Do not think that I am too old for you guys but it just so happen that I follow boxing even when I was a boy. Quinito Henson once again gave us a good article about one of the toughest Pinoy fighter in the late 70's and his name is Rey Tam. Rey Tam is the only Igorot fighter from Benguet that really made headline, probably he is the best Igorot boxer that ever came out of Benguet. I saw one fight of this guy against former champ Rolando Navarette and he is really tough. He is one of the few Filipinos that experienced fighting the legendary Alexis Arguello...hope you read coz the article is one for the serious followers of the sport...
Tam’s sons pursue dream
By Joaquin Henson
The Philippine Star 04/17/2006
In 1978, Rey Tam was on top of the world–almost. He was ranked No. 1 by the World Boxing Council (WBC) in the superfeatherweight division and brandished an unbeaten streak of 23 fights when matched against defending champion Alexis Arguello of Nicaragua in a title fight at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.
Tam, a native of La Trinidad, was tough as nails, hardened by a life of poverty in the mountains of Benguet. He turned pro in 1974 under manager Albert Della and quickly built a reputation as a hard-hitting knockout artist, disposing of his first four opponents inside the distance.
With a string of impressive wins, Tam earned a crack at the Philippine superfeatherweight crown held by Al Espinosa in 1977 and promptly ascended the throne via a 12-round decision. He would later describe Espinosa as the most formidable opponent he ever faced. A few months later, Tam outpointed Apollo Yoshio to capture the Oriental 130-pound diadem. He went on to stop Hae Eun Chung in a fight that set up his crack at Arguello’s title.
Tam had difficulty obtaining clearance from the Philippine government to travel because of martial law and it took international matchmaker Lope Sarreal, Sr. to wage a media campaign that put pressure on authorities to allow his travel. But the delay cut into Tam’s acclimatization for his first US trip and he arrived only a day before the bout.
Despite jet lag, Tam was determined to show up Arguello. But as the fight wore on, he grew increasingly tired and was exasperated by referee Rudy Jordan’s tactics. Jordan repeatedly broke up the fighters as Tam pushed Arguello against the ropes and into the corners to take away the Nicaraguan’s reach advantage. Jordan also tolerated Arguello’s nifty tricks like holding down Tam’s left arm in close exchanges and using his forearm to ward off the Filipino.
Tam said Arguello never hurt him. But at 1:54 of the fifth round, Tam turned to Jordan, cursed him and walked back to his corner in surrender.
Although Arguello achieved legendary status, Tam wasn’t impressed and said he fought Filipinos who were stronger and more skillful, like Espinosa.
According to Tam, Arguello quietly went to La Trinidad several years after their fight and looked for him as if his conscience bothered him.
"I think Arguello realized I didn’t really lose to him, that it was the referee who forced me to quit," said Tam in Filipino. "So he went all the way to my town. We didn’t see each other but he left something for me to remember him by. Maybe, it was his way of expressing remorse."
Arguello met up with Tam’s brother and asked him to give a framed memento to the fighter.
After losing to Arguello, Tam’s career went on a tailspin. He lost his next four fights, including a fourth round knockout loss to future world titlist Rolando Navarrete in a bout that he took on an eight-day notice because he needed the money to pay for a relative’s hospitalization. During the skid, Tam also lost his Oriental title to Moon Suk Choi on a ninth round stoppage in Pusan.
But Tam got back on track and rattled off eight straight wins before losing a disputed split 12-round decision to Ryu Fukida in an Oriental title bout in Tokyo in 1980. Filipino judge Godofredo Fandialan saw it 117-115 for Tam. Japanese judge Ken Morita had it 117-114 for Fukida. And American judge Paul Field scored it 117-116 for the Japanese. Then came two knockout setbacks to Choi Chung Il and Dom Somsakdisith before he won six successive outings, including a decision over highly-regarded Rod Sequinan.
In 1982, Tam was halted by Flash Villamer in a Philippine lightweight championship fight in Baguio City and it turned out to be his last-ever outing. He wound up with a record of 36-9-1, with 14 KOs. Tam was diagnosed to be suffering from a cataract condition in the right eye and underwent surgery in 1984. Renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Reynaldo Paraan performed the operation and ordered Tam to lay off alcohol for a year.
Tam, however, couldn’t turn his back on the bottle. A confirmed alcoholic, he was back to gulping down liquor four months after the surgery. Tam’s uncaring attitude led to an infection and left him blind in the right eye.
Now 55, Tam ekes out a living as a boxing trainer at the Beatrice Emporium in downtown La Trinidad and manages a stable of local fighters, including promising super bantamweight Roderick Wakit and his three sons Allan, 24, Alvin, 23, and Aldrin, 22. He also grows potatoes in a small vegetable patch near his home. Tam didn’t save a centavo from his ring earnings. He hasn’t drunk liquor in over 15 years.
Tam met his wife Grace, an attendant in the Baguio canteen where he used to hang out, in 1979. Their oldest child Heidi is now 26. None of their four children finished high school. The three boys are aspiring pros, inspired by their father’s ring exploits.
Even as they’re not wealthy, the Tams are blessed with a happy family life and fond memories of the past. When Allan fought in La Trinidad recently, his parents, brothers and sister were all at ringside cheering themselves hoarse.
Tam said life could’ve been better but he’s not complaining. The one-eyed former fighter missed out on a world championship but hopes one of his sons will someday live the dream that he failed to turn into reality.
Yes I do remember Rey Tam, when Gabriel "Flash" Elorde still alive he always mentioned about Rey Tam telling me that he was a good fighter.
Thanks Jawo for sharing with us...