As chief executive officer of Sanman Promotions, Jim Claude Manangquil has mounted dozens of boxing cards both here and abroad. But his most recent one held Saturday in Gen. Santos City - aptly called "The Restart" - was undoubtedly the biggest challenge he's ever faced.
The five-bout card, held at the Sanman Gym compound and highlighted by bantamweight contender Marlon Tapales' knockout win over Eden Sonsona, was the second professional boxing event in the Philippines since the pandemic shut down all sports in March. And just like the first boxing event mounted by Omega Boxing in Cebu last month, The Restart was conducted under the new normal - in a bubble with a limited audience and guided by the Inter-Agency Task Force and Games and Amusements Board.
"To be honest with you, this is one of the hardest promotions I've done," Manangquil told ESPN5.com via Zoom call Tuesday morning. "I've done close 70 shows with world championships, but after last Saturday's show I was telling myself that this was probably the toughest. It was hard because there were so many things that you didn't know or didn't expect. You have to be near-perfect because we take this virus very seriously. The guidelines of the IATF and GAB have to be in synch with the local government, and it was tough."
Despite the challenges, Manangquil said he was determined to see it through. "We really pushed for it because we want boxing to come back to the Philippines. Since March there's been only one promotion done by Omega. Other sports are slowly getting back, so I thought 'Why not boxing?'. I have to do my part to push for it even though it was difficult."
Only five bouts were approved for Saturday's card. All boxers and trainers had to stay in a bubble inside the Sanman compound for 14 days, and they were divided into two separate private areas inside the compound. Everyone was monitored daily and temperature checks were taken twice a day. All fighters also had to produce a negative PCR test right before weigh-in.
Aside from following these protocols, travel restrictions limited the pool from which Manangquil could choose fighters.
"All the boxers are from Mindanao," he said. "Guidelines state that they have to be from an MCGQ area. If I tried to get fighters from other areas they might have been required to undergo quarantine upon arrival.
"But my main point was to give hope to all of the boxing people in the Philippines. At least they saw that boxing is back and maybe we're slowly getting back. I was very happy that I was able to contribute."
Manangquil also tapped into his relationship with Top Rank Promotions, which has featured several Sanman fighters in its bubble cards over the past few months, to get pointers and tips.
"I have boxers this pandemic who've fought in the Top Rank bubbles," he explained. "I'd ask [Top Rank] questions and they'd send me guidelines. I studied those and found out what they did. I also talked to my boxers who fought in the bubble."
Fight night itself was held in a pavilion in the Sanman compound just outside the main gym. Only 50 people were allowed inside, of which 30 were the boxers, trainers, officials, and GAB officials. The remaining 20 were allotted for fans, who had to produce a negative PCR test before being allowed in. Only seven, including Manangquil himself, showed up.
In front of that small audience, everything ran smoothly on fight night. Manangquil admitted to feeling a mixture of pressure and excitement, but that soon passed as one by one the fights took place without incident.
The success of The Restart has Manangquil already planning for a December card to be headlined by undefeated super flyweight prospect KJ Cataraja (11-0, 9 KOs) of Cebu against an opponent to be announced later.
Manangquil hopes other promoters will follow suit and help slowly bring professional boxing back in the country. His advice for those thinking about it?
"Follow all the guidelines. At first it looks complicated, but you'll get used to it. I was also hesitant at first. I recommend to everyone to think about slowly getting back to promoting."