Waipahu's Brian Viloria celebrated with the flag of the Philippines after his first-round knockout of Eric Ortiz during their WBC Light Flyweight Championship bout on Sept. 10, 2005, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Brian Viloria returns to his roots
BRIAN Viloria could not have won his title a moment too soon.
When he knocked out Eric Ortiz for the World Boxing Council's light flyweight belt on Sept. 10 at Staples Center, Viloria's first move was to wrap the flag of the Philippines around his body and dedicate the victory to his native land. The second thing he did was arrange a flight to show the hardware to the man who raised him for five of the first six years of his life.
"I had always been planning on trips to see him," Viloria said. "But it kept being pushed back and pushed back, and when I won the belt I said I have to show it to him. It was time."
Viloria arrived in his hometown of Narvacan to find his 72-year old grandfather, Oscar, lucid but on his last legs. He sat with the man and updated him on his entire professional career -- Viloria had not seen him since 2001 -- telling him about the adversity that helped make him a world champion.
And then Viloria's hello turned into good-bye.
A day after Viloria left his grandfather to catch a flight home to Hawaii, Oscar died. Viloria's grandmother told him that Oscar died surrounded by newspaper clippings about his grandson, just hours after seeing the boy on the television being feted by Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Oscar's last words were: "Brian, Brian."
"It's like he was waiting for me to come home," Viloria said. "I could see it in his eyes, he was so proud."
VILORIA WAS BORN in Hawaii but his parents sent him to the Philippines when he was six months old to live with his grandparents while they carved out a new life in here. They succeeded largely on the drive Oscar gave them.
Waipahu native Brian Viloria knocked out Eric Ortiz in the first round last month to win the World Boxing Council's light flyweight belt.
"He was really loving to me but really strict to my aunts and uncles, and especially for my dad," Viloria said. "But that made my dad a lot stronger, gave him the ability to succeed in America. My grandfather made me who I am."
Viloria became an instant star in the Philippines after the country tuned-in to see national hero Manny Pacquiao fight Hector Velazquez in the main event of Viloria's card. Many fight fans in the country regard Viloria as the American that he is, but found the hero they were hungry for after the Hawaiian Punch dropped Ortiz in the first round and took to the microphone to remind people that he is 100 percent Filipino.
When he landed in Manila at 4:30 a.m., Viloria was greeted by "at least" 15 television crews, according to his manager, Gary Gittelsohn. Getting to his grandfather became an ordeal, as the new hero was honor-bound to accept dinners and parades in his honor at every stop. He was hailed as a hero for giving the people something to believe in, and personally thanked by politicians for putting an end to the internal fighting that is currently going on in the country.
"Everyone is fighting with each other here, but on Sept. 10 everything was peaceful for a few hours," Viloria said. "If I was the only reason, I'd fight every day."
THE FIGHT is close to Viloria's heart. He knows all about being forced to choose sides. Some in the Philippines questioned why Viloria chose now to become Filipino, whether he was simply trying to cash in on a people desperate for heroes. Viloria put an end to that speculation in his home town, where cried in front of a gathering in his honor while defending his heritage.
"How can I say I'm not Filipino when I look in the mirror every day and see a Filipino boy?" Viloria said in a 12-minute speech. "Filipinos see me as American and Americans see me as Filipino. Someday the world is going to get past that and it's not going to matter."
Viloria is staying in the Philippines over the customary nine-day mourning period before he will return to Hawaii. It is doubtful he will find a ticker-tape parade waiting for him, and that is just the way he likes it.
"I miss home and I just want to come back home and be with my friends," Viloria said. "They have supported me from the beginning of my career and hopefully always will. I am just Brian to them."