Unsung heroine: Abaniel punches way to stardom
She can’t fight most of a Saturday because of her faith, but Gretchen Abaniel belongs to a different breed of woman warriors.
The 30-year-old 5-foot-1 pride of Puerto Princesa City, also owns the disturbing distinction of being unrecognized despite being the country’s only world boxing champion not in one but three different organizations.
A former member of the national team before opting to join the professional ranks in early 2007, ‘‘Chen-Chen” as her friends call her, demolished Thai veteran Petcharas Superchamp last July 2 at the Club Punchbowl, New South Wales.
With her unanimous victory, the ever-smiling Seventh Day Adventist and member of the Church singing group Friends For Life, pocketed the Women’s International Boxing Association and the Global Boxing Union world minimumweight titles.
Last year, Abaniel actually annexed the GBU crown by besting Oezlem Sahin at the Ludwigsburg MHP Arena in Germany. She also won the Women’s International Boxing Federation crown.
‘‘My coach (Australian Tony del Vicchio) told me that the last two minutes of the fight will be the last two minutes of my life. I gave it all,” recalled Abaniel during Tuesday’s Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at Shakey’s Malate.
Rightly so. Before fighting the German slugger, Abaniel, who didn’t compete for the Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games during her days with the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines but won a bronze medal in the 2005 World Championships in Russia, lost her three previous fights on dubious decisions by the judges.
‘Yes, I feel the beginning of the end of my career. I cried a lot. That’s why, the fight against Sahin was very crucial,” said Abaniel. But her eyes glowed when asked about his memorable moments with the national team.
‘‘The camaraderie with the national team is great but I have to leave to seek for new glory. I don’t have regrets leaving the national team and will remain thankful to coach Roel (Velasco),” said Abaniel.
Now married to Cesar, a native of Bacolod, whom he met during a church service in Makati, Abaniel admits that she longs for recognition but isn’t dying to become a byword in the Philippine boxing scene dominated by Manny Pacquiao.
‘‘How I wish that I can meet the ‘‘national fist” personally. Pacquiao is my idol,” Abaniel said. He also wants to pay a courtesy call on President Duterte.
While the likes of Pacquiao, Nonito ‘‘Pinoy Flash” Donaire, or even Donnie Nietes have cornered large chunk of sponsorship money, Abaniel thirsts for support.
Despite her outstanding achievements fashioned out mostly overseas, Abaniel hasn’t really hit paydirt, like fighting for big-moneyed fights.
Australian Robert Hill is helping her find the title fights while in Manila, she trains under coach Nestor Arlos at the In This Corner Gym.
Though she was able to buy a piece of land in Puerto Princesa and was able to send her younger brother Ian to school, Abaniel is living simply. With Cesar, she is still renting a small house at Bacoor, Cavite.
‘‘It was mortgaged to us for one year by a friend. So after one year, we need to find another home. My dream is to own a house a lot someday.’’
Abaniel expects to have her rematch against Sahin on October. Sadly, the fight is again expected to be held at Germany. She is also hoping to exchange punches with another Asian foe in Vietnam before the end of the year.
To the normal observer, Abaniel’s record of 17 wins, including eight knock outs and eight losses isn’t eye-
popping. Though three of her losses happened on the judges scorecards, Abaniel’s rise can be traced to her ability to rebound mightily after suffering setbacks.
‘‘I’m relaxing right now and doing a little bit of running,’’ Abaniel said. She is expected to resume training next month in Australia.
‘‘I feel that I have three or four more years before quitting pro boxing and will concentrate in having a child,’’ beamed Abaniel.
Abaniel knows that boxing is like being in a combat zone with the protagonists determined to flatten each other but agrees wholeheartedly that her her life will be easier if she’ll enjoy tremendous companies from big companies.
‘‘I’ll continue to try my best to give honor to the Philippines. I remain confident because In God’s
perfect time, I can realize my dreams.’’