Long before the Philippines’ present-day boxing superstar Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao was born, a Filipino was already making waves in the world of boxing.
Pancho Villa was the nome de guerre by which the legendary Filipino flyweight boxer Francisco Guilledo was best known.
Villa, who stood only 5 feet and 1 inch (154 cm.) tall and never weighed more than 114 pounds (51 kgs.), rose from obscurity to win the World Flyweight boxing championship in 1923, earning acclaim in some quarters as “The Greatest Asian Fighter in Boxing History.”
He was never knocked out in his entire boxing career, which ended with his sudden death at the age of 23 from complications following a tooth extraction.
In October 1961, Villa was added by Ring Magazine to its own boxing hall of fame.
In 1994, Villa was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was only the second Filipino boxer to receive the honor after Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, who was born 7 years after Villa’s death.
Pancho Villa was voted 59th best fighter by the Ring Magazine’s writers in 2002 when the Ring Magazine’s list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years was released.
Name: Francisco Guilledo
- Date: August 1, 1901
- Place: Ilog, Negros Occidental
- Date: July 14, 1925
- Age: 23
- Place: United States
- Cause: Complications following a simple tooth extraction
- Guilledo was the son of a cowhand who abandoned his family when Guilledo was just six months old.
- He grew up in the hacienda of a wealthy local, helping his mother raise goats she tended on the farm.
- When he was 11, he sailed to Iloilo City to work as a bootblack.
Start of Boxer Career
- While in Iloilo, he befriended a local boxer, and together they migrated to Manila, settling in Tondo. He would occasionally spar with friends, and soon attracted the attention of local boxing habitués.
- He fought his first professional fight in 1919 against Kid Castro. Within two years, he was the Philippine Flyweight champion, having dethroned “Terrible Pondong.”
- He nearly gave up boxing after being spurned by a woman he courted, actually returning to Negros early in 1922 to retire. The clamor of Filipino boxing fans compelled him to return to the ring.
Becoming Pancho Villa
- During this period, Guilledo was under the tutelage of at least two important local boxing figures. One was the American boxing promoter based in Manila Frank E. Churchill. Another was a Filipino ice plant executive and boxing manager named Paquito Villa.
- The renaming of Francisco Guilledo to Pancho Villa has been attributed to both Churchill and Villa, depending on the source. One version tags Churchill as having renamed Guilledo into Villa, taking the name from the eponymous Mexican guerrilla leader. Another version maintains that Paquito Villa had legally adopted Guilledo as early as 1918, renaming him Pancho.
World Flyweight Champion
- In May, 1922, Villa received an invitation from famed boxing promoter Tex Rickard to fight in the United States. He accepted the invitation, and sailed to America together with Churchill and Paquito Villa.
- He immediately won his first overseas fight and kept on winning, catching the attention of boxing aficionados. He became the American Flyweight Champion and then, shortly after, the World Flyweight Champion.
An Ominous Tooth
- In July 1925, while waiting for a non-title fight Villa’s face became swollen due to an ulcerated tooth.
- According to contemporary newspaper accounts, on the morning of the fight, Villa went to a dentist to have the tooth extracted. Despite the pain and swelling, Villa insisted on going ahead with fight with McLarnin. Villa ended up spending most of the fight using one hand to protect his afflicted face. Given these circumstances, Villa naturally lost, though he managed to stay the distance. It was Villa’s last fight.
- Two or three days after the McLarnin fight, Villa had three more teeth extracted after an infection was discovered. Against his dentist’s prescription of bed rest, Villa spent the next few days carousing with friends. Villa’s condition worsened thereafter, and by July 13, 1925, he had to be rushed to the hospital. It was then discovered that the infection had spread to Villa’s throat, resulting in Ludwig’s angina. Villa was rushed into surgery, but he lapsed into a coma while on the table, and died the following day, July 14, 1925, 17 days before he became 24 years old.
Died a Champion
- Prior to his untimely death Villa successfully defended his World Flyweight Champion title several times. He was the the reigning champion until his death.