Boxing’s boy braveheart
It’s easy to bunch Criztian Pitt Laurente among the young, wide-eyed boxers from GenSan longing to be the next hometown hero.
Ever since Manny Pacquiao turned into a world sporting icon, GenSan—or General Santos, the country’s southernmost city—not only legitimized its claim as a hotbed of boxing talents, but also saw a rise of hopefuls out to make their rags-to-riches dreams come true.
Although Laurente may be another young fighter Pacquiao inspired to step inside the ring to knock out poverty, boxing fame isn’t exactly the path he would like to tread. “I just want things to be simple,” Laurente says in Filipino. “I’m not planning to be the next Pacquiao. I prefer to make a name of my own.”
Laurente, who started boxing at nine, may just be on the right track. Last December, the Asian Boxing Confederation cited him as the Best Junior Boxer in Asia for 2016 after his surprise gold-medal triumph in the bantamweight division of the Children of Asia Tournament in Yakutsk, Russia, last July.
“I was confident that I could win, but I didn’t expect that I would really win because I was up against boxers from Russia, the host country, [in the early rounds],” shares Laurente, recalling his first major international victory at age 16.
Unleashing solid straights and jabs, Laurente hammered out a unanimous decision over Asian juniors championship medalist Taltibek Sulchar of Kazakhstan, 30-29, 29-28, 29-28, for the country’s lone gold medal in the tournament.
After the bout, Laurente’s coach Ronald Chavez said that the Kazakh fighter got conscious of his movements after his ward’s strong punches jarred him. Laurente agrees: “My opponent was really good. But I made him feel the power of my punches.”
But the biggest win in his young career came with many sacrifices. A grassroots discovery of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (Abap), Laurente had to uproot himself from his southern home to live in the country’s hilly north.
Since deciding to become a full-fledged athlete, the last two years of Laurente’s teenage life had been devoted to academics and boxing at the national team’s training camp in Baguio City, which has been a mecca of sorts for many local elite athletes as the cool climate and terrain help in their conditioning.
But Laurente thinks he’s not missing out a lot as a Grade 10 home-schooled athlete living far from his family and friends. “Sanay na (I’m used to it),” he says. “I train in the morning, study, then train in the afternoon.”
He gets to go out sometimes, he says—just none of the vices, of course. And like a true millennial kid, Laurente—who was born Jan. 15, 2000—has a very active digital life. “Minsan bored ka talaga [sa camp], dinadaan na lang sa internet, Facebook (When we get bored in the camp, we have the internet and Facebook to get by),” he says. “My parents also support me. They give advice, they monitor me. We do video calls.”
While most parents get to inspire, or sometimes push, their kids to pick up a sport, it’s the other way around for the Laurentes.
When the young Laurente shifted from taekwondo to boxing, he looked promising early on and won his first bout at nine. Soon, his father Cristino took to the sport and became one of GenSan’s notable boxing coaches. His mother Rosalinda also got hooked and became an Abap national referee-judge.
The boxing bug likewise bit his older brother Criz Sander, 18, a national team member who returned to GenSan to study; and youngest Criz Russu, 15, who recently qualified to represent Region 12 anew in the Palarong Pambansa. Only their eldest sister Crizza Rose, 19, has chosen to focus on school.
“It’s my family that motivates me, they’re very supportive” says Laurente, who stands at a bit over 5 feet and 8 inches and still growing.
There’s also Laurente’s national team family, the coaches and senior boxers like Charly Suarez and Mario Fernandez who help him stay focused and driven. He still gets nervous, he admits, adding he usually can’t sleep the night before a fight.
“But it’s OK, my performance doesn’t get affected,” says Laurente.
There will be more sleepless nights for this promising boxer, though, as several international youth tournaments have been lined up for him. And while he insists he’s not out to be the next eight-division world champion—“There’s only one Manny Pacquaio,” he says—Laurente certainly has the makings of a hometown hero.
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