DUBAI, United Arab Emirates You know you’re in a different world when your ride from the airport is an Escalade, and when a well-dressed young man steps out of his white Lexus and asks you if you need a taxi. You know it’s not like any place you’ve ever been to when a solid gold Lamborghini lazily cruises by you, as a hot breeze blows all over you, and you feel it through your clothes as if you were next to a furnace without a stitch of clothing on. This is the city whose buildings have served as backdrop to the largest Hollywood action films of the last few years. The infrastructure is overwhelming, the culture startlingly different, but very courteous and respectful. Even the range of music and entertainment is so broad it takes some getting used to. One feels uncomfortable, but in a good way.
These are just some of the images that slam you hard on your first time in the Middle East, in a land so vastly different from our own, you have very little as a reference point. There are close to half a million Filipinos here, a full 20 percent of the population. And for the most part, they are successful, contented and thriving. This was the setting for “Pinoy Pride 32: Duel in Dubai 2”, a grand opportunity for brothers Albert and Jason Pagara to widen their fan base. This is the bold new world where ALA Promotions has taken Philippine boxing. From simply wanting to train out-of-school youth in Cebu and keep them out of trouble, ALA Boxing Group now spans big parts of the globe.
“We really had to earn people’s respect when we were starting out,” reminisces Antonio Aldeguer, the patriarch and visionary behind Asia’s most consistently successful boxing promotions. “The international promoters laughed at us. Now, they look to us. They’ve seen how professional we are.”
Aldeguer insists on remaining in the background, even as the klieg lights shine brighter and brighter on what he and his innovative son Michael have accomplished even just in the last decade alone. They have managed to earn the respect of ABS-CBN to the point that the two now have a long-term partnership, and are ready to take their next step together: a major promotion in the US this October.
“We had two long dinners with (ABS-CBN chairman) Gabby Lopez,” Aldeguer recalls. “We showed him the vision we have. They were able to see how professional we are, how serious we are about boxing. And once you convince them and they see what you are trying to accomplish, you don’t even need to ask, they will throw all their support behind you.”
True enough, Duel in Dubai 2 had the full might of ABS-CBN Sports and The Filipino Channel behind it. From promotions to ticket sales to pay-per-view infrastructure worldwide, the network is pumping ALA Promotions up.
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“We want to show that TFC (The Filipino Channel) is not just a Filipino brand, but we can create world-class events,” said Kai Rodriguez, head of TFC’s Europe, Middle East and Africa bureaus. “We are wherever Filipinos are.”
One secret to the success of ALA is doing what needs to be done, gambling on a good product without coddling its boxers. And they spend where they need to spend to take the sport to the next level, patiently, whatever it takes. The boxers have to win, whoever they face in the ring.
“It’s a really big risk on our part,” Aldeguer admits. “You can’t just bring in boxers who will get knocked out in one, two rounds. You can’t fool the people that way. We’re fighting current and former world champions. We have to guarantee them large purses, at least $25,000 to $50,000. We have to pay for their airline tickets and promote the fights.”
The most popular boxers in Mexico now are Manny Pacquiao and Donnie Nietes, says Aldeguer, who prefers to leave the business expansion to Michael and concentrate on training the boxers. He says they have constantly improved on training and nutrition for their athletes. You do not get to wear the black and red trunks, the colors of ALA, until you’ve earned the right to. The Pagara boys walk over and give him a kiss on the cheek, as they would their own father. Where else in the world would you see that kind of devotion between a promoter and his athletes? ALA’s stable now nurtures and trains 48 professional and amateur pugilists, including Donnie Nietes, the longest-reigning Filipino world boxing champion of all time. Nietes is here to receive a lifetime achievement award from Pinoy Pride. Just two months ago, he received a special award from the WBO, one of only five boxers to ever be so honored. And for their part, the Mexican boxers are thankful for the opportunity to fight on a big stage.
At last year’s event here, Filipinos, so used to last-minute ticket purchases, were shocked to find them sold out on fight day. The promoters had to literally turn more than 300 people away. Because of fire and safety regulations, they just couldn’t be accommodated inside the venue. This time around, the larger World Trade Centre provided the setting, and tickets were on sale at the venue Thursday, the day before the fight. The card itself is an international mix of fighters from the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, and even Dubai. The ALA spotlight has grown so strong that many boxers from around the world want to be on an ALA card. The track record simply speaks volumes for the integrity of the organization.
“Mexican promoters, foreign promoters, even the Puerto Ricans, are now more serious because of us,” ALA himself proudly declares. “Before, they used to not pay attention to us. The Mexican boxers would show up with no uniforms and not looking so nice. Now, they come in prepared and properly dressed, because they’ve seen how well we do things, and now after five years, we finally got the license to promote in the US. That was also quite expensive, but that is where we want to go.”
For all the ALA Promotions has done for Filipino boxers and Filipino boxing since 1985, the sport has irreversibly been changed for the better.