This month of January marks Flash Elorde’s 30th death anniversary. He was a man known not only for his unequaled boxing prowess, but also for his enormous heart. Born in a household of tenant farmers in Bogo, not far from Cebu, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde (March 25, 1935-January 2, 1985) was the first Filipino and Asian to be inducted in the World Boxing Hall of Fame and the International Hall of Fame, even ahead of legendary Filipino boxer Pancho Villa. He set the gold standard for other Filipino world champions in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the Philippines. Although a well-known celebrity for decades, he always maintained a low profile. He was known for his charity work and love for his people.
My first encounter with him was days before I turned five years old. He and his wife, Laura, were friends of my mother, Lulu dela Cruz, who was a journalist trying her hand in film production and screenplay writing in the early ‘60s. She made arrangements to shoot some scenes from a yet-untitled action comedy she and her production crew were filming in Flash Elorde’s estate outside of Manila. As a kid, I would hear the adults talk excitedly about Flash, Asia’s No. 1 boxing champion. I knew as we were driving past the entrance gate of his property that this was a famous man, but the larger than life person that I met was a picture of humility and kindness. He welcomed the whole cast and crew like family. He and his wife made everyone feel at home.
He gave us a tour of the boxing ring he was building for young aspiring boxers he was mentoring. We passed by this building on our way to his house, and I wondered what it was for since it was at some distance from his house. Now I knew. He led us back to his house, which had several bedrooms. But my favorite spot was his “Tatami Room.” He had taken to Japanese design after competing in Japan several times; he brought it to his own living quarters. This room was filled with tatami mats that he used for exercise and meditation, according to the adults around me. It also housed his trophies, photos and awards from his boxing matches. I was thrilled when Mom and I were assigned with some female cast members to the tatami room. It felt grand to me.
The famous Flash Elorde left the film crew alone most of the time but would appear once in a while to check up on them, socialize with the group, or be consulted for some action scenes, as his wife made sure our meals were taken care of throughout the few days we stayed. A lot of scenes were done outdoors, and with no other kids to play with I ended up watching the actors, including Aruray, Hector Reyes and Dencio Padilla. They were shooting some scenes with stuntmen who acted as villains pursuing them. Some shots were done numerous times before the director shot the next scene, so I had long days.
Mom and Flash Elorde walk towards me one morning. Flash approached me with a fatherly smile. “I heard it’s your birthday,” he said as my mom looked on with a smile on her face. “Happy Birthday!”
Then he handed me a package of colorful paper that made my heart leap with joy at the sight. It was my first origami set – it would take my boat and airplane paper-folding to another level in the years to come. I never forgot that day.
My mother kept in touch with Flash and his wife for sometime after that, though their life paths took them in different places. Mom eventually left the movie industry and pursued a different career so I never got to see Flash again, but we sent him good thoughts every time we read about him in the paper. Until that day I read his obituary and I told Mom. She had a sad expression for the passing of a friend and a legend, although a look in her eyes said she was pleased to have met a man of good character.
As for me, I am grateful and proud to know a Filipino who broke barriers, became famous and successful and yet did not skip a beat in keeping the humble and generous spirit that he was born with.
There will never be a Filipino boxer like Flash Elorde.
Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.