By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated May 11, 2010 12:00 AM
, Philippines – No descendant has been confirmed by the PSC to receive the plaque of enshrinement and P100,000 check for the late world middleweight boxing champion Ceferino Garcia, leaving unclaimed the recognition announced during the first Philippine Sports Hall of Fame induction at the Manila Hotel last Wednesday night.
Garcia, who died in San Diego in 1981, was one of nine individuals enshrined by the PSC in a historic ceremony. The national basketball team that took third place at the 1954 World Championships in Rio de Janeiro was also inducted.
A source said a person claiming to be Garcia’s relative recently phoned the PSC but failed to produce evidence of lineage. The purported relationship is unsubstantiated. The PSC will not award the plaque and check to a claimant unless there is concrete proof of a family relationship.
Garcia was born in Caraycaray, Naval, Biliran, in 1903 and moved to Cebu City when he was 15 before transplanting to Tondo. The oldest of six children, he learned how to use the bolo working in sugar cane fields and developed his upper body strength as a blacksmith. Garcia gained a fearsome reputation as a streetfighter and it led to a ring career that started in 1923 with a purse of P10.50. In 1932, Garcia was brought to California by his manager Jes Cortez who teamed with American Frank Churchill in sending Filipino fighters to the US.
While in the US, Garcia was signed to a contract by promoter George Parnassus and trained under Johnny Villaflor, also a Filipino. Garcia failed in two bids for the world welterweight crown, losing decisions to Barney Ross and Henry Armstrong, but finally hit paydirt when in October 1939, he floored Fred Apostoli thrice to wrest the middleweight title via a seventh round stoppage in New York City.
In his first defense, Garcia knocked out Glen (The Nebraska Wildcat) Lee in the 13th round before a wildly cheering crowd of over 40,000 at the open-air Rizal Football Stadium in December 1939. The audience included Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon who sat beside Garcia’s mother Pascuala Pieras at ringside. According to the late sportswriter Jimmie Lacsamana, thousands of fans came from all over the country to witness the fight. “From Northern Luzon, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog provinces, they came by truckloads,” wrote Lacsamana. “The Bicol Express which was then recently inaugurated brought to Manila trainloads of people and those from the Visayas and Mindanao came by boats days before the fight.”
Garcia didn’t disappoint the fans, landing a right cross to the jaw that put Lee down for the count by referee Jack Dempsey, the former world heavyweight titlist.
In 1940, Garcia lost the title to Ken Overlin on points in his third defense. He retired five years later with a record of 102-27-12, with 67 KOs. Garcia racked up a total of 141 bouts in his 22-year career. Never backing out of a fight, he figured in 15 bouts in 1935 alone.
The bolo punch – a combination uppercut and half-hook driven by a windmill pitch – was Garcia’s most lethal weapon and he is known in history as its creator. Boxing chronicler Jack McCallum once wrote that Garcia “was not much of a boxer-type but could hit like a muleskinner.” Garcia, whose largest purse was $20,000, is in the record books as the first man to deck Hall of Famer Barney Ross, whom he fought thrice, and one of only six fighters to draw with Henry Armstrong in Homicide Hank’s 180-bout career.
After retiring from the ring, Garcia settled in Los Angeles where he owned a trucking business and partnered with Parnassus in operating a restaurant. Garcia and his American wife Catherine had two children, Vickie and Ceferino, Jr. The family used to live at 11019 Studebaker Street in Los Angeles. In his heyday, Garcia owned three houses in the US.
Garcia returned to Manila to visit relatives in 1950 and 1964. During his one-month stay in 1964, he was cited by the Philippine Sportswriters Association for bringing honor and glory to the Philippines in winning the middleweight title.
Garcia suffered from a kidney ailment and arthritis before succumbing to a respiratory illness at the Kaiser hospital in San Diego in 1981 at the age of 77.
It remains a challenge to track down Garcia’s surviving descendants. A granddaughter Andrea Garcia Hursala is reportedly living somewhere in the US. Late brother Francisco was a Philippine Army captain with children supposedly in Cubao. A sister Rufina lived in Oregon with her American husband named Foreman and their three children. Another sister Leona was in Pampanga. A brother Alberto, known as Mang Ambing, was found living in Biliran at the age of 76 in 1994 and may now be deceased. Another sister died when she was a child.
In his younger days, Garcia described himself as a crybaby, very skinny and the whipping boy of neighborhood bullies. “I would cry and run home to my mother who would get mad at me for not fighting back,” he once said. In time, Garcia fought back and eventually made fighting his business.
Boxing promoter Lou Lake called Garcia “a man who always came to punch, a real champion at a time when you had to fight your way to the top.” Another promoter Sid Flaherty said, “Garcia was a very game man who took a good punch, a very tough competitor.”
Garcia was inducted into the Ring Magazine Hall of Fame in 1977 and has been honored in the World Boxing Hall of Fame. But since the International Boxing Hall of Fame was established in Canastota, New York, in 1990, he has been ignored. So far, only three Filipinos have been inducted in Canastota – Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde and promoter Lope (Papa) Sarreal, Sr. Surely, Garcia deserves recognition, too.