On that day of October 20, 1964 at the Tokyo Olympic Games when featherweight fighter Anthony Villanueva of the Philippines conquered American Charlie Brown , 4-1, to assure himself and the country of silver medal, hundred of Filipinos at the Korakuen Ice Palace, had the unanimous exhortation:
“Bring the gold medal home!” The silver medal that Boy Anthony (that was how they called him) had just won wasn’t enough.
That was, too, the consensus at the Villanueva apartment at 83-A on Annapolis St. in Quezon City where the atmosphere was like a bar room. That was also Boy’s father, Jose “Cely,” a bronze medalist 32 years and seven Olympics ago in the country’s most successful campaign in the quadrennial conclave with three, counting those of swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso and high jumper Simeon Toribio, told local media who was interviewing him.
“Son, gold within reach. Please win for the Philippines,” he tremblingly scribed in in loving fashion to his son before the scribes.
The following day, the dream of a gold collapsed. Anthony bowed to Russian Stanislav Stephaskin by the slimmest of margin, 2-3, as that dream remained just that until today.
When the decision proclaiming Stephaskin as the Olympic champion was announced, not a few, including the Japanese spectators, believed “Our Boy” had just been robbed of victory and the country the first gold medal since the Philippines’ debut in 1924 in Paris.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but as to Cely’s own words, “t’was how boxing bouts go. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” he told reporters years after Boy and himself had retired.
“We’ll just have to try next time… try again next time … then again and again until you win darating din ‘yun,” he said during one of Flash Elorde’s training sessions at the Elorde Boxing Stadium along Sucat Road in Parañaque (now a city).
That’s next time … and the next … and the next … never happened. Not yet in 56 years that followed after that fateful day although another fighter, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz duplicated Boy’s feat in 1996 and 2016, respectively.
At the time of Boy’s triumph, Cely was the trainer of Elorde, then the world junior lightweight kingpin. It was through the elder’s Villanueva’s expert nursemaiding that the “Flash” summoned back the knockout punch that’s worked magnificently in on the night of March 16, 1960 when he beat Welshman Harold to become world champion.
Boy was brought up exactly the same manner father Cely steered him into ultimately becoming a fighter. So that, Anthony, his father’s protégé, came out as the ideal son who took after his sire’s. He did not disappoint.
Anthony turned out to be an Olympic silver medalist because Cely inculcated in him the love of country and the desire to be a fighter even in his formative years.
The glorious days that followed his silver medal finish, turned out more than Boy could cope up with. Rounds of guest appearances, then the glamour of becoming an actor with approval of Cely, prevailed.
He signed up with Santiago Productions for a neat P100,000 to film a movie titled “Malakas, Kaliwa’t Kanan” with Nida Blaca that needed seven weeks to shoot. Unmindful of the threat of losing his amateur status, Boy, again, appeared in another flicker “Salonga Brothers” with Joseph Estrada, who was to become mayor, vice president and president in the lead role.
After the Pancho Villa story came a stunning experience of not being paid when the father and son tandem were stranded in Bacolod City by a quick change promoter who made Anthony spar with an unknown boxer to the consternation of the crowd.
His last fling to being an actor came the following year, on October 2, 1965, days before the anniversary of his Tokyo Olympic glory when he appeared in Fiesta Fistiana, an annual fund-raising affair of the Philippine Sportswriters Association held at the Araneta Coliseum.
Appearing in his first pro fight against Japanese Shigeo Nirasawa turned a monumental flop as the crowed witnessed six rounds of a movie-style scrap that saw him scored a unanimous decision courtesy of the three judges.
The “Hail, Anthony” greeting that rang his ears when he returned home triumphantly from Tokyo, turned to a derisive, Anthony, Artista!”
He was never in the headlines again, from thence, except once when he and Cely sued Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions for P45,000 for exploitation of popularity. The movie firm filmed Anthony’s first pro-fight without his and his father’s consent, they claimed.
No one remembers, up to this day, what the outcome of the suit was.
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