appearance at the Olympic club, of Tacoma, Washington. He fought an American Indian and won the decision in four rounds. In that fight, he tipped the beams at 128 pounds, a weight he fought at the remainder of his boxing days. The Indian weighed in at 148. In the following years, Eddie fought in Alaska, Canada, and the United States."

Of course, this naval boxing was not horribly sophisticated. The boxers "meet on deck when the spirit moves," the Honolulu Advertiser noted in October 1911, "take up the good natured challenges of their shipmates as they feel inclined, and go at it, to the intense entertainment of their comrades." As a result, no Filipino naval boxers became more than locally prominent until after World War I. So, as the US Naval Academy’s boxing coach, Doc Dougherty, wrote in an article carried by the Honolulu Advertiser in August 1924:

It was as recently as 1920 before a Filipino boxer, Manuel Soriano, got as far as the finals for the Fleet title. This happened when Harry Gordon, now of New York, defeated Soriano for the Bantam Fleet belt in Madison Square Garden in December of the year mentioned.

The very next year, however, Jose Javier, Filipino flash from the U.S.S. South Dakota, won the flyweight championship of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets combined.

And now comes the tiniest of them all, Young Dencio, of the U.S.S. Mayflower. This lad weighs but an even 100 pounds. At times he is as low as 98. Yet this fellow boxes boys weighing as heavy as 116 and gets away with it.

Other early naval boxers included Juan "Johnny" Candelaria, who fought in Honolulu in 1919 and Manila in 1920.

Civilian Fighters and Promoters

US Army General John J. Pershing, who commanded black units throughout much of his early career, hence his nickname Black Jack, believed that boxing built character in men. After all, there was nothing like fighting to teach a man to fight. Nevertheless, from a commercial standpoint, military fights were always of limited interest. First, the War Department did not allow military boxers to fight civilian amateurs until 1923. Second, ships or units were liable to deploy without warning. And, most importantly, both the Army and Navy discouraged gambling and offered free admission to athletic events.

Free admission and no gambling was not what promoters wanted to hear, and so there were also bootleg fights held out in town. Although crowds were small in the beginning, by the late 1910s crowds of 3,000 to 10,000 were common. There were also bootleg fights held near the Army bases at Corregidor and the Navy base at Subic Bay.

Early promoters included Frank Churchill and the Tait brothers (Bill and Eddie), who opened a ring they called the Olympic in Manila in 1909. The actual location is today part of the campus of the Mapúa Institute of Technology. Fights were held on Wednesday and Saturday. As Churchill put it in 1924, "We ran our big weekly show on Saturday night. On Wednesdays we staged a bargain bill, and on this night we would give all the would-be champions and amateurs a chance."

Judges were often from the US military. For example, in Manila, one of the judges was from the Army, another was from the Navy, and the third was John Greene, who was said to be head of the Philippine government’s intelligence organization. The military judges included Sergeant Harry Konter, who was stationed in Manila from 1909 to 1919, while the naval judges included Chief Petty Officer Joe Waterman, who was stationed in the Philippines from 1918 to 1920, and who trained fighters at the Olongapo Knights of Columbus gym. Referees included Filipinos; these included Francisco "Paquito" Villa and a man named Gutierrez.

While early fighters included US soldiers or sailors, by the 1910s there were also Australian or American professionals tuning up for fights in their home countries or hoping to extend a career a few more years. Examples of American professionals fighting in the Philippines between 1914 and 1925 include Frank Carbone, George Engle, Frank Haynie, George Lee, Charlie Pitts, Bud Ridley, Bob Roper, and Rufus Turner. Their Australian counterparts included Vince Blackburne, Lew Edwards, Syd Keenan, Harry Holmes, George Mendies, Paddy Mills, Tommy Ryan, and Billy Tingle.

These fighters were ethnically diverse. For example, George Lee was Chinese American. From the Sacramento area, he was a friend and coach of featherweight contender "Babe" Herman Souza. Meanwhile Turner was African American. Due to the efforts of researcher Kevin Smith, additional details are known of Turner’s career, and so a summary is given below. Turner arrived in the Philippines in July 1914. A competent lightweight who had been boxing professionally since 1893, this was toward the end of his career. In Manila, Turner worked for Churchill as trainer, referee, and occasional main event fighter. Until 1918, his opponents were mostly American or Australian, and included Iron Bux, Sammy Good, Charlie Lanum, Spider McFadden, and Bud Walters. However, starting in 1918, he also began fighting Filipinos, to include Enrique Zuzuarregui on October 4 and Dencio Cabenela on October 19. In 1919 Turner continued fighting a combination of foreign and local talent: Harry Holmes on February 8 and July 12; Sylvino Jamito on June 7; Pug Macarino on November 6; and Francisco Flores on November 29. His last known fight was in Pasay on October 29, 1921; the opponent was Jimmy West, and the result was an 8-round draw.

Of course, Filipino gamblers were generally not interested in watching Americans and Australians fight one another. Furthermore, with the Australian entry into World War I in 1914 and the US mobilizations of 1916, competent Australian and American boxers became increasingly hard to get. So, by 1914 there were Filipino fighters in the preliminaries, and by 1919 there were a number of Filipino main event fighters.

My observation of the amateur boxing in  the US Navy.

I was in boot camp in late 1959 when they were looking for volunteers to box in Smoker’s Amateur nights.  Jague, a dominative l recruit from Cavite was more than eager to participate and we watched proudly as he slug few round during those boot camp days. Boxing was always close to our boyhood dream. I remember another Pinoy in our company Nazareno trying to get in the cards. There were more volunteers and it was known that unless you pad your ring experience you wont even be able to step in the ring.

There were big time Navy boxers who almost made to World Titles. Duane Bobbich fought the  best of the heavyweights of his time just few years ago. He was still in the Navy  when he beat the great Cuban amateur, Teofilo Stevenson in the Pan American Games.

Charlie Inot  was Boxing Champion for SUBPAC as a young 3rd Class. He was the first to pass away around 1968/69. He was one of the 5 guerrillas who joined the Navy as war time underground fighter against the Japanese occupation. Guerillas Joined the US Na vy in 1944--