I had the chance to speak with a couple of my former “sparring partners” recently.
During the mid-1990s while spending quite some time at the old L&M Gym on Paquita Street near the Quiapo and Sampaloc border, I got to chronicle the exploits of two-division champions Luisito Espinosa and Gerry Peñalosa.
You see, they used to be my sparmates.
Believe it or not, I sparred with them during the peak of their careers.
I first tested the mettle of Espinosa in 1996 when he was the World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight king and regarded as the leading 126-pounder next to Prince Naseem Hamed.
It was just like yesterday when I shared the ring with him and I vividly remember what I was wearing: A loose black t-shirt, basketball shorts and a pair of cross-trainers.
Even if he was the champ and I was the chump, I got to dictate the terms of the sparring session.
I told him just two things.
Firstly, I would be the only one throwing punches (hence the name of this column) and secondly, that our workout will go three rounds.
Then the bell rang.
Stalking Espinosa in a southpaw stance, I reached out with a right jab and hit nothing but air.
I then faked another jab in the hopes of unloading my lethal left.
But before I could unleash the fury of that left hand of mine, he was right behind me laughing, circling around using every space of the ring to bedazzle and confuse me.
Then things got pretty interesting.
Espinosa stood right in front of me and asked me to pull the trigger once more.
I hit him with a left to the side of the head. Then a followup right hook. Then a flurry of punches coming from all angles.
Before I knew it, the bell rang.
As I headed back to the corner, I was sweating profusely and a bit bothered that there were still two rounds left.
Now, the second round. More of the same thing. Espinosa lets me get in a few licks bust most of the time, I wasn’t even landing a meaningful punch.
Halfway through the round, disoriented and all, I turned my back and attempted to go down the ring.
Espinosa held my hand and told me the round wasn’t over yet and there was still the third round.
I hollered, “No mas, no mas.”
Laughter broke out.
The following year, I decided to redeem myself by engaging in another sparring session.
This time, the guy who was training at the gym was Peñalosa, then the WBC super-flyweight titleholder.
After getting the green light from his chief handler Wakee Salud, I showed up one day in full battle gear.
Again, the rules remained the same.
But I just whispered to Gerry that it’s going to be just two rounds.
I came out for the first round like a lefty version of Julio Cesar Chavez: aggressive, calculating and cold-blooded.
The classic jab-right-hook combo found its target and Salud yelled for Gerry to be careful.
“Sus, grabe! Body puncher,” exclaimed Salud as the small crowd, including trainers and boxers, including probably a young Manny Pacquiao, jeered from everywhere.
Again, I didn’t get to finish the second round. I was damn tired from all the chasing and non-stop punching that my arms felt as if bags of cement were dangling from them.
Anyway, whenever I bump into Gerry, we always address each other as “sparmate.”
Although I am now much older, I will try to get into the ring again when all this pandemic madness is over.
Maybe then I will muster enough courage to challenge that kid who would later become an eight-division champion to have a taste of my furious fists.