Bohol’s very own Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista of Candijay was once touted as the next big superstar in Philippine boxing after Manny Pacquiao. Like the fighting senator, he was exciting. He fascinated crowds as he pummeled his way to victory against formidable opponents. But after retiring at the young age of 28, Bautista’s greatest triumph would be in his life outside the ring.
He did what many pugilists fail to do—quit, even while riches and fame through boxing still appear to be within reach. He chose “security and stability” over an uncertain future in the brutal sport.
Bautista, now a Philippine Army private first class, said he has found both stability and security with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Fort Gergorio Del Pilar in Baguio City where he whips the country’s future military leaders into shape as a trainer.
“Ang atong kinabuhi, once magutom na ka, magipit na ka, wala nay motabang nimo maski pa kinsa tong mga politiko, mga dato na imong kaila. Tapos once na ma-injury ka, dili naka maka-away, dili na ka sikat. So if you’re a soldier, kada-bulan ka naay sahod. Kung masakit ka, naay hospital na libre hantod sa pagkatigulang nimo, naa pa kay pension,” said Bautista who decided to hang up his gloves in 2014.
Bautista, now 33, has been with the Army since 2015 and is up for a promotion to corporal. He intends to make a career out of the military. But for now, he sticks to what he does best—boxing and getting in tiptop shape.
He wakes up daily at 3 a.m. to prepare himself before he leads drills and fitness activities for cadets at 4 a.m. He does office work for the rest of the morning and goes back to training at 3 p.m. He also holds boxing training for cadets and AFP officials.
“Proud ko na someday these cadets will be officials. Ang akong talent as a boxer, akong experience dili masayang,” said Bautista.
Bautista is so proud of his career shift that he wishes for his seven-year-old son to be in the military in the future as well. But unlike him, his son will get into the AFP as a cadet through the PMA, he said.
He wants his son to be “more” than him as he shunned boxing as means of living for his children.
“Ang akong goal na mapa-eskwela og tarong ang akong anak, makapahuman ko, kay dili ko gusto na ang akong anak way grado pareha nako,” Bautista said.
“Di ko musogot na ma-experience niya ang kahirap sa pagboxing. Grabe. Matulog ka na way gikaon, pastilan. Gusto ko na ma-kadete [siya]. Akong tig dala diri mag-flag, mag-formation. Mo ari siya, mo salute siya sa mga kadete aron ma encourage,” he added.
Bautista, with a fight record of 36 wins, 25 via knockout, and three losses, was among the brightest prospects in Philippine boxing.
He appeared to have been on his way to international stardom after he showed glimpses of a superstar when he easily beat Sergio Medina of Argentina during an undercard match of Mayweather-Dela Hoya, one of the most lucrative fight cards in boxing history, in 2007. Bautista was then undefeated with 23 wins at the age of 20.
That victory however was the pinnacle of his career. It was all downhill from there as he suffered a first round knockout loss to Daniel Ponce de Leon in 2008 and sustained multiple injuries in the remaining years of his career.
He would never be his old self again.
Bautista last fought in 2014 winning against Mexican Juan Jose Martinez in Dubai, but it was deemed a pyrrhic victory. He suffered deep cuts and was advised by those close to him to retire. He obliged, leaving the sport with an anticlimactic exit.
He would never become the champion some thought he would be at the onset of his promising boxing career but he has broken the cycle of struggling pugilists who live rags-to-riches stories which have riches-to-rags endings due to failure in planning for life outside the ring.
Bautista precluded himself from having to fight for scraps while putting his body and life on the line which has been the usual case for boxers who have gone past their prime. He knows it and he has moved on, certain that he made the right choice.
“Gi-agwanta lang nako sauna kay wa may laing trabaho wa poy grado para makatabang sa kalisod sa ginikanan…Pero walay pagmahay. Sapat na ang akong pag-boxing, dili na ko ganahan. Kadto akong boxing career siguro sakto na to, na nakahimo ko og pangalan, nakaila mga taw nako,” said Bautista.