By Alex P. Vidal
Like Manny Pacquiao, Pancho Villa, the first Asian and Filipino world champion, also incurred two straight defeats and was on the verge of kissing goodbye his young fistic career when he slammed a crucial victory that propelled him back to the mainstream of world championship.
After two straight losses to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao is aiming to duplicate Villa’s luck when he battles Brandon Lee “Bam Bam” Rios in Macau on November 24, to stay away from the brink of elimination and keep his hopes alive for a duel versus Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Villa (78 wins with 22 KOs, 8 losses and 2 draws) was 21 years old when his manager, Frank Churchill, brought him to the United States in 1922. Villa had an intimidating record when he left the Philippines: 15 straight wins. He had only one defeat, a disqualification to Eddie Moore in Manila on August 9, 1921. Villa’s record when he arrived in the US was 23 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws. Six of those 23 wins came by way of knockout.
Disaster struck in his first two fights on the American soil when he lost a pair of decisions to future world champions Abe Goldstein and Frankie Genaro.
New York speedster Goldstein (70-16, 35 KOs, 7 draws) gave Villa a rude welcome in the land of milk and honey when they clashed at the Oakland A.A. in New Jersey on June 7, 1922. Goldstein, taller by four inches, pounded out a unanimous verdict after 12 rounds.
Villa was back again on the same ring less than a month after losing to Goldstein, only to be trounced via 12-round unanimous decision by Genaro on July 6, 1922.
Churchill was taken aback by the back-to-back setbacks and didn’t want his investment on the “Mighty Atom” from Ilog, Negros Occidental to go to waste without hoping for a miracle. So he immediately signed up unheralded Frankie Murray to face Villa next.
Villa traveled to New York and dispatched Murray on points in a six-rounder aperitif at the Margolies A.C. in Queens on July 19, 1922 or 13 days after bowing out to Genaro.
The win revived Villa’s chances to earn a berth at the world crown. Ten days later on July 29, 1922, Villa launched a three-win juggernaut by pounding out a 12-round unanimous decision against Terry Miller at the Asbury Park in New Jersey.
In what could be the briefest preparation in boxing history, Villa returned to New York three days after conquering Miller and outduked Johnny Hepburn in a six-rounder tiff at the Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn on August 2, 1922. This was followed by an 8-round points win against Sammy Cohen on August 15, 1922 on the same venue.
Just when Villa was a cinch away from becoming the first Asian to earn a crack at the world title, Genaro repulsed him again on points in an epic 10-rounder rematch on August 22, 1922 on the same arena in New York.
Villa shrugged off his third loss in the US and sent a loud message by hammering out a spectacular 11th round knockout against Johnny Buff on September 14, 1922 on the same ring in New York.
The big KO win signaled Villa’s rise to stardom as he followed it with nine straight victories, toppling like pin balls all the toughest flyweights America could offer, including a 15-round points revenge against Goldstein for the American flyweight crown at the Madison Square Garden on November 16, 1922.
Those who fell from Villa’s murderous binge were: Danny Edwards (10-round points), Patsy Wallace (8-round points), Young Montreal (10-round points), Terry Martin (15-round points in defense of the American flyweight crown), Battling Al Murray (8-round points), Frankie Mason (KO 5th in defense of the American flyweight diadem), Henry “Kid” Wolfe (KO 3rd).
Villa finally yielded the American flyweight title on a controversial 15-round split decision to Genaro in their third meeting. Scoring referee Andy Griffin and judge Billy “Kid” McPartland saw Genaro the winner while third judge Harold Barnes favored Villa.
After his third loss to Genaro, gold medalist in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Villa rebounded with four point victories against Young Montreal in rematch, Willie Darcey, Clarence Rosen, and Battling Al Murray in rematch and was defeated on points by Bobby Wolgast.
Instead of being sent home to the Philippines following a loss to Wolgast, Villa was awarded with a berth to the world flyweight crown due to his sterling record (17 wins, 5 losses) in a two-year US campaign.
On June 18, 1923, Villa, whose real name was Franciso Guilledo, made history by becoming the first Filipino and Asian to capture a legitimate world boxing crown by virtue of 7th round knockout over defending world flyweight champion Jimmy Wilde at the Polo Grounds in New York.
Villa rolled to 13 straight wins after disposing off Wilde and lost to Bud Taylor (Villa’s world crown not at stake). He collected 10 more straight wins and a draw versus Eddie McKenna, before losing on points in 10 rounds to welterweight terror Jimmy McLarnin on July 4, 1925.
Villa had an ulcerated tooth extracted earlier on the day of the fight. A few days later, on July 14, he died from Ludwig’s angina resulting from an infection that spread to his throat.
Villa’s title became vacant. The next day William Muldoon of the NYSAC proclaimed Frankie Genaro Pancho’s “legitimate successor.” But it was Fidel LaBarba who would become the next undisputed flyweight champion of the World.