Nika Ortega: Female ring judge unleashes a knockout punch
For a split second, Monika “Nika” Ortega got the shock of her life. Seated in the front row, Ortega still vividly remembered when blood coming from an injured boxer stained her shirt one action-packed day at the Mandaluyong Gym.
But Ortega, attractive and oozing with life, shrugged off the incident which happened five years ago while she was an apprentice trying to fit in at the highly-competitive world of judging a professional boxing watch.
“It was unexpected to go home with a bloody shirt but I wasn’t bothered at all. I don’t know why but I really like combat sports where strategies are needed in order to gain the upperhand,” recalled Ortega, who retains her looks tailor-made for a teen film.
Now 26, Ortega, a graduate of Business Management at De La Salle, has gone a long way. She remains a “Daddy’s girl” but Ortega has been getting her share of attention being the lone female among the select members of the Association of Philippine Professional Boxing Ring Officials (Appbro) headed by her father, mechanical Engineer Greg Ortega.
Nika, who also works as product manager of the family’s own business Lodestar Engineering, said she had fantasized a thousand times the moment when she would be judging a professional fight. Even when she was still studying at DLSU, the young Ortega would find time to join her father in watching Manny Pacquiao’s wannabes fight it out till the final bell sounded.
To an outsider, Ortega’s place should not be in an arena full of spectators hungry for blood. But to her credit, the 5-foot-1 charmer emits joy and satisfaction watching two gladiators go at each other like their lives are stake.
“I felt nervous,” said Ortega as she joined two veteran Appbro members judge four bouts, all four-rounders at the Cuneta Astrodome last Friday. The four rounders served as preliminaries for the highly-trumpeted WBO Oriental superbantamweight bout between eventual winner Abe Concepcion and Tanzanian Juma Fundi.
Though she passed the licensure test under the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) with flying colors, Ortega still needs to polish her skills before making it to the topflight.
“Being a woman judge in pro boxing isn’t easy. There are so many expectations and I have to make my mentors proud,” said Ortega, who earned her spurs under the able tutelage of the battle-grizzled and former Appbro president Silvestre ‘‘Ver’’ Abainza.
Abainza, a Class A referee, and veteran of not less than 100 title fights around the world, believed that Ortega has got what it takes to become a top notch judge.
“When Nika told me that he wanted to be judge, her eyes were enthusiastic. The desire to learn was present and that was the main reason why I took her under my wings, said Abainza, now Appbro’s adviser.
Supported by her father, Nika would watch a live boxing match and score it like the three ring officials. They would compare their scoring with those of the ring officials after the bout.
No one dissed Ortega, not because her father is around but because her scoring proved accurate.
“Her focus is excellent. She wasn’t afraid of blood,” noted Abainza, who wasn’t surprised that Ortega passed the GAB test two years ago.
“I studied the manual very well before the exam, I took the test confident that I would made it,” Ortega said.
Ortega is thankful that her fellow ring officials have been very supportive though she said they can be brutal at times.
‘‘We always evaluate ourselves and at the end we tell ourselves that we could have done better. I receive brutal feedbacks from my colleagues,’’ said Ortega.
Judging a bout requires the right attitude. She doesn’t mind distractions like the deafening roar everytime a punch will stagger a boxer, the unending stream of fans and even the skimpy outfit of the round girls.
‘‘Focus, focus, focus. Your mind must not be somewhere else. I look for the clean punches, aggressiveness and ring generalship,’’ Ortega said.
Dr. Nasser Cruz , boxing division chief under the office of GAB chairman Ramon Guanzon, said Ortega is a welcome addition to boxing. ‘‘We talk of gender equality in sports. GAB under chairman Guanzon isn’t going to stand in the way of females entering the world of judging or refereeing in pro boxing,’’ said Cruz, a certified doctor and surgeon.‘‘Fact is, GAB encourages females to learn the art of judging.’’
After a hard day’s work, father and daughter would eat at their favorite pizza house not only to unwind but to discuss room for improvement in the art of judging.
‘‘If not for the encouragement of my father, I doubt if I’ll be a ring judge. My father never fails to tell me that boxing makes the Philippines well-known internationally. He never forgets to tell me the hardwork and dedication by our boxers that’s why as judge we need to be fair and competent,’’ said Nika.
With the purpose of producing local ring officials capable of world-class officiating, the elder Ortega has stressed the need for Appbro to have proper training and the right attitude among its members.
‘‘We need to keep our integrity intact,’’ said Ortega. Among Appbro’s notable members are Ferdinand Estrella, Jerold Tomeldan, Salvador Lopez, Gil Co, Bruce McTavish and Elmer Lopez. McTavish and Abainza are regulars on the world stage same with youthful lawyer Danrex Tapdasan.
Also a web designer, Nika believes that someday she would be able to join the big names in scoring a fight for the world title.
‘‘That will be the day. But that day will only come if I have the right attitude,’’ said Nika.
Luckily, Nika’s attitude has a knockout punch.
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