Long ago, there was Amang Parica and Efren “Bata” Reyes.
Then the historic rivalry fizzled out when Parica migrated to the US where he continued and ended his career.
Then Philippine billiards came to life again in 1999, when Reyes, watched live by millions of Filipinos over live TV coverage, became the toast of the world again, capturing the World title in Cardiff, Wales.
After Reyes’ victory, billiards halls sprouted here in there, with passionate entrepreneurs trying to cash in on the popularity of the sport.
Few years after, even after the World Championship victory of Ronnie Alcano in 2006 and Francisco “Django” Bustamante n 2010, billiards’ popularity was not the same again.
With not a lot of fans’ interest, media outfits and TV networks are not keen on covering the sport that has made the country proud on the international stage, and a few skilled Filipino players rich and popular.
Unknown to many, though, the Philippines has a rich pool of billiards talents today. The rising stars are perfectly fit to become the sport’s ambassador—young, good-looking and highly skilled—like Johann Gonzales Chua.
The 25-year-old Chua has been playing in the money game, touring the country to play against top-notch pros, including World 9-ball champ Carlo Biado.
He has come full circle when he ruled the All-Japan Championship, placing runner-up in the Korean Open and as a national team member won a bronze medal in the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in October last year.
“Sana po mag-tuloy tuloy na and sana maraming tournaments this year para lalo pa akong makapag bigay ng karangalan sa bansa,” said Chua during the PSC-POC Media FB live chat recently. “
“Sana po ay mapasigla muli sa bansa natin ang larong billiards dahil isa po ito sa mga sports na kilalang-kilala ang husay ng mga Pilipino,” Chua said.
Chua started playing billiards at the age of nine and came to love the game on his own.
“Nahilig lang ako mag isa. Nung una ayaw nila (parents). Pero dahil makulit ako at hindi nila ako mapigil, sinuportahan na nila ako,”said Chua, who revealed that his father gave him his moniker—Bubwit (mouse)--because he was so small at the time that he it was hard to locate him when they watch local tournaments in billiards halls.
Chua stopped going to school after finishing his elementary years. “Nag full-time na ako nun. Pero pag binabalikan ko, iba pa rin pala sempre nakapag-aral.”
It’s not that he regrets playing billiards full-time. “Malaking bagay naman ang nabigay sakin ng bilyar.”
Chua has played with Biado a few times, winning some and losing some—the last time was at the Zane Billiards-Club Bilyarista, located at the North EDSA, Quezon City and managed by long-time organizer Troy Danao.
“Gusto kong magpa tournaments for big-time players para mapasikat muli ang bilyar satin at mapagbigyan ng pagkakataon ung ibang hindi kilala pero magagaling din,” said Danao, who promoted several tournaments for boxing icon and billiards enthusiast, Senator Manny Pacquiao.
Chua gave Biado a big scare, before bowing to Biado in their one-on-one showdown, 23-20. Much to the excitement of the crowd, Chua came back from 10-19 deficit to tie the count at 19-all, before Biado’s nerve of steel came to fore and won the next four games to one, en route to the win.
For the two players, who are both members of the Philippine national team, it was part of their preparation for big tournaments ahead, including the Asian Games in Indonesia in August and World 10-Ball Championships that will be held here in October.
“Buti naman po at may ma host tayong malaking event na hinihintay ng marami nating kababayang players.
“Marami na po tayong magagaling na mga batang players na hindi nabibigyan ng pagkakataon na makasali sa mga torneo kahit na dito lang sa atin dahil walang masyadong tournament. Huling beses po tayo na naghost ng malaking tournament ay noon pa 2016 sa Pasay at hindi na nasundan,” said Biado.
“Sana po ay mapasigla muli sa bansa natin ang larong billiards dahil isa po ito sa mga sports na kilalang-kilala ang husay ng mga Pilipino.”
One of the lesser-known but talented players is Roland Garcia, who finished runner-up to Biado in the World 9-ball tilt in Qatar.
They all have a dream and that is to meet President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang and present their medals and trophies, especially Biado who said previous World champions have paid a courtesy call to former Philippine presidents.
“Gusto po namin ipaalam sa pangulo na mataas po ang pagkilala sa atin mga Pilipino sa ibang bansa sa billiards lalo pa noong magawa natin na dalawang Pilipino ang naglaban sa unang pagkakataon para sa titulo,” Biado enthused.
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