Like ‘Pacquiao’: Marvin Gumban’s Second Chance at Relevance

By joseph batcagan

It feels strange to lift a quote from It’s a Hard ‘Box’ Life because it makes me look like a pretentious jerk, but I think this one sums up why we’re obsessed with this weekend’s Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather megafight on May 3rd: ‘Compared to the more “bourgeois” reputation of modern MMA, boxing looks grittily unadorned and downright workman-like.’

In short, Filipinos identify with boxing precisely because, just like working in Dubai or winning the lotto, it has become The Great Equalizer for many poverty-stricken people looking for a quick way out. And no one can prove to be a better example for the sport than Pacquiao himself—which is why you don’t need to judge your neighbor too harshly when he falls over himself to book an entire Sunday just so he can watch the fight with his buddies (and he’s probably looking for an excuse to get drunk in the morning, too).

Even if you don’t have personal stakes at the MayPac fight, it’s hard not to be swept up with the insanity of the whole thing. Imagine if Floyd Mayweather, the modern heel of the Filipino nation, finally gets his “comeuppance” from Pacquiao, and preferably via knockout, at that. Crowds will explode, entire streets will be swept up with month-long fiestas, and Pacquiao-mania will run wild, brother.

So, you can hardly fault us when we chase after a person who looks like—for all intents and purposes—the exact doppelganger of Pacquiao in this region. Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce you to Reynaldo Marvin Gumban.

Like Pacquiao: Marvin Gumban - Project Iloilo

The Ilonggo boxing contingent was mostly successful during this January’s UnCaged 2.0: Global Pan Asia Championships. Out of all the local fighters who have dominated the foreign competition mercilessly, there was one who particularly stood out, and not just because he completely walloped Andre Nikita to win that tourney’s light middleweight title: the victor looked exactly like Manny Pacquiao, save for the tattoos on his right shoulder and left leg. And because Ilonggos are known for being anything but subtle, the event’s emcee obliterated any semblance of it by introducing the fighter as such: Marvin “Manny Pacquiao” Gumban. True to form, the crowd ate the intro up, and Gumban won and went back to his adopted hometown of Roxas City.

Our passive fascination with the Pacquiao lookalike should have ended there, except we got word that he was in the city and will be doing some light training there before he returns back to Roxas. So, since I’m a shameless sucker for stories, we met with him during one extremely hot afternoon in April.

Upon meeting him up close, I really wasn’t able to fault some people why they keep referring to Gumban as ‘Pacquiao’: he’s got a similar body type to Pacquiao, he rocks the same sweet moustache as Pacquiao, and he also speaks in a thin, lilting accent that can be vaguely similar to how Pacquiao himself speaks in televisions all over the world. 99.9%, to steal an ubiquitous line from a rubbing alcohol commercial.

Like Pacquiao: Marvin Gumban - Project IloiloGumban assented as much to my suspicions that any similarities he bears with the real Pacquiao are simply superficial in nature: “Dugay na man na ako ginatawag nga ‘Pacquiao’ sang una, bisan sa Cebu pa ako sang una. Ti, puwede guid man ako masal-an nga Manny Pacquiao sang una kay taas-taas lang ako kay Manny Pacquiao. Tapos, sa porma sang lawas, kami-kami man. [I was being called ‘Pacquiao’ even when I was at Cebu back then. Many people mistake me as Pacquiao because I’m slightly taller than him, and my body’s build is also similar.]”

As for people calling him ‘Pacquiao’, he reveals it’s been going on for three years now. However, he didn’t enjoy the trappings of fame and fortune that Pacquiao did; he ventured out as a pro in 1999 but abruptly retired by 2004. He had every reason to do so back then.

Damo ako bala nakita nga mga upod ko nga na-disabled tapos gapamaligya na lang inasal sa barko, gabaligya balut. Ti siling ko, kung ma-sige-sige ako sa pro, tapos daw kulang man lang ako sa (suporta) halin sa akon nga manager, ti basi ma-amo man na ako sa ila sa pila ka adlaw,[I saw many of my peers who were disabled from boxing ending up selling barbecue on boats, selling balut. I said to myself, if I was going to continue boxing but without enough support from my manager, then I might end up like them someday,]” he said.

He found a way out of the sport during that time by doing the one thing he was good at: boxing, and then winning at it: “Amo ato, ti tapos ko hampang sa Thailand, dako-dako man nadaugan ko, mga 45,000 man, ti nag-uli ako iya eskwela. Ti bisan naka-graduate ako. [After my fight in Thailand, I won a big amount, around 45,000 pesos, and then I went back to school with that money. Despite it, I can say I graduated.]”

However, even after he married his Roxasnon wife and started a family, he still found himself gravitating to the sport he turned his back from in the first place. He started out as a trainer for Shadowbox gym in Roxas, and then was eventually given full management duties of the place a couple of years after he began teaching there. After his January win at UnCaged 2.0, he was officially designated to be the provincial trainer for boxing and wushu once he returned to Roxas City. For people in Gumban’s position living through “humble” means, they would have killed for a job like this.

His desire to compete, however, is still present. He told us about ranking number one in the Philippine Boxing Federation during the year he retired, and he still believes he could have struck it big if management was behind him during that time. There’s also another reason why he’s now raring to go back in the ring: he seems to be frustrated with a lot of his wards training under him.

Mag­-train ka bala, mausik ka tiyempo sa training mo, tapos ang matabo (ang mga trainees) pa ang mapiyerde, daw galain man buot mo. Mas maayo kung ako na guid lang ang maghampang, kay daw wala peligro nga mapiyerde ako iya, [I’m investing a lot of time training my trainees, and then they end up losing, which makes me feel bad. So it’s better if I’m the one to fight, since there’s no chance that I end up losing,]” Gumban says confidently.

Like Pacquiao: Marvin Gumban - Project Iloilo

While it seems he’s fine with his Pacquiao-like status in the region, he’s keenly aware that public backlash can always happen at the drop of a hat. He explains, “Malain man ina nga basi hambalan pa ako sang iban nga ginailog ko siya, tapos daw hambalan ka, ‘trying hard ka, gapaamo na-amo na ka, gapa-Manny Pacquiao-Manny Pacquiao, tapos ang abilidad mo indi man’. [It’s bad that people will call me as a copycat, then they’ll me that I’m ‘trying too hard to be like Manny Pacquiao even though my abilities are not the same as his’.]”

However, if there’s anyone who can play the role of armchair boxing analyst for the May 3rd fight, it might as well be the dude who keeps getting saddled with the ‘Pacquiao’ alias. And Gumban’s bet to who would win? Team Pacquiao, obviously, and it’s not because he’s doing so out of a sense of nationalistic pride.

Kay sa advantage, sa experience, mas may advantage si Mayweather. Pero sa hampang sa mga kontra nga mga maayo, damo na nakontra si Pacquiao nga mga maayo. Tapos ang advantage ya ni Pacquiao kay Mayweather, kay nahadlok siya magkontra kay Pacquiao mo; gatahap na siya, [Mayweather has the advantage on experience. But when it comes to fighting against better opponents, Pacquiao has fought against many of them. Another advantage that Pacquiao has over Mayweather is that Mayweather fears him; he’s being cautious,]” Gumban explains simply.

Despite looking for the right trainer for his “comeback” this year, it seems like Gumban has this boxing thing figured out for the moment. Now, if I can only find someone to place my bet against. Any takers?

Photos by Xtian Lozañes

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.