MANILA, Philippines – It’s understandable for Harmonito Dela Torre to feel a bit overwhelmed as he takes in the grandiose surroundings of the Venetian Resort in Macau, China.
The Venetian, which is the world’s largest casino and among one of the most extravagant with its indoor canal and luxury shopping establishments, is a significant upgrade from the indoor basketball courts and marketplaces where Dela Torre has competed back home in the Philippines.
From those inauspicious environs, the 19-year-old junior lightweight Dela Torre (10-0, 5 knockouts), of General Santos City by way of Cagayan de Oro, jumps to the world stage, fighting abroad for the first time in his short career on Saturday night (Sunday morning in China) against Indonesian Jason Butar-Butar (15-11-1, 11 KOs) in a six-round bout.
The fight will be on the undercard of Filipino living legend Manny Pacquiao’s comeback bout against Brandon Rios.
“This is a dream come true,” said Dela Torre, who arrived in Macau Monday afternoon with manager Jim Claude Manangquil and trainer Rene Gabawa.
The opportunity to fight on a Manny Pacquiao card is a coveted one for Filipino boxers. With the majority of the Philippine nation tuning in to watch their favorite son perform, a highlight-worthy performance could capture the public’s attention.
With the exception of Brian Viloria, none of the Filipino boxers featured on Pacquiao’s undercards have been able to capitalize on the opportunity to attain overnight stardom.
Dela Torre is no stranger to performing in front of Pacquiao, however. His good fortune began when he was called in to spar with Filipino 130-pound contender Michael Farenas, who had been training at Pacquiao’s Wild Card Gym in General Santos City.
Dela Torre then went on to spar with other unbeaten prospects at the gym, including China’s Ik Yang and the the Penalosa brothers, Dodie Boy Jr. and Dave. Dela Torre impressed his small but influential audience to the extent that he was offered a spot on the card.
“His last sparring was the best that I’ve seen him,” said 20-year-old manager Manangquil. “He threw a combination at Ik Yang and [Pacquiao’s trainer] Freddie Roach stepped into the ring. Ik Yang was crawling on the floor.
“Manny Pacquiao sees him, so do the trainers and Michael Koncz. He sees the results; Harmonito’s beating these guys up.”
Manangquil, who also manages junior flyweight contender Randy Petalcorin, signed Dela Torre to a managerial contract after seeing him perform in a local amateur tournament.
Dela Torre, who was a member of the Philippine national team at the time, had a reported record of 65-5 after only two years as an amateur. Manangquil liked what he saw and offered him a 120,000 peso (roughly $2,750) advance to leave the security of the Philippine team and turn pro.
“I did that because I trusted in his talent,” said Manangquil.
“He relies on his quickness, his speed. Sometimes he throws only one punch at a time and his defense, that’s his only weakness. The raw talents he has are things that you don’t ordinarily see from a fighter, like speed, quickness, footwork, power. He’s got it, but he’s still raw right now.”
One of nine children with two aging parents to support, Dela Torre saw boxing as a means to support a large family. The exploits of Pacquiao and his eight-figure paydays inspire Dela Torre to follow in this dangerous profession.
An impressive win on Sunday will open the door to many more paydays.
Photo / Harmonito Dela Torre
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.