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The Tao of Sir ALA: A Fight Fan’s visit to the Philippines…

By Ace Freeman (24-Oct-2011)

Take a trip to Cebu, Philippines as Ace Freeman recounts his visit to the world renowned ALA Gym earlier this year to see some of the roots of boxing in the Southeast Asian hotspot.

I stood transfixed in the world renowned “ALA” Gym nestled away like a diamond in the rough in a busy Cebu City, Philippines. It wasn’t just some of the best young Filipino boxing prospects training in the humid and sunny outdoor ring in front of me that had captured my attention, but a crowd of youngsters fifty yards away shadow-boxing on a basketball court. The group was comprised of everything from toddlers to teenagers and they worked tirelessly in the afternoon sun. I watched as they practiced choreographed boxing movements in between running laps on the Olympic sized track that separated the area from the main gym.

“They work like that all day long,” said my guide Chad, one of my gracious hosts with ALA Promotions. “Sir ALA won’t allow them in the gym area until they have earned it.”


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ALA GYM: Sights and sounds from Cebu

Video by Ace Freeman
Music: “Salutations” by Aero.

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I stood transfixed in the world renowned “ALA” Gym nestled away like a diamond in the rough in a busy Cebu City, Philippines. It wasn’t just some of the best young Filipino boxing prospects training in the humid and sunny outdoor ring in front of me that had captured my attention, but a crowd of youngsters fifty yards away shadow-boxing on a basketball court. The group was comprised of everything from toddlers to teenagers and they worked tirelessly in the afternoon sun. I watched as they practiced choreographed boxing movements in between running laps on the Olympic sized track that separated the area from the main gym.

“They work like that all day long,” said my guide Chad, one of my gracious hosts with ALA Promotions. “Sir ALA won’t allow them in the gym area until they have earned it.”

I stared silently as the children worked in unison with the young professionals in the forefront with nothing but years of tireless dedication and experience dividing them physically.

The Sir ALA that my friend Chad referred to is none other than Antonio Lopez Aldeguer, referred to by many as the Godfather of Boxing in the Philippines. Born in Iloilo, a province dubbed ‘The Heart of the Philippines’ in the Western Visayas region, Tony Aldeguer is a humble and unassuming figure upon first glance.

In fact I hadn’t noticed him quietly standing in the distance keeping a discreet yet watchful eye on the youngsters on the basketball court. He was dressed casually in a track suit and stood silently in the corner of his Cebu City stronghold.

After studying at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, Aldeguer has gone on to build a business empire in the province of Cebu. The Aldeguer Group of Companies is a powerful national conglomerate in the Philippines that encompasses everything from ventures in tourism to boutiques and textiles all the way to sporting interests, namely boxing.

The name ALA has become synonymous with the sport of boxing in the Philippines. Established in 1985 the famed ALA Gym in Cebu is perhaps the most well known boxing gym in the Philippines. I have long since been a fan of the brand after watching the developing careers of young Pinoy fighters like Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista, Z ‘The Dream’ Gorres and AJ ‘Bazooka’ Banal among many others.

While I have watched these fighters from afar, I was 33 years old before I had the fortune of first leaving North America to journey overseas.

The Philippines had long been a destination I’d dreamed of visiting not just because I grew up with so many Filipino friends in Winnipeg, Canada, but because in recent years the Southeast Asian country has become an international hotspot for boxing. While much of the country is dominated by the shadow of the world famous Manny Pacquiao, it was the humble roots of Filipino pugilism that left me dumbfounded in the early days of my visit.

Highly regarded light welterweight prospect Jason Pargara was being put through the paces by my good friend Edito ‘Coach ALA’ Villamor in one of the prized rings in the gym. Surrounded by numerous banners of past and present champions produced in the famed gym the humid and fresh sea side air blew a gentle breeze that had the palm trees swaying all around us.

Sir ALA had moved over to the basketball court and had the children huddled around him. I knew from keeping a keen eye on the national boxing scene in the Philippines that the fighters of the ALA Gym are constantly under immense pressure to perform at the highest of international levels. Anything outside of world title victories is met with fierce criticism back home. Yet despite this Tony Aldeguer seemed intently focused on the children at the gym.

“They come from all over the country to get here,” Chad went on to tell me. “Some of them travel for days by themselves at such a young age. None of them are turned away. They are all given a chance.”

A chance to earn it.

The state of the art gym that ALA built is a full blown compound and it includes a dormitory that houses a small army of young fighters. The privilege of dawning the prized ALA logo is a right reserved for those who show unwavering dedication to their craft. The gym is further segregated by the division between those fighters who have earned the ALA stamp on their trunks and those who are in tireless pursuit of it.

We were just days away from another exciting installment of ALA Promotions’ “Pinoy Pride” cards and I was staying at the beautiful Waterfront Hotel and Casino.

As I traveled throughout the city that week the excitement the young boxers created from location to location brought smiles to faces everywhere we went. The entire population was drawn to boxing. It was more than a sport, it was an embodiment of national pride.

One night I sat in the beautiful lobby of my hotel and was watching a live fight from back home in Canada. Super middleweight champion Lucian Bute was in action and as I sat sipping at my Red Horse beer I hadn’t noticed the small crowd gathered behind me. Everyone from fellow guests to hotel staff were huddled behind my computer screen intently watching the action. Not many of them knew who Bute was, but the art and the combat drew everyone in.

Fight night proved to be a good one for the locals as the two Filipino headliners were resoundingly victorious in the night’s two main events. AJ ‘Bazooka’ Banal decked Francis Miyeyusho three times in the second round before his fight was waved off, and unbeaten flyweight Milan Melindo scored a tremendous knockout of Rosendo Vega in the opening round.

The evening had drawn a large crowd from all over the city and the Waterfront Hotel had come alive with excitement.

A few hours after the card had ended I went to get some late dinner with a small group of new friends and fellow reporters. My hosts were able to recommend a small and out of the way restaurant with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

While I was biting into the skin of some deliciously barbecued pig’s face some of my new friends had goaded me in to eating, I couldn’t help but notice the table full of ‘ALA’ jackets sitting ahead of us in a private area of the diner.

To my surprise it was all of the evening’s combatants just two hours removed from their fights sitting around a table with Sir ALA at the head. No girlfriends, friends, family members or fans. Just the young fighters sharing a meal after a hard night of work.

I was later told that they headed straight back to the gym and dormitory where it was early to bed and early to rise the next morning. There would be another time for celebrating for these young fighters as they still have a long way to go.

They were a quiet and reserved group as they shared smiles and recounted stories of their fisticuffs from earlier in the evening. They were an excited bunch but they listened with serious intent as Antonio Aldeguer spoke to them with some words of wisdom.

It was impressive to see such a reserved sense of discipline from these young men who have been taught and conditioned to live in such a humble and healthy regimen while training with the hopes of becoming world class fighters.

My new friend Chad told me that one Saturday evening not so long ago that a very well known fighter from the ALA Gym won a title in Cebu in the headlining bout of a very popular card. Excited with his accomplishment the young man elected to head out celebrating for a few hours after the card and subsequently came home to the ALA Gym to find the doors locked and the lights off. A calculated move that had the young unnamed fighter sleeping on the street before being let back in for training on Sunday. It was no doubt a lesson well learned.

While Antonio Aldeguer now spends the majority of his day checking up on his fighters and hopefuls in casual clothes, his son Michael Aldeguer now holds the reigns of the ALA Boxing empire. Michael has been tasked with moving the namesake into the new millennium. With a keen eye for talent and a clever sense of business Michael has been instrumental in getting the ALA stable of fighters on ABS-CBN, a global media conglomerate that televises boxing both nationally and internationally to Filipinos all around the world. ALA Promotions has also expanded under Micheal’s watch with shows all over Asia and even as far as the United Arab Emirates.

The trip was an eye opening experience for a young Canadian Fight Fan as it gave me the opportunity to see one of the world’s boxing hotbeds up close and personal.

I look forward to keeping a close eye on the young stable of Filipino fighters I had the pleasure of meeting on my journey. They are under heavy pressure and a lot of scrutiny to succeed in becoming world champions.

While I’m certain some of them will indeed have their hands raised in eventual world title fights, I’ll always think back to Antonio Aldeguer keeping a watchful eye over the young children in his outdoor gym. While it’s the breeding of champions that capture the most attention and wide spread adulation, the cultivation of discipline and character in all the young men that leave through the doors of the ALA Gym was the biggest and most humbling thing I took away from my time in Cebu.

 

 

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3 Responses to “The Tao of Sir ALA: A Fight Fan’s visit to the Philippines…”

Disclaimer: FightFan.com will NOT be held responsible for ANY of the content appearing in the following discussion, but will do it's best ensure that the discussion stays relevant, beneficial, and acceptable to the readers of this site.

  1. kadyo Says:

    Nice read ace and glad to know that you visited our country.



  2. Carlo Says:

    Nice piece Ace. Thanks for this article.



  3. rhino1 Says:

    Good article. Thanks for giving us some insight about that boxing gym. I read about it but never saw any pictures until now.
    I have better respect after reading your artiicle.



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