The saying goes that big gifts come in small packages. For the brilliant Filipino boxer, Pancho Villa, this holds true in more ways than one. Not only did the Flyweight Champion of the World squeeze a huge amount of talent into a wiry 5’1” frame, but he squeezed an incredible record of 73 wins, 5 losses, 4 draws, and 23 no-decisions into a professional career that spanned only six years. At one point, he fought 25 bouts in a 2-year period, sometimes with nary a week in between fights.
Born Francisco Guilledo in Panay, Philippines, the scrappy street fighter made his name against local boxers with heroic sounding monikers, such as Kid Castro, Terrible Pondong, and Clever Sencio. Under the tutelage of his promoter, Frank E. Churchill, and manager, Paquito Villa, young Guilledo took on the name of the legendary Mexican revolutionary (though there is some controversy over which of his two mentors actually gave him the name) and fought under it for the rest of his life.
Traveling to and throughout the U.S., Pancho Villa became very popular very fast, capturing the attention of famous boxing writer, Damon Runyan, among others. Runyan proposed, in print, that the young Filipino should face beloved Welsh champion, Jimmy Wilde. The fight that followed ended Wilde’s career as he suffered a devastating knockout at Villa’s hands. Villa would never lose the belt he won that day.
As fate would have it, the man who withstood so many punches in the ring could not withstand the simple unintended consequences of anesthetic while undergoing oral surgery. After having a wisdom tooth extracted, the young champion developed an infection. Losing his final fight, due to the need to use one hand as a shield for the painful swelling in his mouth, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with Ludwig’s angina. Suffocating under the anesthetic on the operating table, Villa was pronounced dead less than three weeks shy of his 24th birthday. Buried in state with a grand and elaborate tombstone in the capital city of Manila, he has gone down in history as the greatest Filipino boxer in history. In 1994, he was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.