For former world boxing champion Josie Gabuco, the Southeast Asian Games shaped as a make-or-break tournament after her run of defeats in major events last year.
It turned out to be make.
Gabuco’s experience was telling against Raksat Chuthamat, an up-and-comer from Thailand, as she focused on the scoring punches instead of the knockout blows in a 3-0 win for the gold medal. It was the fourth SEA Games title for Gabuco, and the first of five gold medals for the Philippines in Wednesday’s 11 boxing finals.
Vietnam finished with three golds and one silver medal, and Thailand won two titles.
“Thanks to God, I’ve been able to get another opportunity to get this gold medal from the SEA Games,” Gabuco said. “It’s hard for me. She was also a good boxer—the last world championships, she got a bronze medal. I didn’t have any last year, but I could be aggressive against her.”
Vietnam won the next two women’s golds, and Thailand and Indonesia won a gold medal apiece before Ian Clarke Bautista sparked a run of four Filipino golds in five title bouts.
Bautista lost at the Asian Games at Incheon last year to a South Korean, and admitted he was so concerned about a home-town decision when he took on Hanurdeen Hamid that he could barely sleep the night before the final, and resorted to watching Youtube videos of the Singaporean.
Hamid entered the fight with a swollen and heavily discolored left eye—the result of a head clash in his semifinal win—and didn’t really stand a chance when it closed entirely in the first round.
Bautista said the plan was to win by knockout, and he landed big rights repeatedly to the blind left side of Hamid’s head.
“I fight hard to get the gold,” said Bautista, who was ready to focus on the world championships and the Olympics.
Hamid said he went ahead with the fight despite medical advice because he didn’t want to let down the local crowd.
“He was aggressive. He knew I was injured in my left eye and he just kept coming,” Hamid said. “Second and third rounds I was fighting with one eye, (but) it’s my home ground, I’m not going to miss the opportunity. I’m not going to let the people who support me down.”
Tay Jia Wei, the only other Singapore boxer to reach a final, was knocked out in the second round by Eumire Marcial, a former world junior champion from the Philippines, in the welterweight division.
Mario Fernandez won by TKO in the second round of the bantamweight final against Thailand’s Ojgjunta Tanes, and Junel Cantancio beat Nguyen Van Hai of Vietnam 2-0 in the lightweight category for the Philippines’ other gold medals.
After Gabuco’s opening win, Vietnamese women won two split decisions against Filipino boxers, with Nguyen Thi Yen beating Irish Magno in the flyweight class, and Le Thi Bang narrowly edging Nesthy Petecio.
Thongjan Tassamalee had a 3-0 win over Indonesia’s Christina Jembay in the heaviest of the women’s divisions, but Indonesia rebounded in the next fight with Kornelis Kwangu Langu winning on points against Rogen Ladon of the Philippines in the men’s light flyweight class. Truong Dinh Hoang of Vietnam finished off the program with a 3-0 win over Khankhokkhruea Aphisiti of Thailand in the middleweight final, the heaviest of the men’s divisions.
For all her success in the SEA Games arena, Gabuco goes straight back to the drawing board when it comes to Olympic qualifying.
“It depends on what happens next year because we have an elimination (competition) for that—there’s a lot of Filipino boxers that are good.”
Still, she planned to savor another title in the regional arena, saying losses in the world championships, Asian Games, and the China Open last year helped her realize that the sweetest victories might be in front of her.
“Four times,” she said, “yes it is.”