After two years of gloom that followed her gold in the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, former world champion Josie Gabuco showed that she is still a force to be reckoned with in boxing.
At the Singapore Expo Hall 1 in Changi yesterday, the Filipina retained her light-flyweight title, ending her medal drought in all major competitions. At the SEA Games though, the 2012 world champion has been dominant, with her win yesterday continuing her gold rush which stretches back to the 2009 Games in Laos.
With the familiar feeling of another gold medal ceremony beckoning, the 28-year-old's relief and happiness was plain to see as the referee lifted her arm to signal victory.
Her Thai opponent, Chuthamat Raksat, however, looked devastated to have lost what was a close match, falling to her knees with a mix of sweat and tears rolling down her face.
The final was a cagey affair in all the four rounds, but Gabuco was quicker and more aggressive throughout, delivering quick-fire jabs to the Thai's mid-riff on a number of occasions.
Ultimately, the judges gave the defending champion the win via a unanimous decision.
After the medal ceremony, Gabuco gave credit to her opponent.
"(The match) was hard for me because she is also a good boxer," she said.
The Thai won the bronze at the 2014 World Championships, while Gabuco was knocked out in the first round.
"That is her advantage over me," the Filipina remarked.
Attributing her victory to her 12 years of experience in the sport, she said: "Thanks to God for giving me another opportunity to get this gold medal."
Gabuco's gold was one of five the Philippines won yesterday, from their eight boxers who made it to finals.
Flyweight boxer Ian Clark Bautista, lightweight Junel Cantancio and welterweight Eumir Felix Marcial all won their bouts, but the most impressive pugilist was defending bantamweight champion Mario Fernandez, who beat Tanes Ongjunta with a technical knockout.
The Thai, who had knocked out Singapore's Muhamad Ridhwan Ahmad in the semi-finals, saw his knees buckle less than a minute into the final round, falling after finding Fernandez's counters too strong.
"I know the Thais are very strong opponents and that's why I did my best to win this fight," Fernandez said.
Counting world champion Manny Pacquiao as one of his biggest idols, the 21-year-old southpaw felt that he lived up to the Pacman with his performance.
"I proved myself today," he said.
While the five-gold haul showed the prowess of Philippine boxing, team manager Ed Picson refused to rest on his laurels.
The 61-year-old said: "Since we won the most gold medals, of course I am happy. But this is just one tournament. We know that not just Thailand, but other countries are also developing their boxing programmes, even Singapore.
"They were almost nowhere to be seen for some time.
"But, in two years, they were able to (improve on two bronzes and) get two silver medals.
"That is a sign that there is awareness, and there is a good boxing programme in place, and I hope that continues."
Rueing the silver medals in the women's flyweight and bantamweight as well as the men's light-flyweight, he added: "We felt that we could have done better.
"So when we go back to the Philippines, it's back to work."
This article was first published on June 11 2015.
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