Pancho Villa is considered by many to be the greatest Asian fighter in boxing history. Just over five feet tall, Villa was explosive and unrelenting in the ring. He had fought 105 times, sometimes with as little as a week between bouts, by the time of his death at age 24. Born Francisco Guilledo on the island of Panay in the Philippines, Villa often fought with other boys in his village. His reputation with his fists brought him to the attention of promoter Frank Churchill in Manila. Impressed with the then-80-pound fighter, Churchill began handling Villa and, reportedly, named him after the famous Mexican bandit.
Villa fought exclusively in the Philippines from 1919 through April 1922, often facing much larger men. In that time, he lost only three fights and captured two Filipino titles. In 1922, Churchill took Villa to the United States. The young Filipino fought two no-decision bouts in New Jersey, losing-according to the newspapers-to Abe Goldstein and Frankie Genaro. The America press and public were at first slow to take notice of Villa. Churchill had difficulty arranging fights in major venues until, for almost no money, he got Villa and another Filipino, Elino Flores, on a card at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Each fighter won his bout, and the crowd gave Villa a standing ovation.
Three months after his arrival in the U.S., Villa knocked out Johnny Buff in eleven rounds to win the American flyweight title. Genaro took the title back in 1923 in a 15-round decision that most observers believed belonged to Villa. Meanwhile, British flyweight champion Jimmy Wilde had come to New York seeking the world title. Although Genaro was a likely opponent, the now wildly popular Villa was considered a better draw. In the match at New York's Polo Grounds, Villa displayed his relentless, attacking style, peppering Wilde with punches from both hands. In the seventh round, Villa battered Wilde to a state of helplessness, ending the fight and Wilde's career.
Although a proposed rematch with Genaro never took place, Villa defended his title several times in the U.S. and the Philippines. Villa fought in a non-title bout with Jimmy McLarnin on July 4, 1925 in Oakland. Weak from the recent extraction of a wisdom tooth, Villa lost the decision. It was to be his last fight. Another visit to the dentist resulted in the discovery of an infection and the extraction of three more teeth. Villa ignored the dentist's instructions to rest and return for a follow-up visit, and instead indulged in a week-long party. The infection worsened, and by the time Villa's trainer, Whitey Ekwert, discovered the fighter's distress and rushed him to the hospital, it was too late. Villa died in the hospital of Ludwig's Angina, an infection of the throat cavity.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.