What a great sports weekend it was that just passed! All sorts of sports and sports-related activities transpired, and each really meant something to the participants. Whether with balls, sticks, fists, knees or racquets, there was something for everyone to enjoy.
Last Friday night, the PBA Governors' Cup Semi-finals got underway at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City with a doubleheader. Barangay Ginebra demolished the Meralco Bolts and Petron won a squeaker over Rain or Shine. Then, on Saturday night, the PBA played for the first time at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, a sign of things to come perhaps in the future, with B-Meg winning over Talk N Text in another close encounter.
I was particularly eager for Saturday night to arrive, since I was one of a select number to be invited to the first screening of a documentary about Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), known more familiarly and interchangeably as arnis, kali, or eskrima. The film, produced, written and directed by an old friend, Jay Ignacio, is entitled "The Bladed Hand," and covers the history of FMA, its development in the Philippines and abroad, and its current state, particularly in the local setting. Ignacio travelled all over the world to interview FMA grand masters, instructors, practitioners and enthusiasts, filming them showcasing their skills and also speaking on how FMA impacted them and continues to be a large part of their lives. Notably, Ignacio was able to speak with both Dan Inosanto, a Filipino-American who will be forever associated with the late, great Bruce Lee, and Jeff Imada, the famous Hollywood stunt coordinator and choreographer. Both shared their thoughts on FMA and their belief that it is one of the best and most effective means of combat.
Inosanto and Imada were unable to make it to the screening, but sent messages, which their representative read before the film was shown. Former Congressman Miguel Zubiri and Makati City Councilor Monsour del Rosario, both FMA practitioners, were also interviewed in the film. Several of the arnis masters featured were present and called to the stage to be recognized and each gifted with a sword crafted by Daniel "Mumbakki" Foronda, Jr, the man responsible for bringing FMA to Russia, where it is now widely practiced and very much respected.
The documentary is well-presented. It shows the best of the best in action and focuses on the impact of FMA in the international scene. The scenes where the masters show their wares with lightning speed and accuracy make one want to pick up a pair of sticks and swing away. It also emphasizes the sad state of FMA in our very own country, where proponents of different techniques of FMA are squabbling, trying to discredit each other. It mentions that, while arnis is, by law, our national sport, not much has been done to ensure that Filipinos learn about it, or at least of it. The American, Russian, German, French and other foreign practitioners interviewed expressed disappointment that, considering how popular FMA is in their circles abroad, among Filipinos, it is not. To add the exclamation point to that is the fact that both the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Sports Commission received invitations to the screening of the Bladed Hand. Neither sent a representative.
Nevertheless, the world premiere of "The Bladed Hand" is scheduled for 15 September 2012. There is a Facebook page that talks all about it, in case you are interested. As Ignacio said, this film is for all Filipinos, because FMA is about all of us. I urge all to support it when it is released to the public.
Capping off Saturday night was some ladies' tennis, with American Serena Williams winning the 2012 Ladies' Singles championship at Wimbledon over Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in three sets. Serena was in a class of her own all-tournament long, dominating the competition and, as Dominika Cibulkova said about Sam Stosur during the French Open, "she played like a man." Her power and relentlessness were just too much for all her opponents.
Come Sunday morning, there were some important wars to be waged, three of which concerned me more than others. First, our countryman Nonito Donaire won a title bout by unanimous decision against South Africa's Jeffrey Mathebula, and is now both the WBO and IBF Super Bantamweight Champion. The Filipino Flash has made us proud once again, showing great form and technique if not knockout power. Then, in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, particularly in the UFC, Tito Ortiz, an old dog in the octagon, fought what he declared would be his last fight, and confirmed that it was indeed his last fight, after losing to Forest Griffin. It was Griffin himself who grabbed the microphone and asked Ortiz to confirm that he was leaving the fight game, which Ortiz did. The main event of that UFC lineup was highly anticipated, and the trash-talking Chael Sonnen promised to emerge on top this time against the champion Anderson Silva. In the first round, Sonnen looked good, dominating Silva and making Silva sigh with relief when the bell sounded. In Round 2, however, an overly-aggressive Sonnen made a slight mistake, lost his balance, hit the deck, and got chucked by a Silva knee. The fight ended several blows to the head later, with Silva remaining as champ, victorious over Sonnen once again.
In the afternoon, PBA Semifinals action continued, with Rain or Shine pulling off a tough victory over the Meralco Bolts. Emotions ran high as Coach Yeng Guiao of Rain or Shine was ejected after vehemently protesting a non-call before the half. In the second game, Barangay Ginebra pulled off an amazing comeback over Petron to get an almost last second two-point victory, showcasing the never-say-die spirit of the late 1980s to mid 1990s Ginebra squads led by Robert Jaworski.
Speaking of Jaworski, as I mentioned here previously, yesterday, 08 July 2012, the PBA chose to honor and pay tribute to the man who is popularly known as "The Big J" or the "Living Legend", by retiring his number 7 Ginebra jersey and raising it to the rafters. A full house packed the Big Dome to honor the man, including some of his former teammates and/or players (Romy Mamaril, Bal David, Marlou Aquino, Sonny Cabatu, Leo Isaac, Wilmer Ong, Noli Locsin, and Vince Hizon, among others), his former coach Dante Silverio, past and present league officials, and some old Ginebra fans who had not watched a live PBA game in some time. I was there to witness it all, and, though I was never really a die-hard Jawo fan, I always admired his fighting heart. This man had chutzpah to his game that was never seen before or since he played, which he used to his and his team's full advantage. Above all, this man has charisma. Last Sunday night, PBA stars and players, team officials, and PBA broadcasters, were reduced to fans, shaking the hand of old number 7, posing for pictures with him, and having him autograph their jerseys and/or Ginebra jackets and vintage jerseys. As usual, he obliged every single one of them. That is what he was known for, and he is still that way today.
Quinito Henson emceed the retirement ceremony, and read a litany of Jawo's achievements. Photographs and videos were shown on the big screens, and fans reacted to each one. Such sweet memories were brought forth as each image flashed: Toyota's glory, amazing teammates, spectacular imports, the rivalry with Crispa, the 1990 Asian Games Silver Medal team, Jaworski's one-handers in the lane, his three point shooting and rugged defense. The most lasting image is that of the fans — images of the crowds cheering, surrounding him and his squad after victories, sharing in championships. Several times, the crowd chanted the familiar "Gi-neb-ra!" over and over. They also chanted the old "Ja-wors-ki!", which reverberated throughout the venue, with fans of all teams, not just Ginebra, shouting one name together.
To end the series of sporting events this past weekend, Swiss Roger Federer bucked a first set failure and a partisan crowd widely in favor of his opponent, Scotsman Andy Murray, to win the Gentlemen's Singles crown at Wimbledon in four sets. For Roger, it is his seventh Wimbledon victory, his seventeenth overall in Grand Slams, and marks his return to the number one spot in all of men's tennis. Murray fought until the end and cried on court after it ended, gaining the respect of everyone watching. In tennis, Federer is greatness.
There were other sports going on, too, this past weekend, like the Olympic Basketball Qualifying Tournament, some Formula One action, football, baseball, and NCAA basketball. The London Olympics are coming very soon. There is just so much to enjoy in the world of sports.
Whether it is the PBA, Ginebra, Donaire, Jaworski, Federer, Serena, Silva, or the Filipino FMA Grand Masters, this past sports weekend to me was all about athletes being warriors, fighters until the end, and dedicated to their crafts and striving for perfection. Again, what a great weekend it was!
Follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieC.