A Legend In His Own Time
By Krishna Godhania
When poor men fight for great prizes under light rules, their fighting styles and techniques are often very good. Gladiatorial sports like Muay Thai can harness the power born of hunger with a meal in sight, and so escape the rule-strangled weakness of recreational combative sports. The rules of early Filipino boxing were quite often light. Even today it is not a trade with much appeal to a lazy man, a weak man, a rich man or a coward.
At 73, and with 146 “official” professional fights behind him, Tanny Campo still looks the business. He lives in Pasil, the toughest neighborhood in Cebu. This is where I first met him, nine years ago. Sitting here at his humble home, we discuss his life… This is how it was.
Fighting was a way of life for Tanny during his school days. “I really loved to fight… When trouble came to school, I was the one to deal with it.” However, it was at the age of 15 while attending a fiesta in Danao that Tanny first entered the ring. Having spent all his money getting to the fiesta from Cebu City, Tanny decided to fight in a curtain-raiser to earn some money for food and the bus fare home. The fact that he had just played a long game of basketball did not help matters; furthermore, his opponent considerably outweighed him. The fight ended in a draw, and thus started the long hard road to the championship of the world.
“My hardest fight was with Dado Marino,” he remembers. “I found him to be more awkward than the great Flash Elorde. In fact, in my second fight with Flash I dropped him to the canvas. I was the first Filipino to drop him. Later we became great friends; actually Flash asked me to become his trainer after our second fight. I fought for the World Flyweight Championship in Japan against the local champion Shirai. We fought for 15 rounds… I lost on a split decision… The crowd booed at the decision… Needless to say, I felt I was robbed.
“After that fight I could not get a decent match in Asia; my opponents were dodging me,” he adds. “As a result, I had to travel to Europe. While in France, I fought the European Champion Alphonse Halimi.” This is what the papers had to say about the fight.
“Paris, France, October 23, 1956 – Bantamweight Tanny Campo of the Philippines lost a controversial 10- round decision to Algeria’s Alphonse Halimi, a decision loudly protested by 12,000 spectators who watched the fight at the Palais des Sports.
Except for one round, Campo was in complete control and the decision came as a shocker for the fans who applauded the gritty Filipino fighter throughout the fight.
Boxing experts said Campo, who weighed 120 pounds, was clearly robbed of a victory. Halimi, considered the toughest bantamweight fighter in Europe, found the Filiplino a tough opponent and resorted to dirty tactics at times, such as punching to the groin, head butting and elbowing, to score a knockout.
But the Filipino expertly held his ground, frustrating the Algerian with vicious combinations every time they mixed it up. Campo’s best round was the sixth when he landed devastating combinations to Halimi’s body. From then on, he pressed the attack. Some boxing experts regarded Campo as the best bantamweight in the world.
Tanny’s world travels also took him to Thailand, where an interesting incident occurred. Accompanied by another great Pinoy boxer, Leo Espinosa, they were challenged by some local boxers to fight Thai style. Tanny accepted, but only if the fight was with bare knuckles. The Thais refused. However, Espinosa accepted to fight with the gloves and paid the price by having his arm broken and then getting knocked out. The Thai kicks and knees proved too much for him.
After his pugilistic career came to a close, Tanny was asked by the mayor of Cebu to work as part of his personal security team. Later, Tanny joined the police force. While in the force, various notable incidents occurred. He describes one such incident:
“I was working the beat one evening, when I noticed a suspicious individual running from a crime scene,” he recalls. “I hid, and as he ran past me I grabbed him. I asked him, ‘Why are you running?’ He told me that he was a boxer and that he was out doing his roadwork. I asked him, ‘Who’s your trainer?’ He replied Tanny Campo. At that moment, I hit him with a right cross and then cuffed him, after which I told him that I was Tanny Campo. You should have seen his face.”
On another occasion while off duty, Tanny was in Cataingan, Masbate settling some problems regarding land he owned there. Tanny takes up the story.
“My trip was made during election time and there was a gun ban enforced so I could not bring my firearm with me. Unfortunately, this place was notoriously dangerous with insurgents and bandits actively engaged in their activities. Fortunately, my close friend, Abner Pasa, suggested that I bring his nunchaku with me, which he had shown me how to use.
“Abner’s foresight may have saved my life,” Tanny explains. “Because while enroute to my property I was ambushed by three men armed with bolo and knives. Using Abner’s nunchaku I hit the hand of the man who struck me with a bolo, thus disarming him. As the others rushed I swung at them. My attackers lost heart and ran away. The incident made me popular in the place. People who saw the incident were saying that I had a special weapon which they described as a wooden batangas (also known as the balisong).”
My training sessions with Tanny were among the most memorable. As a teacher he excelled. He could push you to your limit physically, or he could crack the funniest of jokes.
Tanny taught two systems. One was for the ring and the other was for the street, which he called pangamut. I found Campo to be a defensive genius who also packed a punch. His ability to anticipate your attack was uncanny. He could use the elbows and head as effectively as his fists, and armwrenched you at will. He was also a master at manipulating and controlling your limbs. This kept you continuously off balance.
In his native country, Campo remains a legend who refused to back down from any challenge. He has earned the right to be considered among the great fighting legends in Filipino history.