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Underdog Boxing: A year without Karlo Maquinto

February 3, 2013 8:31pm
Karlo Maquinto was just entering the prime of his life. He was a 21-year-old athlete, working hard on a daily basis to provide for his family. He was a son, a brother, a friend, and, quite unluckily, a skilled boxer.

See, boxing skill is both a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it means a comfortable life for those who end up being world champions. It means being famous and giant paydays.

It’s curse because it robs men and women of their health. It’s a curse because they know that every single time they’ll step into the ring, there’s a possibility of getting seriously hurt.

Boxing was a gift for Karlo because it gave him purpose. “Gusto kong maging sikat na boksingero para matulungan ko yung pamilya ko,” he told me when I asked why he fought. He was living at the Cooyeesan Hotel, eating three square meals a day. He trained and helped out in the gym for work and he kept his complete purse every time he stepped into the ring. He was living a good life, that is, until that fateful night when the gift turned into a curse.

[Related: Underdog Boxing - RIP Karlo Maquinto]

I knew there was no chance. I understood it was impossible to wake up from that kind of a coma. In those few minutes I spent beside his hospital bed, his doctors made it brutally clear.

“There’s nothing we can do for him” was the phrase they used; a phrase that I refused to believe in that day. Three days after, he was gone. Karlo Maquinto, the quiet guy who turned into an efficient boxing machine inside the ring was dead at the age of 21.

The date was February 3, 2012. It was early afternoon when my phone rang. “Wala na si Karlo,” the person on the other end told me.

It was the inevitable ending to his tragic story. There were no other plot twists, no surprise endings. Yet when death finally took him, it still stung deep. I guess my ignorance of how the brain actually works led me to believe that Karlo actually had a chance of surviving. I guess I expected Karlo to fight whatever was ailing him and just go back to living, to being a kid again.

But I guess he could not fight it anymore. After getting knocked down twice in the early rounds of his last fight, Karlo stood up and fought back like the true champion that he is. Down big on the scorecards, Karlo won most of the following rounds to force a draw. After the announcement was made, Karlo collapsed inside the ring.

If there was one thing that defined Karlo, it was his resiliency. In his eight fights, he was either knocked down or wobbled badly in at least four of those fights. Yet, he refused to let that affect him. He’d grit his teeth and give his cornermen a simple nod of his head to tell them he’s okay. He’d get up and continue fighting because he knows that every punch he lands on his opponent is a small step towards fulfilling his dream, towards building a better life for his family.

After he died, it seemed like a part of the people around him died with Karlo. The Shape Up Boxing Gym in Baguio looked like an abandoned room. The floor was absent sweat and spit. The bags were gathering dust. His manager, Anson Tiu Co, was talking to other promoters to see if they were willing to take care of his remaining fighters. His trainers Marvin Somodio and Jeff Linay refused to put their hands inside punch mitts. Karlo’s sister Gie, the first family member to be his side at the hospital was inconsolable.

But in time, they all figured it out. During those trying times when they were at their breaking point they realized that they needed to be resilient like Karlo. They needed to get up from this knock down and fight back because,  as cliché as it may sound, that’s what Karlo would have wanted them to do.

In the months that followed, they all bounced back Karlo-style. His manager Anson successfully staged his first boxing card in memory of the fallen fighter. His trainer Marvin flew to Los Angeles and became an assistant trainer at the Wild Card Gym. His sister Gie found employment in Hong Kong. In their varied endeavors, they had a common denominator. They were all doing it para kay Karlo.

“Time hangs over all of us,” wrote Robert Anasi, “but it strikes no one more swiftly than boxers, who can become old men in three minutes.”

Beautiful words that concealed an ugly reality. Yes, time strikes boxers swiftly but it will come for us just the same. Karlo ran out of time last year but we will all run out of time at some point.

What makes Karlo special is that he didn’t let adversity affect him. When his opponent’s punches or life itself knocked him down, he stood right back up and fought back. This is Karlo Maquinto’s legacy. He was a son, a brother, a friend, and a boxer who took on life head on until he couldn’t any longer.

I hope you’re resting well, Karlo, and thank you because through your death, you’ve taught us all how to live. - RAF/AMD GMA News
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