Torch passed to Waipahu's Viloria


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

The smokestack remains the tallest structure in Waipahu, long after the last cane was processed at the old sugar mill.

“;I can see it all the way from where I live in Aiea, says Michael Sato, who sells cars at Servco Auto Leeward. “;You see it, you know it's Waipahu.”;

Just a symbol of a once-thriving industry gone dry, and if the struggling automotive business doesn't recover soon, it's another big body blow to this Leeward Oahu blue-collar community.

This brings us to another Waipahu staple of decades past ... and present, thanks to Brian Viloria.

Yesterday the community celebrated the current IBF light flyweight champion, along with former belt holders Jesus Salud, Andy Ganigan and Ben Villaflor, as well as trainer Al Silva. They signed autographs and posed for pictures for hundreds of fans at Servco after a small parade. The increased traffic translated into a couple of sales for the dealership.

It's what small communities do, the success of one entity rubbing off on another, and everyone celebrating the hometown kid's victory achieved in a land far away. Special for Viloria, with three legends before him, the pillars of Hawaii boxing for three decades, world champions all.

“;This is the first time I've seen them all together,”; Viloria says. “;It's surreal. These are my heroes.”;

All celebrations of the past bring with them thoughts of the future. The buzz is that Viloria - who regained his world title last month in the Philippines - will fight next in San Francisco on Aug. 22.

He wants to fight in Hawaii soon, and says his good friend Manny Pacquiao wants to do so, too.

“;He's mentioned it,”; Viloria says of sharing a card here. “;We've talked about it a couple of times.”;

Is this realistic? Would those who run boxing allow such a huge event to escape Las Vegas or the other fistic megalopolises for Hawaii, which has been dormant in the game for so long?

“;I don't know, but anything's possible,”; Viloria says. “;There's some talk about it out there. That's something that would be a dream come true.

“;It's a matter of getting the stars aligned and getting the right people behind it.”;

Viloria says the “;right people”; are Bob Arum of Top Rank and legendary local promoter Tom Moffatt.

“;If they talk to each other, it has a chance,”; he says.

Pacquiao is intrigued because “;he knows there's a market out here,”; Viloria adds.

He has no problem sharing the stage with his friend, who is now considered by many as the greatest boxer in the world after his destruction of Oscar De La Hoya and knockout of Ricky Hatton.

“;We've always supported each other,”; Viloria says.

Salud, who headlined Viloria's pro debut here in 2001, sees how huge such a card would be, but is skeptical because of the state of pro boxing in Hawaii.

“;Brian can be a big draw if they promote it right. Sad Sam (Ichinose) used to promote fights two or three months in advance. You have to plan it, not just do it last-minute. With Manny, he can sell out anywhere.”;

Waipahu state legislators Nestor Garcia and Henry Aquino helped organize yesterday's event. Garcia says he has some doubts about Hawaii's ability to host a card featuring Pacquiao and Viloria, but Aquino says it could happen.

“;I don't think it's too far-fetched. If a card with Manny and Brian were put together it would sell out Aloha Stadium,”; says Aquino, who also happens to be Viloria's cousin.

“;We're at a point where boxing can explode again in Hawaii. It can be a big shot in the arm for our state.”;

But Hawaii lacks a track record with big boxing events. Supposedly Mike Tyson was going to fight here a few years ago and that never happened. The boxing commission is considered a bad joke.

Maybe Hawaii's world champion will never get to fight in his home state again. Maybe Aquino's an impossible dreamer.

But after watching Brian Viloria yesterday with Ben Villaflor, Andy Ganigan, Jesus Salud and Al Silva, I'm willing to dream a bit, too.

At one point, I could see a wisp come out of that old smokestack.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.