The Amazing Fel Clemente

By Ted Sares on September 7, 2013
The Amazing Fel Clemente
Few fighters fought tougher opponents than this skilled and lightning fast featherweight.

Loud cries of “l’incontro è stato truccato, l’incontro è stato truccato” were heard throughout the Palazetto Dello Sport…

“A fast handed boxer, who had razor-sharp punches.”—Senor Pepe

“San Jose, Stockton, Bakersfield, Watsonville, Oakland Sacramento, San Francisco, and Modesto became second homes for the itinerant warriors who fought as often as once a week, usually against Mexicans and other groups of impoverished immigrants. Opportunistic promoters were eager to utilize the little men who attracted big crowds of Filipino farm laborers from the California valley and Delta towns. Saturday night concluded a week of labor in the fields, and what better recreation and release than to swarm to the local arena to cheer on a fellow countryman.”—From “Little Brown Dolls: A Gallery of World Filipino Champs” by Hermie Rivera, May 24, 2006

At first glance, the “Philippine Fireball”’s final record of 13-14-1 sparks little if any interest except that he is from General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines, home of many fine Pinoy warriors and—with an eye to trivia—where Manny Pacquiao went to elementary school. However, a less cursory review reveals that Fel Clemente was much better than his record would indicate and that few fighters have ever fought tougher opponents than this skilled and lightning fast featherweight who fought from 1973-1980.

Unable to get anyone to fight Fel in the Philippines—curiously, he fought only four times in the Philippines—manager David Thompson brought him to Hawaii to get better exposure. He fought often in Hawaii and then California, where many Filipino warriors pursued their careers.

In just his second bout in March 1975, Fel raised eyebrows when he KO’d OPBF featherweight champion Zensuke Utagawa in six rounds, and in Tokyo no less. Utagawa had gone 2-1 against the highly regarded South Korean Hyun Kim (51-25-10). Fel also lost to Octavio “Formosa” Gomez (52-13-6) who had just come off wins over top ranked featherweights Rafael Herrera, Art Hafey, and Danny “Little Red” Lopez. Fel lost to undefeated Ronnie McGarvey (25-0), and future Hall of Famer Bobby Chacon (26-2) as well. McGarvey would go on to KO Shig Fukuyama.

After successfully defending his OPBF belt against Sanjo Takemori in Tokyo, he lost to tough Bok Soo Hwang in South Korea. He then went undefeated in four fights before splitting a pair with Miguel Meza in Stockton, California, and this fabled boxing locale soon became his home away from home where he beat Jose Torres (27-7-1) and Romeo Anaya (41-12-1) before dropping a decision to Raul Tirado.

To gain badly needed recognition, the 26-year-old Clemente then upped his level of competition, and scored a big victory over Mexican featherweight champion Ernesto Herrera by scores of 6-3-1, 7-3-0, and 6-2-2. In this one, Clemente kept his powerful left jab working overtime to keep the hard-punching Herrera on the defensive. Ernesto was only able to do any damage when he caught ‘Fel’ along the ropes, which was infrequently.

Herrera had been guaranteed a bout with “Little Red” Lopez had he won, but now it was Clemente who found himself back in line for a featherweight title bout versus either WBC champion Lopez or WBA champion Eusebio Pedroza. (Interestingly, Herrera had gone 12 solid rounds with Pedroza just five weeks earlier.

The Danny Lopez Fight

“They brought us in as a replacement challenger, with 10 day’s notice. Nobody expected Fel to beat Danny Lopez. Fel outboxed him, and within two rounds they would have had to stop it because of the cuts Fel inflicted over Lopez’s eyes. The referee saved Lopez from a certain TKO stoppage defeat.”—David Thompson

“Danny Lopez was a pre-fight 3-1 Betting Favorite. The Champion and his Manager Bennie Georgino said very little after this bout, and minimal press information was released.”—Senor Pepe

On October 21, 1978, the Stockton dynamo fought and lost to future Hall of Famer Danny Lopez by controversial DQ in Marche, Italy. The fight was for Danny’s featherweight crown and was wild and unruly.

In Round 2, “The Philippine Fireball’ rocked Lopez with hard and slashing punches, and opened cuts over both of Lopez’s eyes. Little Red tried to press, but Clemente used his fast footwork to keep out of harm’s way.

Late in Round 3, the champion was able to deliver some pinpoint punching of his own and opened a cut beneath the Clemente’s right eye. But it was Danny’s cornermen who worked feverishly between rounds on the nasty cuts over both of his eyes.

Through the first three rounds in what had now become a bloodbath, Fel had moved ahead on the scorecards, 30-28, 29-28, and 29-28. The fight (and championship) was his to win.

In Round 4 Lopez, realizing that the bout might be stopped at any moment, went all-out, attempting to land fight-ending blows. He did in fact land several hard shots, but Clemente answered with his own punishing left jab and sharp right hand leads. Then, midway through the round and during another intense close exchange, the fighters banged heads. The action quickly resumed, but Danny Lopez was now bleeding like a stuck pig from cuts over both of his eyes.

Suddenly and startlingly, referee Gujelmo Ajon halted the action and awarded the bout to the champion at the 2:15 of Round 4 by DQ. The Palazetto Dello Sport’s fans erupted in loud boos as the fans railed at the ref’s decision (which should have been a No Contest or Technical Decision win for Clemente). Loud cries of “l’incontro è stato truccato, l’incontro è stato truccato” were heard throughout the arena.

West Coast-East Coast- West Coast-East Coast

After taking the measure of rugged Refugio Rojas and avenging his earlier loss to Raul Tirado, Fel would lose a 10-round UD to a young Salvador Sanchez (28-1). Four months later, he lost to multiple title contender Ruben Castillo (43-0) at the Olympic in LA. Traveling across the country to Totowa, New Jersey, he made a bid for the USBA featherweight title but lost to undefeated and future world champion Rocky Lockridge. Two months later he went back to the Olympic but lost a 10-rounder to Rocky Garcia (15-1). Finally, and hopefully keeping track of his frequent flyer mileage, he flew back to the East Coast only to lose to a young and future world champion, Juan Laporte at the Felt Forum in New York City. This dizzying back-and-forth pace all occurred between February 19, 1980 and June 20, 1980.

When one talks about Fel Clemente, it’s his opponents who are mentioned more often than Fel himself, but at the least be, he should be lumped in with other fine Pinoy title challengers like Socrates Batoto, Dommy Ursua, Johnny Sato, Danny Kidd, Arnel Arozal, Miguel Arozal, Pretty Boy Lucas, Fernando Lumacad, Johnny Jamito, Tirso del Rosario, Aniceto Vargas, Rod Sequinan, Juanito Rubillar, Noel Tunacao, Eric Jamili, Wendell Janiola, and Rodel Mayol.

Had a referee done the right thing on a crisp Italian night in October 1978, Fell’s name might be lumped in with those Filipino boxers who became world champions and not just title contenders.

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  1. Jeffrey lim 08:40am, 04/10/2017

    Thats my uncle,,big brother of my mom ..tnx boxing.com

  2. Dina PASAPORTE Boc 08:09pm, 04/07/2017

    Fel Leonerio Clemente is my first cousin.his mom and my mom are sisters.since he left Philippines we didn’t see him anymore.i hope we can have contact to him…his mom is very old now still hoping that she can see his son Feel.

  3. Friend 09:20pm, 03/14/2017

    Saw Fel today, actually! I remember him as a kid because my uncles and my dad were friends with him and frequently visited our house. Since he had no teeth we always mocked him when he talks because he was funny! He also laughed it off, too! Had a great sense of humor! Today was the first time saw Fel in years!

  4. Kid Blast 05:21pm, 06/15/2015

    Thanks James

  5. James Denham 02:24pm, 06/15/2015

    I saw the first Clemente-Meza fight live in Stockton in the 70’s. Best live fight I ever saw. Fans threw money into the ring almost every round, there was a standing ovation almost every round. Meza won that one by split decision because of an early knockdown but Clemente easily won the rematch. Stockton was one of the best fight towns around and the arena was jammed for the second fight.

  6. Jesse Dosanjh 03:31pm, 10/13/2013

    Ted, thank you very much for this…b.t.w., Fel is my boxing trainer.  I own a gym in Manteca, CA.  He is a great man and very underappreciated.  I’ll ask him, but I have a feeling that Fel has more wins than indicated in the Philippines.  Also, I have the Clemente/Lopez fights.  Do you have access to any others?  I would be willing to purchase them.  Take Care,
    Jesse

  7. Ted 07:08am, 09/22/2013

    That’ s great Phil. Where are you located?

  8. Phil Leonerio 08:01pm, 09/20/2013

    Cool man, that’s my dad.

  9. Tex Hassler 03:23pm, 09/11/2013

    Great write up about a man many have forgotten. He came close but because of a poor decision by the refreee he failed to win. I cannot help but wonder how many fights have been lost because of poor judging or referees who really did not know what they were doing.

  10. Ted the Bull 07:12am, 09/11/2013

    Thank you

  11. Don from Prov 04:14am, 09/11/2013

    Great to have these article highlight someone who may otherwise, and very undeservedly, slip into the cracks of boxing history and be forgotten—


    What a line-up Clemente faced and gave all they wanted.

  12. Your Name 06:35am, 09/09/2013

    Clemente was the real travelling man

  13. TheTraveling Man 04:35pm, 09/08/2013

    Bienevenue

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:29am, 09/07/2013

    Ted Sares-This is why Boxing.com is so great….thanks for giving Fel his well deserved and long overdue recognition. Which reminds me….these “in your face” decisions by referees and judges can and do have life altering effects on courageous and honorable fighters like Clemente.

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