Reymart Gaballo, a much overlooked Filipino puncher, remains humble but hungry
It wasn’t until 2 a.m. Saturday morning that Reymart Gaballo had his hand raised at the Seminole Hard Rock in Southern Florida. Even with the the interim WBA bantamweight title in stow, the casino doesn’t serve alcohol after a certain point. So the 21-year-old celebrated his first significant title win up in his hotel room, playing Rules of Survival and Mobile Legends on his cell phone.
Gaballo didn’t go all-out crazy until the sun came up that day: a trip to Lutong Pinoy 2 in Pembroke Pines for Filipino cuisine, then off to Ross to buy discount clothes from last season. Eight dollar t-shirts were good enough for him as an unknown prospect, and they don’t lose their luster after going 12 rounds for the first time.
Once in his room, he called his mom and dad back home in General Santos City. There was no television or stream for the fight, so they joined the other boxers from the Sanman Gym at the home of their benefactor Dexter Tan to watch a shaky Facebook Live video from the phone of Sanman head Jim Claude Manangquil which showed the action from several rows away.
It’s the reality which Gaballo and other rising prospects have had to live with in the Philippines, where boxers don’t draw interest from big networks until they create their own buzz. He’s been the best kept secret in Philippine boxing, only because of a lack of enthusiasm for grassroots boxing.
A glancing look at Gaballo would have told even the most casual observer that his mixture of power, speed and aggression, and prodigious learning curve, made him someone to keep tabs on. Yet he had eluded the attention of the Manila-based national media until he defeated Stephon Young by unanimous decision.
One thing which had set Gaballo apart from other prospects is his desperate desire to be special.
Last year in Manila, at the annual Flash Elorde Awards, Gaballo was one of the boxers who received a token award for winning the minor WBC Asia belt. Despite having an impressive knockout record, Gaballo received relatively little notice from those in the room.
“He was so mad he was not talking. He wanted to go home,” said Jim Claude Manangquil. “He said to me and (Manangquil’s brother John Ray) ‘one day I’ll be in the front with all the world champions,’”
That same year, after his stablemate and best friend Romero Duno received a hero’s welcome in General Santos City for his win over Christian “Chimpa” Gonzalez, a security guard stopped Gaballo from getting through to congratulate him. He steamed mad at airport security not acknowledging him as a VIP and vowed that he’d have his own parade one day.
That day will come on the morning of March 30, when he arrives back in GenSan, but a conflict with Good Friday, a significant holiday during Holy Week in the Philippines, means he’ll have to settle this time for a meeting with the mayor next Tuesday. Still, he will likely be at the head table for the next Elorde Awards with all the other major titleholders.
Gaballo, a shy but self-assured youngster, is feeling better about where his career is now.
“This is the beginning of bigger things in my career,” said Gaballo (19-0, 16 knockouts).
Manangquil says he spoke with Gaballo’s American handlers Ricardo Rizzo and Heavyweight Factory, and expects to have Gaballo back in the ring in early-June, likely in Florida again. And now, networks are talking to Manangquil about televising Gaballo’s future fights.
The top of the division, fighters like WBO titleholder Zolani Tete, unified WBA/IBF titleholder Ryan Burnett, and Jamie McDonnell, all are based in Europe. Manangquil says he isn’t in a hurry to rush Gaballo into those fights yet, but he expects him to be ready for the top level at 118 pounds in time.
“People said he was untested before the fight, that he didn’t have many rounds of experience, that he was the B-side for this fight, but what did he do?,” said Manangquil.
“The sky’s the limit for Gaballo. He is just starting.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].