Meeting “Marvelous” Marvin Sonsona

(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2012.)

by Mark Lorenzana

MOST OF THE FIGHT FANS SPILLING OUT of the Hoops Dome and into the humid Lapu-Lapu City night are wearing huge smiles on their faces. Some are trading high-fives; others are already eagerly making a beeline toward the stalls across the street to eat dinner or to buy some extra-strong beer, no doubt, for a celebration of sorts.

And why not? Marvin Sonsona, who fought in the main event just a few moments earlier, had abruptly put an end to the bout after sending his opponent, Carlos Fulgencio of the Dominican Republic, crashing down to the canvas with a vicious uppercut to the jaw in round five.

Sonsona actually started the fight strong in the first round by going to the body early, connecting with crisp straight lefts to Fulgencio’s midsection. In the second and third rounds, Sonsona continued to box smartly—and with a certain swagger—as he deftly avoided his opponents’ blows and repeatedly landed sharp jabs and powerful straights of his own to Fulgencio’s head and body.

The powerful uppercut, which Sonsona unleashed almost effortlessly, lands squarely on Fulgencio’s jaw just one minute and forty-one seconds into the fifth round.  Suddenly, Fulgencio—who enjoys a height and reach advantage, and who, just a round earlier, had begun finding his range and started landing his own shots on Sonsona—finds himself struggling to get to his feet. The referee, Tony Pesons, promptly administers the ten-count on the downed fighter.

Fulgencio, down but not out, gamely gets to his feet and appears to have beaten the count. But Pesons waves him off.

Fight over. The crowd erupts in cheers and applause.

Sonsona, who looks a bit soft in the midsection, is sporting a pair of silver trunks, knee-high socks, and white high-cut boxing shoes. His hair had been dyed a deep bronze. He raises his gloved fists in victory, and there are cheers from the appreciative crowd. The ring announcer barks out the victor’s name in a booming voice, the referee ceremoniously raises Sonsona’s arm, and Fulgencio slinks off into the muggy night—but not before going over to Sonsona to congratulate him—to lick his wounds and fight another day.

The victor climbs down from the ring and faces a small crowd of journalists, who are mostly from Manila. They immediately pepper Sonsona with questions, which the kid gamely and confidently answers.

“Congratulations, Marvin. Kamusta ang kondisyon mo?

Ayos lang, pero nasa 70 percent pa.”

Mas kumportable ka ba sa timbang na ’to?

Oo, mas mabilis ako ngayon. Mas malakas. Mas maganda ang kondisyon ko ngayon kesa nung kalabanin ko si Jacobo.

Kelan ang susunod na laban?”

Sa May 13, sa undercard ni Johnriel Casimero.”

Sinong kalaban?”

Di ko pa alam pero malamang Argentinian.”

“So ensayo ka na agad?

Pahinga lang ako ng ilang araw tapos training na ulit.”

Congrats, Marvin.”

Salamat.”

I CROSS THE STREET AND WALK TOWARD the hawkers’ stalls. In a sweeping glance, I survey the wares spread before me: fried street food, pusô or Cebuano hanging rice, chips, cold drinks, hard candy, chewing gum, cigarettes. I decide on a stick of Marlboro gold; unlike Marvin Sonsona, I am, after all, not a boxer and can indulge in a few potentially deadly vices once in a while.

I’m drenched in sweat, happily puffing on my cigarette, when I notice a lanky guy in bronze-dyed hair seated at a nearby table, wolfing down some siomai, fried meatballs, and pusô and washing his dinner down with a bottle of Cobra energy drink. The silver trunks have been replaced with denim shorts, the high-cut shoes with rubber flip-flops.  I approach him, he takes notice, and he offers me a seat and some of his food. I politely decline the food but graciously take a seat next to him. I order my own food and stub out my cigarette. I extend my hand and introduce myself, and Marvin Sonsona extends his own hand, this time ungloved, and we shake. He smiles. The young boxer, all of twenty-one, asks which newspaper I write for. I tell him none. I was covering the fight for AKTV’s sports website, I say.

We converse in Cebuano. I congratulate Marvin on his big win, and he thanks me. The hawker serves me my food, and I immediately dig in, never realizing until that very moment that I was starving. In between mouthfuls of meatballs and pusô, I ask Marvin if he had any difficulty dealing with Fulgencio before the knockout happened.

O, lisud kay mas taas man gud siya.” (“Yes, because he is taller than me.”)

I ask him where he will train for his next fight.

Sa Lahug, sa IPI gym.”

I ask him how often he will train.

“Monday to Saturday.”

I ask him if I could pay him a visit while he trains; after all, I add, the place where I work, Cebu IT Park, is just a short walk away from the gym. He says yes, and I ask him for his cell phone number so I could call or text him to let him know when I’d be visiting.

O sige ha, text nalang. Or tawagi ko,” Marvin says. He stands up, pays for his food, and bids me good-bye. I thank him for his time.

As Marvin is about to cross the street, a group of guys nearby, who are having a drinking session, call out to him; he goes over to them. They offer him a tagay of extra-strong beer. Naturally, he politely declines—after all, Marvin Sonsona is a boxer, and unlike the rest of us, he isn’t really allowed to indulge in few potentially deadly habits even once in a while—but stays for a few minutes to chat with his fans before going back to the stadium to watch the rest of the fights.

AFTER A POST-MEAL CIGARETTE, I MAKE MY WAY back into the stadium. Half of the crowd had already left. I walk over to press row, and I can see that I am the only sportswriter around. I take a seat and decide to watch the remaining untelevised fights.

The two fighters trading leather inside the ring appear even younger than Sonsona; they look like they are barely into their teens. The losing fighter goes down after absorbing a flurry of punches, and a guy from the audience—I recognize him, a former boxer—shouts good-naturedly at the losing boxer’s corner man, imploring him to thrown in the towel to save his ward from further punishment and embarrassment. The crowd—or what’s left of it, anyway—roars in laughter.

Two rows directly behind me is a group of people, all of them wearing the same matching black shirts printed with a portrait of a boxer and his name, “Dan Nazareno.” Nazareno had fought in the supporting main event and was actually winning the fight early on before he got staggered by a flurry of punches in the sixth round. Nazareno started to fade in the seventh round, and his opponent, Adones Cabalquinto, smelled blood and stepped up his attack. The tide quickly turned, and Nazareno was getting bloodied, apart from being staggered; his mother, who was with the group of supporters, left abruptly, and I couldn’t blame her—who would want to see her son being pummeled? As Cabalquinto kept landing hard shots, Nazareno’s wife stood up, left her seat, and walked over to the ring. She stood behind her husband’s corner and began shouting words of encouragement as soon as he was seated on his stool after the round had ended. Nazareno still lost via close unanimous decision.

Nazareno, his wife, and his mother are not with their black-shirted supporters. They are probably in their hotel room by now, still nursing defeat. What’s left of the group, mostly young women, are in a somber mood and are talking among themselves; they are not paying attention to the action in the ring.

Suddenly, one of the girls shrieks as Marvin Sonsona walks by. “Marvin!” she calls out excitedly and waves him over tentatively. Sonsona smiles and walks over to the group. They gush over him, and one girl asks a member of the group, a guy, to take pictures. Marvin gamely poses with them. After the impromptu photo op, he settles in one of the plastic chairs and has a pleasant chat with the girls. They giggle. The kid is as confident inside the ring as he is outside it—he is comfortable around people and knows how to deal with them, especially the fans. Sonsona sees me, flashes me a huge grin, and gives me a nod of acknowledgment. I nod in return.

The crowd erupts. I turn to the ring and see the losing fighter slumped on the canvas. His corner man finally heeds the heckler in the crowd, the former boxer, and throws in the towel. I stand up, scoop up my cell phone, notebook, pen, water bottle, and a copy of the night’s program from the table, and turn to leave. Marvin, who is still busy talking to the group, calls out to me and asks if I will be there for his next fight. He says he will be fighting at the Waterfront Hotel, which is just a stone’s throw away from where I work at my day job.

I tell him I’ll try my best and add that I’m looking forward to seeing him train in person one of these days. I wish “Marvelous” Marvin Sonsona all the luck on his next fight, he thanks me, and I walk out into the humid Lapu-Lapu City night to file my news story, leaving the talented—and extremely confident—former WBO super flyweight champion in the company of his adoring fans.

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