FEU honors the ‘Greatest Filipino Olympian,' boxer Anthony Villanueva

November 05, 2017

by Alvin Laqui

At the tender age of 19, a battle-hardened boxer named Anthony Villanueva brought immeasurable pride to the Philippines after showing his wares in the biggest stage in sports.

The swift, slick featherweight represented our nation in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and dealt with numerous high-profile opponents before bagging silver. His second-place finish is now known as the Philippines' first Olympic medal.

While past and present enthusiasts believe Villanueva should have won gold after a controversial decision that went USSR's Stanislav Stepashkin's way, the legend of how a Filipino pummeled through bigger opponents all the way to knock at the door of boxing's zenith is an accomplishment in and of itself.

For his groundbreaking accomplishment, Villanueva was heralded and still is deemed as the "Greatest Filipino Olympian" for opening the door to several Pinoy athletes who would go on to add to the small island-nation's haul through the decades.

He was a proud Far Eastern University student, and his alma mater reciprocated the pride.

When he came back from Tokyo in 1964, he was given a rousing hero's welcome in the hallowed halls of FEU in Morayta, and was given the Tamaraw Gold Medallion for his contributions.

His newfound fame and popularity helped him get into the movie industry. After starring in five films, his amateur license was revoked, and he was forced to turn pro.

His professional career all but his reflected his larger-than-life story. He finished with a pedestrian 4-3 record.

With his best years, he felt, now behind him, he went to the United States to seek financial stability. He worked several odd jobs as a cook and as a security guard before going back to boxing, this time, as a coach. After his stay in the U.S., he went back to the Philippines to help Filipino boxers prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In 1999, after suffering a mild stroke, he was forced to sell the silver medal he won 35 years ago in Tokyo for the price of Php 1,000,000.

Ailing from several strokes and heart attacks in the latter part of his life, Villanueva was left bedridden.

Villanueva passed away in his sleep in May 13, 2014. He was 69 years old. 

Considered as a forgotten hero, there's no doubt that he has left an indelible mark in Filipino sports, becoming one of the first athletes to bring undeniable pride for decades, even centuries to come.