Although the final margin according to the judges at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games light flyweight finals was a lopsided 19-6 margin for Bulgaria’s world champion Daniel Petrov, Filipino Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco refuses to concede that he lost.
The younger brother of Barcelona Olympian and bronze medal winner Roel Velasco who is one of the eminent coaches of the Philippine boxing team today, “Onyok” replays that fight over and over again and is convinced that “when I connected with my punches, they scored it for my opponent.”
“Onyok” was the only Filipino athlete to win a medal at the Games although the coaching staff headed by Cuban Raul Liranza complained bitterly about the 19-6 score in favor of the gold medal winner Petrov, who had earlier also won the gold medal at the 1995 World Championships in Berlin while Velasco was runner-up in the Asian Championships in Tashken, Uzbekistan.
There was such a hue and cry over the decision of the five judges that serious efforts were made for a rematch in Manila but that fizzled out.
Velasco said he is still happy because winning a medal, even a silver in the Olympics, was a major achievement and it opened the doors to a successful career.
He attributes this to “the support of my countrymen who know I won and that made me happy because it proved we can succeed in the Olympics.”
Like the other Filipino medalists in boxing, Mansueto competed in the light flyweight division, beating Taiwan’s Chih-Hsium Tsai by a RSC at 2:27 of the first round and then scoring a memorable 14-5 upset of huge favorite and 1992 gold medalist Yosvani Aguilera of the crack Cuban team.
He also defeated Hamid Berhili of Morocco 20-10 and another fancied boxer, Rafael Lozano of Spain, 22-10, before losing to Petrov, who had lost to Aguilera’s compatriot Rogelio Marcelo in the 1992 battle for the gold medal.Velasco, Elias Recaido and Reynaldo Gallido won gold medals in a remarkable showing at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan.
While 18-year-old Mark Anthony Barriga is the Philippines sole representative in boxing at the London Games, Velasco has some words of advice for the promising youngster. According to Velasco, “He needs to be quick, needs to throw a lot more punches to score points and be aggressive from the start.”
But he revealed that success in Olympic boxing to some extent also depends on the luck of the draw so that you don’t meet the elite fighters in the early rounds, adding “you have to be skilled and you also have to get lucky.”
From time to time the last Philippine Olympic medalist visits the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines gym at the Rizal Memorial Complex “to give Barriga some advice and to sometimes watch the sparring to tell him what may be missing.”
While he earned respect for his exploits in Atlanta, Onyok won fame and a small fortune in a successful career as a comedian and is still going strong even today, enjoying a stint in the GMA 7 sitcom “Show Me Da Manny” featuring all-time boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
Before he hooked up with Pacquiao, Onyok Velasco appeared on a number of television shows with such showbiz celebrities as Bong Revilla, now a senator, Richard Gomez and the one-time siren Inna Raymundo.
Today, “Onyok” Velasco is thankful for what he has in life and for what he achieved as a representative of his country in the greatest show on earth but he still regrets he didn’t get the decision he – and many others felt – he richly deserved.
But when you look back at the “three blind mice” who robbed sporting icon Manny Pacquiao of his WBO world welterweight title last June 9 you may be justified in believing there were five of them in Atlanta.