Wednesday, November 30, 2022  |


The best of all time A to Z: Villa


This is the 22nd in a 26-part series in which endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others who were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔǪ today’s letter: “V.”

Lifespan: 1901-25
Hometown: Iloilo City, Philippines
Record: 80-5-3 (23 knockouts)
Active: 1919-25
Weight class: Flyweight
Titles: World flyweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 64
The thought process: American servicemen introduced Filipinos to boxing around the time of the Spanish-American War, in the 1890s and 1900s. U.S. ex-patriot Frank Churchill was running a gym in Manila when he and a diminutive teen-aged street fighter named Francisco Guilledo crossed paths. The rest is Filipino boxing history. Pancho Villa, his adopted name, was 5-foot-1 (155cm) on a good day but powerful. He fought at a frenetic, overwhelming pace and — like countryman Manny Pacquiao today — seemed to be indefatigable. His peers in the Philippines were no match for him, as he quickly plowed through the best flyweights and bantamweights in the country. Villa was soon ready for bigger challenges, which led him to the United States in 1922. He experienced a few disappointments, including three setbacks against Frankie Genaro, but soon became very popular in the U.S. because of his fighting style and Pacquiao-like charm. Villa’s big chance came on June 18, 1923, when he challenged for the great Jimmy Wilde’s world flyweight title before 40,000 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York. It remains the biggest flyweight fight ever. Villa stopped his aging foe in seven rounds to win the championship only one year after arriving on American shores, thus becoming the first Filipino to win a title and a national hero back home. He would go on to beat the best little men in the world — including three successful title defenses — over the next few years to the delight of his many fans. However, a wonderful story quickly turned tragic. Villa fought (and lost to) fellow Hall of Famer Jimmy McLarnin on July 4, 1925 even though he had a tooth removed that day because of an infection. A few days later, he had three more teeth pulled yet caroused with friends against his dentist’s advice. The infection spread to his throat, which became Ludwig’s Angina, and he died 10 days after the McLarnin fight. He was only 23. Villa’s career and life were far too short but he made a huge impression. He remains an important historical figure in the Philippines and was considered the greatest Asian fighter of all time until another Filipino icon came along a few generations later.
Five more (alphabetical order): Rodrigo Valdez, Benny Valger, Fernando Vargas, Israel Vazquez and Wilfredo Vazquez. (Apologies to Edwin Valero, Julio Cesar Vasquez, Ben Villaflor and Robert Villemain.)
Sugar quote: “Pancho Villa was a killer. He just suffocated his opponents.”

A: Armstrong:

B: Burley:

C: Charles:

D: Duran:

E: Elorde:

F: Foreman:

G: Greb:

H: Hagler:

I: Ibeabuchi:

J: Johnson:

K: Ketchel:

L: Louis:

M: Moore:

N: Napoles:

O: Olivares:

P: Pep:

Q: Qawi:

R: Robinson:

S: Saddler:

T: Tunney:

U: Uzcudun: